I went to check my table assignment. Table 45, Seat 2. Then I looked at the names of the other players at my table. Hmmm. Barbara Enright in Seat 3. One of the best female poker players in the world, and the only woman to make the final table of the main event, in 1995. Oh well, I couldn’t expect to make it this far without having a big pro at my table. Then I continued scanning the names. A few I didn’t recognize. Then, with “Table 45, Seat 4” clearly printed beside it, a name every serious poker player knows. Howard Lederer. I told my parents, who, not being serious poker players, were nonplussed.
I told Kevin, and it dawned on him first: “Wow. You’re probably on the TV table.” ESPN, as always, was covering the WSOP, and each day one of the tables was selected as the “featured table,” which meant that all the action at that table was recorded, edited, and later aired on TV. Hmmm. Kevin was right. Lederer was the biggest name left in the tourney besides Greg Raymer (the 2004 champ), and Lederer finished day two on a rush. He had not yet taken a turn at the featured table. It was very likely that ESPN had selected table 45.
I trotted into the poker room to see. I found table 45, and sure enough, it was the only table in the room without nine giant ziploc bags full of chips sitting on it. In their stead was a white piece of paper affixed to the center of the table, bearing a message handwritten in black magic marker: “Please report to the TV table.” Showtime. I was due for another ten minutes of fame.
I told my parents the news and made my way over to the back-right corner of the massive room, where ESPN had set up shop. Behind a few velvet rope stantions stood their makeshift studio. Two black walls with little white dots of light, designed to look like the sky at night. Four or five cameras pointed toward the brightly lit center of the area, which was surrounded on two sides by metal bleachers. All the cameras were facing an uninhabited card table, above which was a giant TV monitor with a birds-eye image of the table on it. A bunch of people wearing headsets were milling about.
As my parents found bleacher seats, a female ESPN rep approached me and confirmed that I was David Zeitlin of Seat 2. “Fill these out and then we’ll get you miked up,” she said, handing me a three page document. I sat in the bleachers and dutifully filled in the blanks. First a two page waiver to sign. I gave ESPN the right to do whatever it wanted with my footage and promised I’d show my hole cards. Next, a page with a bunch of questions about me:
Name: David Zeitlin
Nickname: Sugar D on Pokerstars (um, I hope they don’t say this on the air)
Hometown: New York, NY (looks cooler than ‘Manhattan’)
How Qualified: Pokerstars double shootout
Number of Previous WSOP Main Events: 0
Occupation: Criminal Defense Attorney
Greatest Poker Achievement: (blank)
Largest Single Tournament Win: $4500
How long have you been playing poker: 22 years
Who taught you how to play: My grandfather (he’d get props if I got interviewed later)
What poker player do you admire most: (blank)
Other hobbies: fantasy football (wow, I’m lame.)
As I completed the form and stood up to deliver it, I was approached by a bubbly woman who introduced herself as Laura, the Pokerstars rep. Laura’s job was to make sure the word “Pokerstars” appeared on television the maximum number of times possible. “Hi, I see you’ve got a Pokerstars hat on there,” she said. As required, I was in fact wearing my black Pokerstars hat, backwards. “Would you mind turning it around?” “No,” I lied, taking it off and putting in on the other way. “And how would you feel about taking off the sweatshirt and wearing one of our t-shirts?” Here I drew the line. “This sweatshirt has a lot of sentimental significance. I’m afraid that’s non-negotiable.” Little did she know that the hat would be flipped backwards as soon as the cards were dealt. You don’t mess with my gear. She smiled and said “Okay then. Could you tell me a bit about yourself? What tournament did you win to qualify?” I knew that my answers would not be used unless I ended up at the final table, but I told her my unexciting story, explained that I was at my first WSOP, etc. She wished me luck and I went to take my seat.
I moved toward Seat 2 and was now greeted by an ESPN staffer, who removed my cap and put a piece of electrical tape over the “.com” in “Pokerstars.com.” Apparently there is some sort of prohibition on advertising a gambling website on the WSOP telecast or something. I put the cap back on. Next, he affixed a tiny wire to the inside of my collar. I correctly deduced that this was a microphone. The wire was attached to a blackboard eraser-sized black box, which the staffer clipped to the back of my shorts. Then the staffer sat me down in my seat and taught me something of utmost importance: how to view my hole cards so that the lipstick camera installed in the rail could record them. There was a small black dot right in front of each player’s seat. The ESPN guy showed me my black dot and explained that I was to lift my hold cards a few inches in front of that dot. I was given two cards to practice with and passed the audition with flying colors. It wasn’t very difficult. The one awkward part was making sure that your chips didn’t block the camera. Rather than sitting with your chips directly in front of you, at the TV table, the players must stack their chips off to the side.