Blurry shot, me with Bobby Baldwin to my left.
Wednesday, June 22, 1:42 AM: After several unsuccessful tries, one of which was heartbreaking and wretchedly unlucky, I fulfilled what I must admit had been my greatest ambition for several months: I won a seat in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event through Pokerstars.com. After the last card appeared on my computer’s monitor, my AJ of hearts beat my opponent’s pocket 10’s, I sat for a few moments in stunned silence. After the initial shock washed over me, I launched into a convulsive dance, alone in my apartment. I have no idea what this dance looked like (thankfully no one else witnessed it), but it is definitely safe to say it was convulsive.
Wednesday, July 6, 9:10 AM: After a couple of weeks of anticipation, I reported to JFK’s JetBlue terminal and boarded my flight to Vegas. As I walked to my seat, I discovered that the flight was fully booked, that there was nary a female in sight, and that at least three passengers were reading Harrington on Hold ‘Em. Hmmmm. We took off, and after a few minutes I flipped on the little TV in front of me. ESPN was airing the final table of the 2003 World Series. When I stood up and walked to the bathroom, I noticed that at least 75% of the other passengers were watching it, too. Hmmmm. I suppressed the urge to scream “YOU’RE ALL GOING DOWWWN!!” and sauntered to the bathroom. Actually, I just sort of felt nervous.
After I landed, I checked into Mandalay Bay and took a long, much needed nap. Around 7pm PST I hopped in a cab and made my way over to the Rio. The poker area set up specially for the WSOP was about a 2 mile walk from the main entrance, in the Rio’s convention area. I walked through some sort of poker expo, with booths set up everywhere, manned by representatives from all the poker websites, magazines, chip and table manufacturers, and other assorted poker-related business ventures. I could not help but notice that almost all of these entities had hired scantily-clad young women to hawk their wares and services. I personally did not expect this, but I suppose it makes a lot of sense considering the target demographic.
I managed to exit the expo center and followed the signs, and the throng of people, to the poker room. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but every poker room I’ve ever seen has had at most 25 tables, with plenty of space to walk around. The Rio was not offering a poker room. More like a poker coliseum. There were hundreds and hundreds of tables stretching from wall to wall in a room which could comfortably be converted to an airplane hangar. I guess it was the room the Rio uses when it hosts big computer conventions or car conventions or something. Overwhelming, and teeming with players, spectators and dealers. The air was filled with the collective murmur of a thousand conversations, but the dominant sound was the sound of chips being riffled. I was reminded of a passage in Anthony Holden’s “Big Deal,” in which he compared this sound to that of locusts at night. In a cardroom with 25 tables, maybe. This continuous clatter was more like a biblical swarm of locusts, or something out of the Amazon Rainforest. I’m not ashamed to say that the sight and sound of this colossal poker room filled me with a mixture of glee and nervous energy.
I went to the registration desk (line, 50 deep) and picked up my registration card and seat assignment. Table 95, seat 6, starting on day 1B, Friday. Next it was off to the PokerStars hospitality suite, where I picked up my gear. Two (2) Pokerstars hats, black and beige. Two (2) white Pokerstars t-shirts. Two (2) Pokerstars polo shirts, black and white. One (1) red Pokerstars button down windbreaker (think pitching coach). And one (1) massive red and black piece of luggage with wheels, inscribed with the Pokerstars logo and “D. Zeitlin.” Jeez.
I went back to Mandalay and got in a little cash game action at a 2-4 NL table. In the course of conversation with the other players, I discovered that five of them were playing in the World Series. This initially made me nervous. However, two of them were total pigeons, which bolstered my confidence. I played for about two hours and cashed out with $2.50 more than I bought in for.
Thursday, July 7, 10:20 AM: I woke up and went over to the Rio to scout the action. I found my friends Carrie & Kevin (Carrie’s boyfriend). Kevin won his seat on Party Poker, and we traded 2% of ourselves to one another in the main event. Kevin was visibly nervous. In fact, the entire room was filled with nervous energy. I stood with Carrie as Kevin went to take his seat. Finally the moment arrived and the tournament director instructed the dealers to “shuffle up and deal,” kickstarting the event. And with that, a strange silence; except for the chip riffling–came over the room. Everyone was all business, and I was surprised at the percentage of participants wearing sunglasses. A sort of somber scene, somehow. I managed to watch a few hands at one of the railside tables, and was happy to note that several plays which I would definitely categorize as lousy and amateurish were being made. After about 20 minutes of play a smattering of applause began at the center of the room, steadily growing into a cheer from about one third of the people in attendance. The first elimination.
I finished watching the first round (140 mins) and decided to head back to Mandalay. I bid adieu to Kevin (11,000 in chips, looking settled in at the table, but skittish away from it) and Carrie and headed out, along with the massive throng of players starting their first break of the tournament.
In the hallway, on my way to the exit door, I noticed a familiar face; Rich Belsky, the interview guy from Cardplayer.com, whose interviews I had been watching for the past month. Not realizing the camera was rolling, I stopped him and said “hey, it’s that interview guy!” What ensued was David Zeitlin’s 12 seconds of fame, now posted for posterity on cardplyer.com. In the video, I’m clearly high. High on whatever endorphin or chemical the body of a habitual gambler produces when he witnesses big action. Oh well.