All right, I know the photo above doesn’t look like much. On a personal level though, this may be the single most important picture from this year’s World Series. I’m going to make an attempt at explaining why. It might not work but bear with me.
For context, this is from the 3rd day of play in the final event. The people looking into the camera are all friends from New York. The person they are looking at is the person taking the picture, me. Also helpful is the following photo which gives a geographic context:
The important part of this second picture is that empty space in the middle. The people in the 1st photo are on the left of this empty space. I am on the right. Now at first glance the empty space in the middle may not seem that large, a space of maybe 3 feet. But if you look a little closer you’ll see that the distance between the two groups is over 56 million dollars.
At the instant that the top photo was taken I’m in the money in the largest poker tournament that has ever existed. Everyone sitting at a table to the right is guaranteed some portion of the 56 million dollar prize pool, anywhere from $20,000 to $7,500,000. Guaranteed. The people on the left get jack. Granted some of the people in that 1st photo are smarter than I am, and some of them are far wealthier, and one in specific has significantly more anonymous gay sex than I do. But right now they are left side people and I am a right side person. For this brief shining moment I am special and I have friends who are happy for me and it’s actually kind of cool. (As the top photo empirically proves.)
Of course at the time I took it all for granted. I was a little busy and didn’t really have time to wax philosophic. The day after I got knocked out though it hit me. Before catching my plane, I went back to the Rio to cash out a couple chips I had stashed in my room. As a left side spectator I watched the tournament for a minute or two. That’s when I actually noticed that empty space in the middle, that one-way membrane that separates us common folk from the people who could still become this year’s world champion.
I try to explain what it’s like to get knocked out of the WSOP final event. It’s been said that the worst day of every poker player’s year starts the moment they get knocked out of the final event. There’s a little truth in this but I don’t know if it translates. I mean, I imagine it’s got to blow to get shanked in the kidney with a sharpened screwdriver but until I lose a prison fight I don’t know if I’ll fully understand the actual pain.
Try to imagine the best Christmas you’ve ever had. You’ve got the friends, and the family, and someone actually put some thought into a present that you actually love, and you’re all ‘nogged up, and you’re thinking "this really rocks." Then you hear a buzzer go off. A referee steps in and escorts you outside. All of a sudden you’re standing on the lawn in the cold. Now the worst part of it is that everyone else is still having Christmas. You look in through the window and everyone is still laughing and getting presents and everyone is having way too much fun to care that Christmas just ended for you. That kind of describes how it felt to go back and be there on the left side and watch everyone else play.
Of course, this year, to console my delicate sensibilities I did receive something:
This blurry sealed bag that happens to contain a couple years worth of rent, all in casino chips. Naturally they can’t just give you cash or a check which you would put in your pocket. No, the Harrah’s Corporation has to take one last shot at you as you’re walking out. They give you chips and make you walk through the casino in the off chance you might decide to let it all ride on red 5 before making it to the cage.
I succeeded in keeping Harrah’s hand out of my wallet but you know you can never get away completely clean. I couldn’t dodge the post game dinner shakedown at the Wynn with some friends. And of course I want a special thanks to go out to Richie "the Dwarf" Bell for telling the waitress "ehh, just bring me whatever you recommend," when she asked him what kind of sake he wanted. There’s nothing like picking up the tab on a $50 glass of sake.
So then finally, you’re in Vegas with a few friends and you’ve just outlasted over 5,400 people in the largest poker tournament ever, what could you possibly do to top it? You bowl the crap out of that town, that’s what you do! The roll of film with all the photos of the, uh, hookers and the blow and whatever else it is that cool people do when they win money got misplaced. Here’s an exciting bowling pose though.