My Fictional Win at the World Series of Poker
by John Vorhaus
ONE: THE END OF THE BEGINNING
“It’s simple you call me up,” reads the lamentably punctuated promo card. “If you like I stay if not I simply go away no obligation.” I turn the card over and gaze upon the picture of Carmen, a actual entertainger. Saying a silent prayer for crimes against English, I open my hand and let the card flutter down to commingle with the ambient grit and flotsam of the Vegas pavement.
May, 2005. I’m standing in the middle of
Fremont Street, Las Vegas,
. A sirocco wind frisks in off the desert, giving a convection oven feel to the space beneath the curved and percolated roof of the Fremont Street Experience. Directly before me, the yawning maw of Harrah’s Horseshoe offers the sweet promise of chill, air-conditioned air, but I’m not quite ready to go in yet. The main event of the World Series of Poker starts in ten minutes.
I am not ready yet.
When Harrah’s bought Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in early 2004, everyone thought that they’d strip-mine its minimal assets and tear the relic down. Then the 2004 World Series of Poker came along and broke every attendance record in sight, with a final event field so gargantuan that they nearly ran out of tables, chairs, chips, dealers, decks of cards, floor space, patience, common sense, and oxygen. No way could they hold the tournament here ever again, everyone said. Baby had outgrown the crib, and must necessarily be shifted to a larger, more accommodating space.
But Harrah’s evidently figured that moving the WSOP from its hallowed home (to the
, say) would render it just another nondescript stop on the endless tournament trail, so they determined to keep it right where it was. Gutting the main floor of the casino, they nuked every single table game and slot machine, and converted the whole space into a poker room of vast and overwhelming proportion. Then they raised the ceilings, retooled the ventilation, and remodeled everything, including the bathrooms which had long been the nearest thing to an indoor outhouse. They iced the cake by tricking the whole place out with the sexiest, high-techiest gear they could find: tables with built-in shuffle machines; digital sign-up board with satellite readouts throughout the casino; built-in flat screen TVs for every conceivable line of sight; wholly holographic chips.
Smart money said they were nuts. Smart money said no way could a dedicated poker hall survive in Las Vegas, not where the average mook wants nothing more challenging from his gamble than dice to toss or reels to watch spin. But when word got out about this place in Vegas… this pure poker environment unsullied by other gambles and undistracted by the bonk and clang of slot machines… well, Harrah’s may have wondered if they’d thought too small. Players came and players stayed. In the upshot, the ‘Shoe was reborn.
Meanwhile, back at my modest career, I happened to catch the eye of a new online poker site called www.pokerbeatsworking.com. Blessed with more startup cash than common sense, they hired me at extravagant sums of money to do not much more than grace their magazine ads with my smiling face. If you’ve ever seen my smiling face, you’ll know it’s graceless, and if you’ve ever seen me play poker, you’ll know that, “as a poker player, I’m a pretty good writer.” These blunt facts notwithstanding, the worthies at pokerbeatsworking.com decided to bankroll my entry into the 2005 World Series of Poker, the $10,000 main event, for which there are some 5,023 players taking their seats even as we speak.
Oh, and I’m wired, wired for sight and sound. Everything I say or do during the tournament will be immediately uplinked and posted to the web. This just squares and cubes the present gnarl in my stomach, the prospect of having the world watch, and critique, and second-guess my play. If I make a fool of myself, everyone will know, and instantly. Whatever poker credibility I’ve ever managed to accrue could be squandered by one bad call or one promiscuous raise.
But one thing I know about no-limit Texas Hold’em is that you must be unafraid to lose. You must be prepared to move your money, even when you know it could cost you everything. No problem for me on that score -- hell, it’s not my money. But also, you must be willing to look dumb, sometimes real dumb. Your reads and your reasoning will put you in situations where if things go right you’ll seem a genius, but if they go wrong you’ll end up with a face full of idiot cream pie. People may laugh at you, disrespect or disdain you. Call you a donkey to your braying, dully protesting face. If you can’t handle that, then tournament Hold’em is not a game you can play.
Or at least not play and win.
So here I stand on the verge of the resurrected ‘Shoe, trying to calm my nerves, steady my hands, steel myself for the battle ahead. No guts no glory, right? Or was that “no brain no pain?” Whatever. I bend to pick up the picture of Carmen, a actual entertainger, and tuck it in my pocket. For luck, I guess. Or inspiration. The main event of the 2005 World Series of Poker is about to start. Mustering whatever bravado I can find, I swallow hard and waltz into the air conditioned cool. “If you like I stay if not I simply go away no obligation.”
A tournament strategy if there ever was one.
(NEXT: PAT HAND)
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