At the outset of Day 3, the tournament would be played hand-for-hand. This means that each player in the entire room would play the same number of hands until we reached the money. The way this was accomplished was by delaying the start of each hand until every table in the room completed the prior hand. It is a measure that eliminates the possibility of a player stalling (i.e., pretending to mull over a decision) his way into the money. The only other hand-for-hand situations I had ever encountered were online. Online, the software simply does not deal the next hand until the action is complete on all other tables. In a live tournament of this size, determining when the room-wide action is complete is significantly more complicated. The method they used at the WSOP was having each dealer stand up after that dealer’s table completed the hand. In a room of this size, with 64 tables in action, and with players making $12,000 decisions, this took quite some time. Once all the dealers were upright, and the next hand was dealt, I peered past the bleachers at the giant blue screen set along one wall: still 569 left. 30k.
Hand #2: I mucked under the gun. Once again it was folded to Lederer, who again raised to 8000. And again Kimono went into his attention-starved routine. This time, however, after a long period of consideration, he decided to move all in. It was folded back to Howard, who called. I don’t remember what Lederer had, but his call served the purpose of telling the table that restealing from him on a bluff was not an option. However, Kimono was not bluffing. He showed aces, and they held up, Kimono emitting a long, Oscar-worthy sigh as the river card confirmed his victory. As Howard removed a 30k chunk from his towers, Kimono told us that the aces “were about the only hand I could have done that with.” This comment gave away some information. Kimono might have been attention starved, but he wasn’t an idiot. To come over the top of Howard Lederer on the bubble when Lederer is sitting on a big stack, you need aces. Kimono raked the pot, stood up, and gesturing to the crowd, asked “where are MY cheers?!” Dork.
I looked at the blue monitor. Two players were bounced on hand number two. 567 left, 29.7k.
Hand #3: I surrendered my big blind. Three more players bust! 564 left, 27.4k.
Hand #4: I was in the small blind and stupidly chose to complete with K10. Enright checked her option in the big blind. The flop was bricks, I checked and she bet. I meekly folded. No one busts. I was not happy with myself. 564 left, 25.1k
Hand #5: On this hand, bubble considerations dictated that I make an unusual decision. I was on the button and I looked down and found AQ. Everyone folded to me. I glanced to my left at Enright and Lederer. No tells there. I did a quick analysis: Enright and Lederer know that if I’m any good, I won’t raise here with anything less than AA, KK, QQ, or maybe AK. So there were two possible outcomes:
a) 98% chance I gain 5.7k in chips;
b) 2% chance I lose $12,500 in American currency.
Easy fold. After I mucked, Enright, despite being short stacked, raised Lederer’s big blind from the small blind, and took down the pot. Ballsy. During the break between hands, I went over to the bleachers and told my parents and Carrie (who was also there supporting me) that the AQ was my test, and that it was now official: I was in limp into the money mode.
The breaks between the hands, as we waited for all 64 dealers to stand, were ten to fifteen minutes long, allowing for plenty of conversation. These delays were both excruciating and interesting. Excruciating in that my stack was slowly being depleted and there was nothing I could do about it. Interesting in that I was sitting next to Barbara Enright, who turned out to be quite a character.
Enright is in her sixties. She has long painted fingernails and bleached blond hair. She was rocking designer sunglasses and a gaudy gold Star of David around her neck. Her large pocketbook was stashed beneath her seat. It is easier to imagine Enright playing mah jong in Miami than high stakes hold ’em in Vegas. But looks can be deceiving. Barbara is a badass. A poker relic and pioneer at the same time, she played poker with the best players at the highest stakes decades before the boom, infiltrating an all-boys club in so doing. It’s therefore no surprise that her reputation at the table is for fearlessness. Her feat of being the only woman to make the final table of the main event has still never been matched. It was obvious that she would feel comfortable around even the shadiest of men: Barbara Enright had the dirtiest mouth I’d ever heard.
Our discussion covered various topics. Her poor hole cards: “I haven’t held jack shit all tournament. I’m just surviving.” Lederer’s appearance: “He looks much better without that beard. What a handsome guy.” (Lederer, not a party to the conversation, smiled). The reason she was periodically reaching into her pocketbook, pulling out a latex glove (!) and placing it on the rail in front of her: “This is to remind the fuckin’ dealer that if he doesn’t start giving me better cards, he’s getting an involuntary rectal exam.” Err. Okay. Apparently this is a long-running gag that Enright is known for. She had a small group of elderly fans in the bleachers, one of which was her adoring husband/boyfriend.
Hand #6: In the cutoff, the action was folded to me, and I folded too. Enright, on the button, raised for the second straight hand, this time a large raise of 10k. Lederer, in the small blind, paused for only about two seconds before moving all in. His message to Enright was clear: I’m running this table, and there will be no more stealing from me. In this particular situation, he had tremendous leverage. He was risking only one-third of his chips. But for Enright, who could comfortably fold her way into the money, her entire tournament, and $12,500, was on the line. She leaned back and considered for a few seconds before defiantly saying “I call.” Lederer flipped over 77 and Enright QQ. Barbara got to her feet, and when a Q hit on the turn, exclaimed “Yes!” with both fists clenched in front of her. Her daring call having worked, she was charged up and involuntarily clucking with pleasure as she sat back down. Lederer counted out about another 32k from his rapidly deteriorating metropolis and pushed it over to Enright as the crowd, save for Enright’s cheering section, sat in stunned silence. Now two aggressive pros with big stacks were sitting to my left. Yikes. The TV table had not been kind to the Professor thus far.
No eliminations. 564 left, 24.4k.
Hand #7: No eliminations. What the fuck? 564 left, 24.1k.
Hand #8: I picked up 88 and mucked it. No eliminations. Getting a bit nervous. 564 left, 23.8k.
Hand #9: One elimination. 563 left, 23.5k.
During the break before hand 10, I made a run to the bathroom. As I took a leak, I realized I was wearing my microphone, just like Enrico Palazzo in the Naked Gun.
Hand #10: No eliminations. I looked over at my parents. Most of my chips were in large denominations, making my stack by far the least imposing-looking at the table. They could only gauge my status by looking at my stack, and the long delay between bustouts was making them tense. Dad went for a walk (he likes to walk around when he’s nervous). Mom looked panicked. Blinds coming soon. We’ve already played for over an hour. 563 left, 23.2k.
Hand #11: Thankfully, two more players went bust! The energy level in the room ramped up, and there was a sort of palpable buzz. We were one player from the money. The dealer might as well have skipped me at this point. There was no way I was voluntarily putting any chips in play. 561 left, 22.9k.
Hand #12: I surrendered my big blind to a raise from the asian kid and sat there waiting to receive word that I had earned $12,500. It didn’t come. 561 left, 20.6k.
Hand #13: I surrendered the small blind, again to the asian kid on the button. Once again, everyone sat and waited. Then, at 2:19 pm, it finally happened. Some applause started from somewhere in the center of the room, swelled, and then the entire room was standing and cheering. The bubble had burst! Some poor guy was out in 561st place, making everyone else in the room $12,500 richer. (incidentally, the Rio gave the bubble boy a free entry in the 2006 main event)