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Best of Vin Narayanan

Gaming Guru

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Shhh. We're trying to play a poker tournament.

7 November 2011

LAS VEGAS -- Pius Heinz, Ben Lamb and Martin Staszko survived 10 hours of grueling play Sunday and will play for the World Series of Poker Main Event championship Tuesday. The tournament's champion will win $8,715,638.

Matt Giannetti finished in fourth to win $3,012,700.

While Heinz, Lamb and Staszko advanced to Tuesday's finale, the raucous crowd inside the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio was proving to be both a blessing and a curse for poker's biggest stage.

Caesars has been wildly successful in turning the World Series of Poker Main Event final table into a loud, energetic, crowd-pleasing spectator event.

Pausing the tournament for three months to allow TV coverage to catch up to the Main Event gives players time to organize and bring their fans to Las Vegas to watch the play for life-changing money.

Fans show up singing songs, wearing T-shirts, banging drums, shaking maracas and cheering wildly throughout the day/night.

But the electric atmosphere is starting to interfere with game plays. Sunday's crowd cheered, sang and chanted when their players were in hands, when they weren't in hands, when other players were trying to make critical decision and all sorts of other times they weren't supposed to. It was a big enough problem that "Ssssshhhhhh" was the most uttered word Sunday.

Part of the problem is there's no established etiquette for this like there is for tennis. In tennis you cheer between points, not during. If the WSOP doesn't fix this, large crowds will start hindering the event, not helping it. So how did Sunday's action, complete with inappropriate cheering, unfold? Let's go to the retro diary (with apologies to Bill Simmons) to find out.

9:30 a.m.
I arrive at the Rio to pick up my press credentials. After I pick them up, I'm faced with my first critical decision: breakfast or sportsbook (it's an NFL Sunday after all). I spent all of yesterday reviewing the new sportsbook at the Venetian (and knee deep in college football and Breeders' Cup action), so I choose breakfast, hoping the decision will pay off in the long run.

11 a.m.
Phil Collins's fans show up. And they're loud. I hear them a full 5 seconds before I see them walking down the hallway.

"I can hear it, coming in the air tonight. Go, Phil. Go, Phil. I've been waiting for this moment all my life. Go, Phil. Go, Phil." Apparently the drinking has begun early too. The Collins rail then repeats their performance for the ESPN cameras that missed it the first time, and head into the Penn & Teller Theater to grab their seats.

11:05 a.m.
Ben Lamb's rail has gone with green T-shirts. Green, really. Don't they know an Irishman is playing in this tournament? I anticipate serious clashing.

11:15
Sure enough, inside the Starbucks next to the Penn & Teller Theater, Eoghan O'Dea's crew opens up a suitcase full of green shirts. Yep. Saw that one coming. And really, Lamb has no business going with green when he's playing an Irish guy. That would be like USC wearing green the day they play Notre Dame. Or a bridesmaid trying to upstage the bride at a wedding. It's just a bad idea.

11:20
Find my seat in orchestra row. A European reporter looks pissed off to see me.

11:30
Visit Dr. Pauly, one of the best poker reporters around. I congratulate him for not getting arrested at Occupy Oakland. He wants to know if I've seen the latest lines at the sportsbook. I've got great friends.

11:35
The Phil Collins singing starts agains. It's going to be a long day.

11:40
The Matt Giannetti folks show up dressed in black T-shirts with Hazards spelled out on it. They brought those letter signs to spell it out too. But they're not very good at it.

11:45
I find the Belize contingent. They're singing and chanting for their very own Bob Bounahra (whom I like to call Belize Bob). It sounds like a soccer game with them in the audience.

11:57
The TV crew is trying to make a last-minute fix to the stage. Seriously. Cards in the air in 20 minutes and you're still trying to fix something?

Noon
Check on my fantasy teams. Not good. Feeling better about my sportsbook decision.

12:09
The crowd is still going nuts. Everyone is yelling and cheering. How long can they keep this up? Don't they know watching live poker is boring? A great prop bet, if you could measure, would be how quickly the crowd gets bored watching the game. My over under would be 45 minutes.

12:15
O'Dea's Irish rail just chanted something. I didn't understand a word of it.

12:16
The Belize contingent brought giant maracas with them. Maracas! How cool is that? They're playing them for the ESPN cameras right now. Actually, everyone seems to go nuts for the ESPN cameras. What is it about human beings that makes them do anything possible for air time? Kardashians are also free to answer this question.

12:17
Ben Lamb's rail isn't doing the whole organized cheer thing. Maybe they know they're going to be here for a while.

12:19
The atmosphere in here is remarkable. And there's no way this happens without a break in play a la the November Nine. The WSOP is going to have to think long and hard about what they want to do with the future of this tournament. With almost live TV coverage (15-minute delay), there's no need for a "break" in the tournament to allow TV coverage to catch up with the final table. And finishing the tournament on schedule maintains the integrity of the event. I think all of the tournaments we've had since the inception of the November Nine in 2008 would have had different champions without the pause. But what you get in tournament integrity, you lose in atmosphere. Is the trade-off worth it? That depends on what you want the WSOP Main Event to be. If you want it to be the greatest tournament in the world, then move it back to the summer. If you want it to be a celebration of all things poker, then keep it in November.

12:23
Cards are in the air. And the Collins fans are singing again.

12:35
WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel just shushed the Collins fans. They shushed him back. Feels like we're back in high school.

12:37
Ben Lamb makes his first trip to the rail. Wonder if he's looking for intel.

12:44
Belize Bob wins a hand! The maracas and drums come out! Yes, he has his own drum section.

12:57
Ben Lamb wins a pot and wakes up his rail. Then we get a dancing lamb in the crowd. I'm not sure if the guy in lamb costume lost a prop bet, but he's showing off some dancing skills.

1:09
The Collins rail is starting to get obnoxious. They're chanting and cheering when players (other than Phil) are trying to make a decision. They're yelling and screaming even when Phil is not in the hand. Effel just shushed them again, asking them "to give players courtesy."

1:19
The Collins rail gets another shushing from Effel. At this point, the Collins fans seem bored and are making noise just amuse themselves.

1:21
Fans of Collins answer calls to be quiet with derisive shushes of their own. Did I mention the WSOP has a problem it needs to address?

1:28
Sam Holden and Belize Bob have been slowly slipping into the danger zone. Holden has 10.825 million remaining while Belize Bob has 12.925 million left. Belize Bob has been actively losing chips while Holden has been quietly bleeding away. I'm not sure which is worse.

1:30
The players have been making regular trips to the stands, where people are cheering them on to see what information can be gleaned from the nearly live (15-minute delay) ESPN broadcast. Right now, Lamb, Giannetti and Heinz are visiting their rails.

1:32
Belize Bob reaches into his belly pack for a cigar. Maybe Belize fashion is still in the 80s.

If Belize Bob doesn't win, he's going to wonder why he took so long to break it out. The cigar is the clear source of his power.

1:38
The cigar works!! Belize Bob finally takes a pot off of Staszko, and the Belize contingent goes wild.

1:41
More cigar magic. Belize Bob wins two in a row after breaking out the cigar. Bob waves to his crowd and tips his hat.

1:43
The first all in of the night comes from Anton Makiievskyi, but the crowd barely notices. They're too busy amusing themselves. Makiievskyi wins the pot when nobody calls his bet.

1:45
Belize Bob wins another hand while chomping on his cigar. I wonder if it's Cuban?

1:48
The audience greets ESPN's Kara Scott with wolf whistles as she walks across the stage. Way to stay classy, poker fans.

1:49
Heinz is on a heater. He's won a few hands and is up to 18.925 million.

1:57
ESPN cameras come to Ben Lamb's section of fans, looking for color shots. Lamb wins a hand on cue. Cue the dancing lamb. And Lamb's followers shouting down Collins's fans. The Lamb fans rail has had it and they're not taking it anymore. All of this while Lamb and Makiievskyi are in a hand. Nice.

2:16
Holden is checking out a smart phone with his rail. Is this the new era of coordinators in poker, where the player with the best team breaking down video wins?

2:26
More than two hours after the start of play, we finally get fireworks. O'Dea gets the fun started with a raise to 4.1 million. Heinz calls, while Collins and Lamb fold. After a flop of 8c-8d-4c, O'Dea beat 4.6 million. Heinz thinks about it and then calls. The two of clubs hits on the turn, eliciting oohs and aahs from the crowd -- at this point, I think they're willing to cheer any action. O'Dea bets 8.2 million, and Heinz goes into the tank before moving all in.

The pain in O'Dea's face is unmistakable. He folds, and drops from 28.475 to 11.5 million while Heinz moves from from 24.775 million to 44.175 million. And for those of you wondering what their hole cards were, we now know them courtesy of the ESPN "nearly-live" broadcast. Heinz had Qs-Qc and O'Dea had Ah-Qd. Yeah, I don't get O'Dea's play either.

2:51
Heinz takes the chip lead. He has 47.35 million. Staszko has 46.25 million.

3:15
It's break time at the final table, and the women are gloating over how long the line is for the men's room. There are only two places where the line for the men's room is longer than the line for the women's room -- poker tournaments and sporting events. Advantage: Men.

3:23
Decision to get eggs for breakfast looking smarter and smarter. Much of the crowd facing blood-sugar issues. At least a dozen people have asked me when dinner break is (it's at 6:45).

3:28
Lamb knocks Holden out of the tournament. Holden began the day with 12.375 million and never gained any traction at the final table. Holden won $782,115 for finishing in ninth. Lamb is up to 34.4 million.

"I was just card dead," Holden said as he explained his finish. But he offered one prediction -- watch out for Heinz.

"Pius was playing the best. He was the most aggressive opponent at the table and he really came out with guns blazing. I guess he's playing the toughest of the nine. Although I do expect people to be changing their games all the time, especially with the live hole cards."

3:45
Some people in Lamb's contingent are begging for food from people who walk past them.

3:46
Makiievskyi appears to be folding his way to a higher payday. He's rarely playing hands. At least Belize Bob looks like he's playing to win.

3:49
Giannetti cripples Belize Bob when he turns over a jack on a board reading 3h-Js-6d-5c-5s. Belize Bob had pocket tens, leaving him with just 8.575 million remaining.

3:57
Blinds are going to catch Belize Bob soon.

3:59
Makiievskyi pushes all in from nowhere, and Heinz busts him. Makkievskyi could have waited until Belize Bob busted. Instead, he pushed all in with Kc-Qh, and Heinz called quickly with pocket nines. A board of Kx-Jx-Jx-9c-7h was no help to Makiievskyi, and the Ukrainian was done. Makiievskyi won $1,010,015 for finishing in 8th. And Heinz now has 61.150 million in chips.

Makiievskyi said he was card dead for most of the night. And he also noted he wasn't fond of the fans making a ton of noise while cards were on the table.

"I don't think [the atmosphere] affected my play," Makiievskyi said. "But I didn't like it. Sometimes it was too loud during the hand. They would say 'shhhhh' but it wouldn't work. I didn't like it but I don't think it affected my game."

4:24
Belize Bob pushes all in with Ah-5c. Staszko calls with As-9d and Belize Bob is in trouble. A board of 6h-7c-2c-Kh-6d sends Belize Bob packing, but not before the crowd gives him a standing ovation. Belize Bob takes a bow, tips his cap and exits the tournament with style and grace. I hope Phil Hellmuth was taking notes. Oh. Almost forgot. Belize Bob won $1,314,097 for finishing in 7th.

"I came here to have fun," Belize Bob said after he busted out. "Poker is a fun sport for me. Of course you have your ups and downs.... I came with a strategy. Obviously it didn't work as much as I wanted. I didn't get lucky like the last time, so that's poker."

4:30
And in the biggest/best news of the day, the Giants beat the Patriots 24-20. Go ahead, Pats fans. Send the hate mail.

4:31
O'Dea and Collins are sitting with 14.025 million and 15.075 million. Everyone else has room to play, although Lamb is fading (less than 30 million). Everyone else has more than 45 million. Did anybody have a Giannetti, Heinz, Staszko trifecta?

4:35
Lamb fans, complete with trays of drinks, are moving down to the front row.

4:37
Collins gives his fans something to cheer about by moving all in with Qh-Jd. Lamb calls with As-Qc and it's off to the races we go, with Collins's fans serenading us along the way. The flop and turn of Kd-5d-3s-10d gave Collins some outs. And the miracle Qd on the river gave him the flush and the double up at Lamb's expense. Collins now has 28.15 million and Lamb has fallen to 15.325 million.

4:45
A Czech journalist cheers Staszko. Apparently, he doesn't know there's no cheering in the press box.

4:54
With Collins in a hand, we hear some genuine shushing from the Collins rail to give him quiet to think. Collins folds.

4:56
O'Dea fans taunt Staszko, chanting his name while he tries to decide on calling O'Deas all in bet. Stazsko doesn't call and the O'Dea rail unleashes a variation of "Yellow Submarine" that sounds great even though I can't understand it.

And they continued to sing it during a hand involving Lamb and Heinz.

Lamb actually moved all in during the singing, forcing Heinz to fold.

The Irish and British are both really good at creating clever songs that sound good, but are difficult for untrained ears to understand. The Cameron Crazies are the closest American incarnation to the British tradition of clever songs and chants. The Cameron Crazies just don't sing.

5:16
Since the Collins suckout, Lamb hasn't been able to gain any traction and is last in chips (16.125). Collins (17.65 million) has already frittered away the chips Lamb gave him. And O'Dea is hanging around the 17 million mark. It's hard to tell what's more annoying, getting sucked out on, or the person who won those chips giving them up right away.

5:28 p.m.
Lamb, down to 12.625 million, pushes all in. O'Dea isn't sure what to do and goes into the tank. A couple people in the crowd yell at O'Dea and tell him to push it. Effel shushes them. Someone else yells for O'Dea to push it all in, earning another shush from Effel. Finally O'Dea calls and flips over Ac-9d. Lamb turns over Qd-8d and it's off to the races. A flop of 6d-Jd-Js gives Lamb some additional outs with a flush draw. The 4c hits on the turn. But in the year of Ben Lamb, there is never any doubt what the river will bring. Sure enough, an 8 hits on the river, giving Lamb the double up and crippling O'Dea. Lamb now has 29.45 million while O'Dea had 2.6 million.

5:35
Break time. I'd hate to be O'Dea right now. I'm not sure what the best analogy is. Moises Alou after the Steve Bartman incident comes to mind. But I'm leaning towards the Patriots defense after the David Tyree catch in the Super Bowl. The sports gods, or in this case the poker gods, just looked down on you and took everything you worked for away from you. And there's nothing you can do about it.

5:51
Cards in the air after a 15-minute break.

5:52
O'Dea moves all in. That didn't take long. Stazko wants a count. I want to tell him not much. It's actually 2.2 million. Staszko reraises to force everyone else out of the hand. Then O'Dea flips over Qh-6c. Staszko shows pocket eights, and the race is on. The board once again fails to help O'Dea, and the Irishman exits the tournament wondering what went wrong. O'Dea won $1,720,831 for finishing in 6th place.

"I played one hand [poorly]," said O'Dea after his elimination. "It's the hand with Heinz when he had two queens...I kind of felt at the time that he was weak."

5:58
Heinz sends Collins packing when his pocket nines hold up against Collins's Ad-7d. An almost perfect flop of 6s-5c-4d gave Collins hope, and the 9d on the turn increased his outs, but the 7s on the river ended his night. Collins's rail serenaded him one more time before heading for the exit. It's going to be a lot quieter in here now. Collins won $2,269,599 for finishing in 5th place.

"I'm a little detached from emotion," Collins said after his elimination. "I think fifth place is kind of that neutral feeling. You didn't go out early so it's not a huge disappointment, but I didn't do what I came here to do, which is win."

Collins might not have won, but at least he's planning to use his $2,269,599 wisely.

"[The money] isn't as much as I'd like but it's still a huge chunk of money," Collins said. "I made some poor decisions with my online winnings in the past and overextended myself. I'll try to make this last as long as possible."

6:43
Dinner break. Casino City's Dan Igo and I are heading to Gaylord's for Indian food.

7:15
Ordered soup. I wasn't expecting to order soup in Vegas. But it's been cold here the last few days. It was 48 degrees when I landed and it hasn't warmed up since then.

8:08
They're fixing the stage again. Come on, folks. This is poker's biggest day and you're still trying to get the stage right? That's like putting in a brand-new field right before the big game. Oh, never mind.

8:13
Stage fixed.

8:21
It looks like the table is trying to run over Staszko. There have been lots of big raises to knock him out of hands. He's currently last, with 20.275 million.

9:16
Lamb has dropped close to 20 million in the last hour. He stands at 29.75 million now.

9:18
Staszko pushes all in over the top of a Heinz raise. The audience wants to go home and starts yelling at Heinz to "push it" and "call that shit." Effel back to shushing the crowd again, and Heinz calls with pocket sixes. Staszko shows the As-8c and his tournament is on the line.

A flop of 8h-5s-8s puts Staszko comfortably in control of the hand with trip eights. The 4d on the turn and Qc on the river miss Heinz, and Staszko is back in the mix as a major player with 44.65 million.

10:30
Ben Lamb pushes all in (22.7 million) with Ah 7h. Giannetti (33.7 million) calls Jc-Jd. In the year of Ben Lamb, this isn't going to end well for Giannetti. I wonder if he knows he's a dead man walking. The flop reads Kh 5h 9d and everyone in the room knows Lamb is going to make his flush. And sure enough, the 4h hits on the turn and it's all over for Giannetti. Giannetti has 6.7 million chips remaining, with the blinds and antes closing in on him. And Lamb now has 55 million.

10:48
After a double up against Staszko, Giannetti pushes all in with Ad 3s. Lamb calls with pocket kings and it's all over for Giannetti. There's no way Giannetti is going to catch Lamb now. And sure enough, the flop gives Lamb quad kings. That's just not fair. Lamb didn't even have to sweat it.

"I'm going to get really drunk," Giannetti said as he refused to characterize his emotions as disappointment. "It's more like a depression," he explained. "I didn't come here to take fourth. I'm happy with how I played but at the same time you don't get this far that often."

"When you get close to something you've dreamed about, and you don't get it, it sucks."

I'm hoping Lamb buys him a drink. It's the least he could do after ripping the poor guy's heart out.

Now we're down to three. Heinz is the runaway chipleader with 107.8 million. Lamb is second with 55.4 million. And Staszko is third with 42.7 million. The three will battle Tuesday for the Main Event crown and $8,715,638. And even though Heinz has all the chips, it feels like Lamb is the favorite. That's just the way it is when it's the year of Ben Lamb.
Shhh. We're trying to play a poker tournament. is republished from Online.CasinoCity.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.