I have reached the point where coming to Vegas alone is simply business. When I’m out here alone, I play poker, eat meals, and sleep. Nothing else. I have acquired the Vegas resident’s immunity to all the nonsense going on around me. It’s no secret that all casino/hotels are designed in a way that requires the customers to walk through the casino floor to get anywhere, including the poker room. And it’s the casino floor where all of Vegas’ great lures can be found. When I’m here in Vegas alone, I can now honestly say that i’m unaffected. None of it matters to me anymore.
The table games, the clubs, the bars… and of course, Vegas’ calling card–the millions of people going absolutely nuts 24 hours a day–none of retains any gravitational pull. When I’m out here alone, the average tourist’s Vegas–the place where whatever happens stays–is something to be tolerated, not something to be celebrated. My Vegas is merely the place that happens to be the undisputed poker capital of the world. Nothing more, nothing less.
Which brings me to my main point: if poker is out of control on the East Coast, then here in Vegas during the WSOP it is foaming at the mouth and writhing around in a straight jacket. It cannot be controlled. Everyone is out here right now, playing poker. Everyone.
The first no limit hold ’em event of the 2007 World Series of Poker drew over 2,900 entrants. That is a staggering number, and it was more than Harrah’s was prepared to handle. The tourney occupied the entire Amazon Room and spilled over into other parts of the casino. The lines for registration were so horrible that the start of the tournament was delayed for a long time, and alternates were put into play for over three hours.
Yesterday, my first full day in town, I decided to forgo the $1500 limit hold ’em event and play the $300 no limit event at the Venetian, which is running a special series of deep stack tournaments throughout the WSOP. I figured that maybe 200 players would opt for the Venetian, since the big tournament was at the Rio, and juicy cash games were ongoing everywhere. I was wrong. I showed up over an hour before the tournament was scheduled to start and walked into a total mob scene. I wound up waiting on line for an hour and a half, and the tournament sold out before I got to the front of the line. While over 900 players competed in limit hold ’em at the Rio, I eventually joined 588 other players at the Venetian as an alternate. The WSOP has a grip on Vegas right now, and every big poker room in town is going off. Incidentally, the Venetian tournament had an excellent structure and I finished just out of the money.
I have spent the rest of my time here in the Amazon Room, which is absolutely abuzz every day from 10am until 3am. While they have already screwed up many other aspects of the 2007 WSOP (e.g., the “new improved playing cards” were impossible to read and were taken out of play before I even got here, interminable waits for registration, general confusion in the satellite area), Harrah’s has gotten one thing right: being at the WSOP feels like being at a major sporting event. In 2005 and 2006, the Amazon Room felt like an airplane hangar with hundreds of poker tables in it. It was an impressive sight, but only for its sheer size.
In 2007, the Amazon Room feels like a sports arena. The reason is that some structural changes were made. First, the walls are now lined with massive pictures of each of the Main Event’s past champions. And second, the TV table area has expanded. In additon to the familiar bleacher setup, Harrah’s has constructed an elevated bar area, where attendees can drink and watch the action. Also, the tournament director provides a play-by-play (action, not analysis) of every hand at the final table. The result is a much rowdier scene than in year’s past. As I played a satellite during the first final table of the 2007 WSOP, the TV table area continually erupted with chants and wild cheering. We already know that poker is fun to play and has been made TV friendly. Now, the WSOP is doing a good job of making it a spectator sport. Railbirding poker tournaments is going mainstream.
Other notes from my first two days here:
-The currency of the WSOP is the $500 lammer. These white chips can be acquired in single table satellites, which run nonstop from mid-morning until…. early morning, and they can be used to buy into bracelet events. Various different buy-in levels are offered in the single table satellites, ranging from $125 to $1060. The structure of the $125, $175 and $225 sats is disappointing, as the blinds start at 25-25 and the stacks are only 1000 chips. You have to spend $300 to get 2500 in chips. I did manage to chop a $225 sat, so I have a few lammers in my pocket.
-Yesterday’s $5000 Pot Limit Omaha with Rebuys event drew 132 players and they made over 400 rebuys. In other words, the average player invested over $20,000. As you might imagine, the 14 tables comprising this field were filled with poker’s heaviest hitters. Name your favorite player from television. He/she was playing in the 5k PLO, surrounded by other players you’d recognize.
-Holy side games. There are HUGE cash games running around the clock at the Rio. We’re talking about games where the black chips are the smallest denomination on the table. My personal favorite, which I stopped to watch for ten minutes last night: 200-400 Badugi. Raymer was getting killed in this wild game at 2am last night.
-I guess I am officially part of this scene. Both times I walked into the Amazon Room, I received “the nod” from guys I’ve played with before. On this trip, I have yet to sit at a table where I haven’t recognized at least one of my opponents, either from past experience or from watching him/her play in the past.
I’m off to play some more sit n’ go satellites with lousy structures (I really need to address this addiction), and possibly some cash games. My first bracelet event is tomorrow. That’s all for now from pokerland. Stay tuned.