The main event of the world series of poker is special. One of the clues is if I hadn’t written world series of poker after ‘main event’ you’d know exactly what I was talking about. I waited over 15 years to play it and have now played it twice. It’s one of the few things in life that lives up to quite the ludicrous levels of anticipation I had for it. I know that most of you reading this won’t have been lucky enough to play it but trust me it’s worth all the satellite attempts to get there. After years of pain not qualifying for seats I’ve resorted to emotional bribery and have the good people at Poker Stars to thank for putting me in.
There are many reasons that make the main event unique but for me the history isn’t really one. It’s not the same event as it was when it was first conceived. It used to try and be the world championship of poker now it’s the world championship of run good. Darvin Moon was one call away from being ‘world champ’ – the anarchist in me wishes he’d done it but that the fact he got so close tells you all you need to know.
What does make it special is the size, scale and ludicrousness of the money involved. If you’re a poker fan it’s very easy to become used to the big numbers around the game but the main event is on a different level. The prize pool is roughly a gagillion dollars. After Harrah’s have moved their magical money removing hand over it that goes down to many millions but it’s still silly money. (They’re particularly good at this – my favourite bit is when you give them $10,000 dollars to play a possibly 8 day long tournament and they give you a seat assignment and a $10 food voucher – for the entire event; classy). Think about it this way every average ability player that enters has about a 700 to 1 chance of becoming a millionaire. It may be a lottery but it’s the only lottery with odds that good.
Sitting down to play it gives you a buzz like no other time you’ll play poker. There’s a tangible feeling of anticipation in the room which I think is generated by so many excited people; producing enough nervous energy to power the neon in Vegas or at least to properly heat up the Rio buffet – which would be a first. The Series does a good job of ramping up the excitement with an overblown celebrity led ‘shuffle up and deal’ and then you’re away; playing the most exciting event of your life.
Last year I didn’t play well for the first 3 or 4 levels I was so over awed. This time I was one of the few at my table who had played before so quickly settled down and began to carve up the table (or not). I was seated under huge pictures of two former world champions the legend Stu Ungar and the awful Hal Fowler. I hoped to play like Stu and run like Hal sadly I did neither.
Early on I decided to make my traditional ‘nick takes a while to adjust to live tournaments’ spew. I irrationally decided I’d win a pot so barrelled 3 streets against a player that was never folding ever. After this I gave myself a stiff talking too and settled down. Every good player I’ve ever talked to about this event agrees how you should play – basically play tightish and when you have a hand bet the crap out of it; you’ll get called as the players are generally weak and have more chips in front of them than ever before.
I chipped back up over the next few hours and was thirty minutes before dinner break when disaster struck. I flopped a set against a pretty terrible player and spent every street figuring what to bet to get his money in. On the river I shoved and he started to think. He must have tanked for a good two minutes and all the time my internal monologue was screaming ‘call … call…..gimme the chips’. He cut out chips, thought, looked at me – I made the ‘I’m super weak’ lip bite and swallow – he thought some more. I was sure he had some kind of two pair. My friend asked me later if I’d have bet all I owned on having the best hand – and I’m afraid I would have. Eventually he called and I rolled my set of 7s like I owned Vegas. Before he rolled his set of Jacks. I’d been nitrolled for my main event life and it was just properly disgusting. I wish I could tell you I took it well but I did not. There may have been some berating and something of a storm off. Of course set under set is a fine way to go broke and it’s not like I’d ever do anything differently but the shock of thinking I was winning and then finding I was destroyed wasn’t good. Looking back a month later it’s just starting to be funny.
The thing was I was making plans – the ante came in after dinner and I was ready to open up on my table. I was ready to build my stack, be a chip leader at the end of day 1 and power on to the November nine. I was making plans but then so were the other 6000+ players that left the main event with nothing. And that’s the last special thing about the main event; it gives you permission to dream. Maybe this time you’ll be the one that coolers player after player and goes deep – really deep – and wins enough to change your life. It may be a lottery but it’s the most exciting one in the world and if I’m not lucky enough to have Stars put me in next year I’ll do whatever I can to qualify and play it because when you sit down to play the main event it’s one of the few times in life you can genuinely say ‘there’s literally no where else on the planet I’d rather be.’