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Best of Vin Narayanan
Top-10 WSOP Main Event story lines16 July 2013
10. Hard work
All of the attention at the Main Event is focused on the players -- and rightly so. They're the stars of the show. And they paid $10,000 to play in the tournament. But there are hundreds of employees working hard every day to make this tournament come to life. In fact, if you look around the tournament area in the Rio at any point during the tournament, most of the people you'll see are working. Dealers, massage therapists, security guards, bathroom attendants (who somehow keep the restrooms clean and usable despite thousands of people defiling them during 20-minute breaks), bartenders (who are great about remembering the drink orders of regulars), cooks and the wonderful people working the kiosks who made sure I got my fresh fruit and cold medicine every day.
9. Steve Gee
So just how good is Steve Gee? When Gee reached the final table last year, he was fifth in chips. But he was the first player eliminated at the final table, and ridiculed by many after his elimination. Now Gee has made a second deep run in the Main Event, finishing 24th. Luck might get you one deep tournament run. But two? That takes some skill. Whether Gee has convinced the doubters remains to be seen. But one thing is clear -- it's time to cut the guy some slack.
8. Boisterous rails
The deeper the tournament goes, the more boisterous the rails become. The Brazilian fans rooting for Bruno Kawauti have been particularly entertaining. They're loud. They chant for cards in Portuguese. And you can tell what's happened in the hand based on their reaction. In short, they're everything you want crowds at sporting-like events to be.
The Ryan Riess supporters caught on to some of the Brazilian chants and started yelling "Vamos Riess, vamos."
Chris Lindh's fans shouted "Lindh-sanity" every time their player heated. I know, not original. But they were into it.
Other rails are more focused on supporting their players no matter what. The calls of "Good fold" erupt when their player folds. I have no idea how they know it's a good fold, but I'll roll with it.
The only fans that really bother me are the ones that think they have an effect on the outcome or the result. The ones that say, "Every time I call for a deuce, you get a deuce -- I told you it would work!" Those folks need to be quiet. Everyone else, make as much noise as you want. It's a lot of fun. And the passion certainly adds to the atmosphere.
7. International game
Poker may be a uniquely American game. But the game has gone global in a big way. Fourteen of the final 27 players were from outside the U.S., 28.8 percent of the Main Event entrants were not Americans and players from 83 different countries participated in the tournament.
6. Players care about the Main Event
Busting out of a tournament sucks. It doesn't matter whether it's a media freeroll, a $75 turbo or a $235 deep stack. But the Main Event is different. This is the tournament that matters. This is the tournament poker players everywhere are shooting for. And the emotions of playing in this tournament are different.
Jackie Glazier had tears in her eyes after being eliminated. Gee looked stunned. Players are letting out roars when they hit a draw. Some emotion at the table is normal. The emotions you see in the Amazon Room are pure Main Event driven.
"I've probably been to seven final tables in my lifetime, which is more than a lot of people can say," Max Steinberg said after Day 3 of the Main Event. "And I've been at some televised tables too. And with that one would think that I get to the televised table on Day 3 of the Main Event (and say), 'No big deal, it's a walk in the park.' But it was just different.
"You have Phil Ivey on your left, it's the Main Event, the lights are glaring, there's all this buzz and my friends are following it. It was different. I found myself a little more nervous than I thought I'd be. I wouldn't have expected that to be the case, but it is a lot different."
5. Burdens of the crown
When Greg Merson was eliminated from the tournament, he admitted that his year as Main Event champion had exhausted him. The responsibilities of being the Main Event champion -- from dealing the fan attention to the various media requests and other demands on time -- are not something most poker players are prepared for or know how to deal with. For most of the players, this is the first time they're becoming a public figure. And the transition from private person to public figure can be rocky for even the most prepared people. Merson did his best, and he did a good job. Now he's ready to let someone else be the public face of poker.
4. Jackie Glazier
The number of women playing increased by 41 percent this year. Last year, there were 211 women playing in the Main Event and this year there were 298 women playing. And they were all really good. Neither Elisabeth Hille nor Gaelle Baumann, who finished 11th and 10th last year, made the money this year. But Jackie Glazier made a deep run this year and finished 31st, winning $229,281. Unlike Hille and Baumann, Glazier was a known quantity. She finished second in a $3,000 WSOP No-Limit Hold'em tournament last year and won $458,996. And she has a long history of tournament success in her native Australia. When people engaged in hands with her, they did so with a healthy dose of respect. She wasn't sneaking up on anybody. And when she was eliminated from the Main Event, it became clear just how much this tournament run meant to her. With tears in her eyes, she went to her rail to be consoled. The disappointment was etched in her face. She didn't win the Main Event. But her journey through the tournament was remarkable to watch.
3. Anton Morgenstern
Anton Morgenstern's free fall from chip leader to 20th place symbolizes the volatile nature of poker -- and the highly volatile version of the game practiced today. I couldn't imagine a player who had twice as many chips as anyone else in the field, disappear so quickly from the late stages of a tournament. Yet here was Morgenstern making 21.955 million disappear in less than six hours. Morgenstern showed he wasn't afraid to play big pot poker, calling an all-in bet of 5.5 million with pocket eights. And he wasn't afraid to call an all-in bet of 10 million with three aces and a possible full house out there. As the chip leader, Morgenstern tried to walk the fine line between aggressive and reckless. We might have to wait until the ESPN broadcast to see exactly how well he did. But right now, it's not looking pretty.
2. Friends and family
Anyone can come to the Rio to watch the WSOP. And many poker fans do stop by. But the Main Event crowd is largely friends and family. When the money bubble of the tournament hits, family and friends crowd the rope separating the fans from the tournament floor, trying to follow the action and see if the person they're cheering for makes the money. During the early days of the tournament, wives, girlfriends and significant others will watch their loved ones if they're on an outer table. If the person they're here to watch is on an inner table though, all bets are off. And as the tournament plays down from 60 players to nine, the stands of the ESPN stadium stage fill for the first time. Friends and family have arrived to cheer on the players.
What really makes the arrival of friends and family to the later stages of the tournament special is they become part of the player's tournament experience. Unlike other sports where family and friends watch from the stands with physical distance between them and their loved ones, poker players spend time with their rail throughout play. When things aren't going well, they go to their rail for support. And when they're catching cards, they can high five their friends and celebrate together. During the breaks, they get moral support.
This direct connection during play with the people supporting them makes poker unique. And it's a lot of fun to watch.
1. November 9
This is the best final table the WSOP Main Event has had since the inception of the November 9 in 2008. J.C. Tran and Amir Lehavot are both respected pros who have won WSOP bracelets before. Sylvain Loosli is an online cash game specialist. Marc McLaughlin already has 30th and 86th place Main Event finishes under his belt. David Benefield is a part-time poker pro with a dozen previous WSOP cashes for $455,713. Ryan Riess is a poker wunderkind. Marc Newhouse is a poker pro with $152,725 in WSOP earnings. Michiel Brummelhuis is a poker pro from The Netherlands with seven previous WSOP cashes for $174,170 in earnings. And Jay Farber is the hobbyist trying to cash in on a dream. Experience, skill and great stories. You can't ask for much more out of a final table.
Best of Vin Narayanan