Saturday, January 14, 2006
Shorties at the Big Dance
This isn’t necessarily my favorite photo from the World Series of Poker, but it’s up there. Of course, the first thing you might notice about it is that it does not involve degenerate gamblers, badly dressed old men, or crushed dreams. Therefore you might ask: what the hell does it have to do with the World Series of Poker? Well, that’s exactly what I asked as I walked to the Rio Tournament area one day. I showed up and everywhere I looked it was Jon Benet Ramsey-day. It was all sequined shirts and strained smiles as far as the eye could see. I’m still not entirely sure what was going on but it had something to do with small children dressed as figure skaters and possibly a dancing competition going on in one of the sections of the convention center the WSOP wasn’t using.
At first, it somehow just didn’t seem right. Of all the things I think of when I think of the WSOP, unbridled youthful enthusiasm usually isn’t at the top of the list. Looking back though it starts to make a little bit of sense. More so than others, I guess 2005 actually was a year of youthful enthusiasm. And I’m not just talking about the throngs of 17 year old internet players sitting behind towers of black chips at the triple draw lowball tables. This year the final event had over ten times as many players as it did the first year I got to go, over 2500 as many players as last year’s event. That makes for a lot of first time players, a lot of people untainted by the taste of soul snapping defeat that comes from busting out of the final event.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to think I’m still far from being jaded about the final event. I consider myself fortunate every time I get to play it. Come summer people are always asking me if I’m playing the final event and I’m always amused by the number of people who think I’m joking when I say I don’t know. The money to monkey ratio is insane and traditionally it’s one of my luckier events. Nonetheless, I’m not ashamed to say that $10,000 still seems like a lot of money.
I was watching Desperate Housewives last year and I remember a scene with a private eye who said that for $5,000 he could have someone hurt and for $10,000 he could make them disappear. Now, I really flipped out when I heard this. What this meant was that for the same $10,000 it cost to play the World Series every year I could have been having people bumped off. (At first I wasn’t sure about the veracity on that price quote and I decided to ask around the New York poker clubs. This didn’t really work out though as the few people who actually would have had privy to such information all gave me exactly the same answer: "I, uh, wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, and we, uh, never had this conversation.")
Even if $10,000 isn’t the exact cost of a hit though, it still helps to put things in perspective. Money in itself tends to lose some of it’s meaning for poker players. Occasionally I find it helpful to instead convert the raw numbers into more concrete things as in "this weekend I lost 3 new laptops, a Tivo, and 2 weeks in Tokyo with my girlfriend." I mean, if on the first day of the tournament someone asked for a show of hands on who would be willing to give up their seat in exchange for the chance to have a cap popped in someone’s ass you might find yourself at a somewhat smaller event.
All I’m trying to say is that I still understand what a privilege it is to be able to participate in the final event. And while I’m still excited every year, I would be lying if I said it is ever like it was my first year. The abject terror at the thought of making a million dollar mistake, the awe inspiring possibility that I could become a champion of the world, these were still virginal experiences. I did feel like a lucky child swept away by the fantasy of it all, so very excited to have a chance at playing the big game.
I look back and think about what it felt like for me that first time, and what it must have felt like for the thousands of people in Vegas for the first time this year, and all of a sudden those wide eyed kids in their shiny little costumes that were skipping around the Rio don’t seem so out of place.
Twirl on tiny dancers. Twirl on...