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Best of Vin Narayanan
On Monday and Tuesday, the morning commutes were the same. The desert heat was bearable -- even comfortable. The casino floor was quiet. And it was a long, lonely walk from the casino floor to the WSOP Main Event. And in the Amazon Room, the Day 1A (Monday) and Day 1B (Tuesday) fields were small -- 1,125 on Monday and 1,489 on Tuesday -- and studious.
But today was different. For the first time in this Main Event, the Las Vegas heat was stifling. And when I entered the Rio at 10:45 a.m., the din from the gambling floor was so loud I could barely have a conversation.
There were people at the slots. There were people at the tables. Everybody seemed excited.
The long hallway connecting the Rio casino floor to the convention space that houses the World Series of Poker was crowded. And the Sao Paulo Cafe, located halfway between the casino floor and the Amazon Room, was packed.
There really is no culinary -- or economic -- reason for the Sao Paulo Cafe to be crowded. The food is mediocre and overpriced. There are better places to eat in the Rio. Yet the line to get in ran 15 deep, and every table was full. Today was different.
I cut through the Pavilion this morning, which is the secondary poker room at the WSOP. Although calling the Pavilion secondary is a bit unfair. It's like calling the Pacific Ocean secondary.
The Pavilion is a 55,488 square-foot room. The Amazon Room has 39,060 square feet. Both are filled to the brim with poker tables. But the Amazon Room is the traditional home of the WSOP. And this is the first year the WSOP is using the Pavilion -- so secondary it is.
About half the tables in the Pavilion today were set aside for today's Main Event action, so the expected field size had to be big. Today was different.
Players were already wandering through the Pavilion as I made my way to the other side of the room and the exit closest to the Amazon Room.
One player in the Pavilion was already feeling the pressure despite the fact that play wasn't scheduled to begin for at least another hour. Or maybe he was just a jerk.
"I'm not going to go inside the ropes, but is it all right if I see where I'm going to play?" the player asked a security guard.
"Yes, as long as you don't enter the ropes," the security guard said.
"I just said I wasn't going in the ropes," said the player, raising his voice. "Learn to respond to the customer."
"I said it was OK as long as you didn't enter the ropes," the security guard said.
"I know," yelled the player. "And I told you I wasn't going to enter the ropes."
The obnoxious player then tried to humiliate the guard. "I'm not going to go inside the ropes, but is it all right if I see where I'm going to play?" the player asked loudly, not once but twice.
"Yes, as long as you don't enter the ropes," the security guard responded.
"Fucking moron," yelled the player as he stomped off to inspect his table from afar.
Yep. Today was different.
After my encounter with the disturbed player, I exited the Pavilion and headed down the hall to the Amazon Room. The hall, which had been virtually empty at 11 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday, was filled with players and fans alike.
Conversations had to be loud, just so the person you were talking to could be heard. Fans were excited. Players were nervous. There was a buzz that hadn't been felt on previous days. It was almost as if someone remembered to turn the electricity on at the Main Event today.
When the doors to the Amazon Room -- and the ropes in the Pavilion -- opened for players just before noon, 2,313 Main Event hopefuls filled more than 230 poker tables across two of the biggest rooms in Las Vegas.
Not only was the 2,313-player field the largest Day One yet, it was also a star-studded affair.
Two-time champion Johnny Chan, defending champion Joe Cada, Hoyt Corkins, Annie Duke, Tom Dwan, Eli Elezra, Antonio Esfandiari, Chau Giang, Jeff Madsen, Tom McEvoy, Robert Mizrachi, Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Ngyuen, Mike Sexton, David Williams and Dennis Green were all in action. So were Howard Lederer, Sammy Farha, Patrik Antonious, Daniel Alaei, Amnon Filipi, Adam Levy, Liz Lieu, Kathy Liebert, Evelyn Ng, Men "The Master" Ngyuen, Shanna Moakler and Huck Seed. And that's not even the complete list of notables!
Phil Hellmuth played today as well. But he wasn't in his seat to start the day (OK, so that part of today wasn't different). Instead, he chose to continue his tradition of grand costumed entrances with scantily clad women. In 2007, Hellmuth entered dressed up as a NASCAR driver. In 2008, he came in dressed as Gen. George Patton. Last year he was Julius Caesar. And this year he came in dressed as a UFC fighter, complete with ring girls holding up 11 WSOP "championship belts" -- one for each bracelet he's won.
I missed Hellmuth's grand entrance "pre-game" show, where he stood outside on a flatbed truck with a video board behind him and women dancing around him. Casino City's Dan Igo has the full report on that. But I did witness him walking into the Amazon Room with a robe on. And I was really glad to see he was wearing a shirt underneath the robe.
Hellmuth's 2010 WSOP Main Event run didn't last long. He started playing around 2 p.m. And he was eliminated just over seven hours later, when his pocket jacks were beaten by pocket queens that turned into a flush.
Spectators were stacked two deep on the rail to watch Hellmuth play throughout the day. But Hellmuth didn't have the biggest fan following at the Main Event. That honor belonged to Tom "Durrrr" Dwan.
Dwan began the day in the Pavilion, with a table right by the rail where fans could -- and did -- jockey for position, lean into the tournament area and otherwise crowd the table in an effort to get a better look at the high-stakes poker phenom at work. And with the many journalists (guilty), photographers (guilty) and ESPN cameras following his every move, it was a pretty frenzied atmosphere. Durrrr was later moved to the Amazon Room, and he busted out just before play ended for the night. For more on Dwan's day, check out Dan Igo's Day 1C notebook.
Phillips began his day in the Pavilion as well. But because of Durrrr mania, I didn't catch the beginning of his day. After he was moved into the Amazon Room, I caught up with him and he told me about his roller-coaster day.
"I was down to 15,000 a little while ago," Phillips said. "But I'm back up to 34,000 now. In the other room I flopped the nut-flush draw five times and didn't hit it once. It was check, check, fold, check, check, fold. I couldn't believe it."
I had left Phillips to wander around the tournament floor for a while when I ran into two players, sitting next to each other, getting a massage.
Two players receiving a massage at a poker table isn't unusual. But one of these players was a woman. And I had never seen seen a woman receiving a chair massage at a WSOP table before. What really made this scene unusual, however, was the nature of the massages.
A woman was massaging the man, and it looked like she was doing it really gently -- squeezing his neck here and there and gently working his arms.
A man was massaging the woman, and the massage he was giving was so vigorous that the petite player could barely stay on her chair at the table.
And in the middle of being thrown around on her chair, the female player managed to win a pot. Unbelievable.
After watching the massages for a few minutes, I headed back to the Pavilion to check out Chan and found the former Main Event champ in control of his table. Every time he entered a pot, he won. If Chan raised, players folded. If Chan called, players knew they were beat. Chan could do whatever he wanted to, and he knew it. He ended up with 163,700 at the end of the night.
At the end of the night, I checked in on Phillips again, and things were not looking good. He had just lost 5,000 in a hand where he had pocket 10s. His opponent had pushed all-in with a flush draw, and Phillips folded.
"I didn't have the guts to call him," Phillips told me. But with about 8,000 in chips remaining, Phillips knows he doesn't have many options left.
"Peter Eastgate was down to 6,000 before making a deep run last year," Phillips said. "I need to get some cards. I can tell you that if I get pocket 10s again soon, they won't end up in the muck."
While Phillips managed to survive the day, several well-known players did not. Seed, Dario Minieri, Jerry Yang, Chad Brown, Chau Giang, Madsen, Billy Gazes and Moakler all joined Hellmuth on the rail.