Las Vegas is halfway through hosting the world’s longest and largest poker tournament, the six-week long, 2008 World Series of Poker. This week the Main Event begins, which should pay the winner between $8-$10 million dollars. That person though must outlast 8-10,000 other players each of whom paid $10,000 for the right to play over two weeks. It is the one event everyone wants to win.
Whilst the money is very good for those making it to the final table, most battle for the hardware. A WSOP bracelet is a man or woman’s right of poker passage. The 55 diamond and gold encrusted babies up for grabs this week come with 6-7 figure paydays for those who make it past thousands of professionals and pretenders.
While most are here to play the popular No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em variation of the game, the WSOP prides itself on playing bracelet events in nearly every known variant of poker. Mike “The Mouth” Matasow this week won his 3rd overall bracelet playing “deuce to seven lowball” whilst overall leader Phil “The Brat” Hellmuth remains stuck on 11, one ahead of poker legends Johnny Chan and Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, the gentleman who brought poker to the masses through his “Super System” series of books.
None of these names was recognisable outside of smoke-filled casino poker rooms until a 1998 Miramax film starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton captured everyone’s imagination. Rounders was a box office flop but DVD cult classic. It showed the life of a young poker grinder who lost $30,000 on one hand against the mad Russian poker room owner Teddy KGB, played by John Malkovich, and yet longed to make it to the World Series. It is a poker cult classic that inspired main event winners in 2003, the until then unknown Chris Moneymaker and 2006 winner of a record $12-million dollar first prize Jamie Gold. Each credits the film with sparking their interest in the game.
The film brought thousands to the game and spawned an Internet poker boom that continues to grow with top Danish Internet professional, 18-year old Annette Obrestad winning the European Main Event bracelet and £1 million pounds last fall beating off the top US and world pros.
It is a dream of this writer to one day play in this event. For two years I have been a passionate student of the game playing in home games, tournaments and online (-D2L- on Full Tilt and other). Like most player I spent most of the first six months learning the cards and odds before realising poker for me is a metaphor for life. In life and in business you play the other person and while there is a certain amount of entry level information required… basic card and math skill, a bit of luck, etc. The professionals in this game have incredible observational skills, strong nerves, the ability to take in everything you do or say, read another person and an incredible amount of patience. Business Week online led with an article about winning at poker and business. They interviewed a gentleman from New Jersey who said “poker is the new golf” and “relationships are made at the tables.” Yes and no. It is a bit more tactical and ruthless.
For me, playing the last 18-months once a month in the Bristol SW meetup poker group has proved that even as we get to know each other, the quality of play improves and it’s a good bunch of blokes who enjoy playing the game and giving each other the Mickey, it is the challenge of reading the other guy and making the correct decision of holding or folding that separates the winners from the losers.
There was one quote that stood out: “playing alongside the seasoned pros helped (Deepak) Thadani discover that people who are successful in poker have a lot in common with people who are successful in business. ‘It’s not the hands that you’re dealt; it’s the way you play them that separates the regulars from the pros,” he says. “Just like in business.’ ”
And that is what the WSOP is all about.
If you watch the highly edited shows on ESPN and others you think it all lasts just a few hands instead of grinding through 15-hour days to survive. The real drama and excitement comes from watching the ebb and flow of two heayweights in the middle of the ring playing ‘heads-up’ for the bracelet and $8 million or more.
When they go through 50-100 hands as you ride the rail watching that final table from start to finish, you walk away with a huge respect for these top athletes. Yes. lady luck plays a role, but at this level there is a huge amount of skill.
As they say in Rounders, “here’s the deal, if you can’t spot the fish within the first fifteen minutes at the table, then you’re it.” Well, my all-time favourite saying is “when a person with money meets a person with experience, the person with experience ends up with the money and the person with the money ends up with an experience.
Just like in business.