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Best of Vin Narayanan

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Amazon Room full of atmosphere as WSOP Main Event kicks off

7 July 2013

LAS VEGAS -- If poker was a religion, the World Series of Poker would be its holiest days. The WSOP Main Event would be its most important holiday. And the Amazon Room would be its inner sanctum.

And so it was on Saturday, when 943 players made their pilgrimage to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to begin their quest for glory and riches in the $10,000 Main Event.

Saturday was the first of three opening days for the Main Event. Three opening days are needed because there isn't enough space for a poker tournament this size to start everyone at the same time. The Main Event has had more than 6,300 entrants every year since 2006.

Not everyone started play in the Amazon Room Saturday. With 101 tables, there wasn't enough room. The Brasilia Room handled the overflow, with cash games and satellites taking place in the Pavilion. But with eliminations coming at a brisk pace, the field consolidated quickly and well before the dinner break, the Amazon Room held the entire Main Event, with a few tables to spare.

Like many houses of worship, the walls of the Amazon Room are lined with art and imagery showing the players stories of the past and what they're striving for. Giant portraits of previous Main Event winners -- poker's answer to championship banners -- line the walls of the Amazon Room. The banners start with Amarillo Slim in 1972 and move in chronological order, counterclockwise around the Amazon Room, ending with Pius Heinz in 2011. Banners of Johnny Moss, who won the first two Main Events in 1970 and 1971, and 2003 champion Chris Moneymaker hang above a stage in the Pavilion. And a banner of 2012 champion Greg Merson greets players and fans just outside the main entrance to the Amazon Room.

Actors Jason Alexander and Kevin Pollak share a moment at the WSOP Main Event

Actors Jason Alexander and Kevin Pollak share a moment at the WSOP Main Event (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

The portrait of 1994 champion Russ Hamilton is covered by a black drape -- acknowledging his pariah status in poker. Hamilton is now best known for his role in a cheating scandal at Ultimate Bet. His name is visible, but his portrait isn't. The banners for 1985 champion Bill Smith and 2000 champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson have not been hung.

The World Series doesn't have a picture of Smith. And Ferguson still suffers from his association with Full Tilt Poker. Unlike PokerStars, Full Tilt did not return money to American players after it was indicted in 2011. Ferguson is one of Full Tilt's founders.

The Amazon Room is oddly quiet for a place housing more than 900 poker players. The sounds of chips clacking can be heard throughout the room. But the players operate in near monastic silence.

Bet. Raise. Call. Nice hand. That's about the extent of conversation in what's supposed to be the most social of games. There are exceptions. Players discovering they live near each other share quiet conversations about home. Players who know each other chat each other up like old friends. Some tables have raconteurs. And one table has Kevin Pollak.

Pollak is a one-man show at the table. After another player at the table raised, Pollak started talking to him. "What are you telling me about your hand? What are you saying?" Pollak was met with silence. "Everything. You're telling me everything. You're telling me everything with your eyes. I can see everything in your eyes," Pollak added before folding.

After bowing out of another hand, Pollak visited fellow actor Jason Alexander at a nearby table and started giving him a massage.

"You need to take this down," Pollak said. "I'm trying, I'm trying" responded Alexander.

Pollak also mimicked other players at the table and kept the mood light, remembering this tournament was supposed to be fun.

Some of the fun comes with an edge though.

One player approached a friend on the rail, who was surprised to see him. "My wife talked me into playing and I ended up at a table with three pros," he said with some disgust.

Through 10 hours of play and little talking, the players did grow restless. And they counted on their gadgets to pass the time. The smartphone, as it has been for years, was ubiquitous. In between hands, players were texting, switching playlists and reading. About every other table had a player with a tablet. Reading material varied though. Some used it to track baseball games. Others read the live updates of the Main Event on WSOP.com. And others used it to figure out where they were going to eat dinner and make reservations.

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones seem to have replaced the standard ear buds for listening to music. And the hoodie is still in fashion. In fact, it's more suspicious if you're not wearing one than if you are.

Towards the end of the night, the pressure -- and tedium -- of playing 10 hours of poker begins to show on the faces of players. Yawning becomes contagious. The patterns of chip clacking change. Some players maintain a slow, even-tempoed shuffling of their chips. Others speed up the tempo, impatient for another hand to begin. Players begin shifting in their seats, trying to get comfortable. Several men start twisting their backs, trying to loosen up. One woman tries using her purse as lower back pillow and then gives up. Massage therapists who have been walking around the Amazon Room, offering their services, are in high demand.

In the end, the players are happy to have survived Day 1A of the tournament. They'll be back on Tuesday to keep their dreams of winning the Main Event alive.

Notable drama:

There was a five-way all in near the end of the night. All of the action came pre-flop, with four players moving all-in over the top of each other. The person who started the raising moved all in himself, creating the five-way all-in moment. What did everyone have? Here are the hands in no particular order:

Qc-Qh
Ac-Ks
Js-Jd
Ad-10c
4d-3d

The queens held up on a board of 7s-6h-6d-7c-4s and Mac Sohrabi emerged from the scrum with a lot of chips.

There are 101 poker tables in the Amazon Room

There are 101 poker tables in the Amazon Room (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Notable chip stacks
Evan Panesis: 190,975
Nick Crisp: 184,075
Greg Merson: 81,600
Brian Rast: 30,925
Elisabeth Hille: 59,825
Tony Dunst: 23,625
Phil Galfond: 54,250
Mike Sexton: 31,700
Matt Glantz: 37,000

Notable eliminations
Jason Alexander
Paul Magriel
Pius Heinz
T.J. Cloutier
Michael Gagliano
Raymond Rahme
Andy Bloch
Amazon Room full of atmosphere as WSOP Main Event kicks off is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.