Tuesday, July 14, 2009

OUT OF IT.. my field report on www.pokerstarsblog.com today


By Mad Harper

How do people react when they bust out of something like Main Event? Happy, sad? Gutted, in despair, disappointed - or utterly jubilant for having made it so far??

Anyone who is knocked out at this stage of the main event - the start of Day 6, 185 players left from a starting field of 6,494 - takes home more than $36,000. OK, it might not be life-changing but it's still not a sum to be sniffed at and would represent an annual salary - or more - for the vast majority of those that avidly follow the progress of their friends, the top pros or myriad celebrities taking part via the PokerStars and other blogs.

I've now been to four World Series - and more than 40 major PokerStars live events around the world - and have seen every single possible emotion on display as people find themselves knocked out. Utter dismay or disbelief at the impossible, odds-defying one-outer, a wry shrug or semi-embarrassed grin when a bluff is caught well and truly out, laughter, tears, open sobbing.

If you're an unknown player - as most are - your departure from the Amazon Room can take place in relative anonymity. The only "public" announcement that your dreams and hopes are over comes as the dealer shouts out "Seat Open" to the floor manager. Some would say those two words are the cruelest ones you will ever here - spearing your disappointment and turning it into a crushing reality. If you are on one of the two televised feature tables, it's even worse. You can't just slink away - you have to hang around while a technician comes to strip you of your microphone. Everyone knows you've bust. Everyone knows it's all over.

Last year I happened to be watching as Daniel Negreanu was knocked out on Day 1. KidPoker was on the secondary feature table and being railed by a crowd of fans four-deep. Like almost all players who are all-in, he was on his feet - ready to walk away if the board failed to bring him a miracle. Now Daniel is one of the most charming and popular players in the game - I have seen him happily greet fans when I know that he's hungry, exhausted or disappointed. What would he be like at the exact moment when he bust out of the main event? I studied him closely. As the river card came down, he was already turning round towards his fans with a big smile on his face. "Can you sign this for me?", said a hundred railbirds at once. Daniel obliged for the next ten minutes - still beside the feature table - cracking jokes, asking names, shaking hands. It wasn't fake, it wasn't "professionalism", it's just the way Daniel is.

At the other end of the scale was a scene I witnessed in 2005, a display of grief which would have put a Greek tragedian to shame. The player was a PokerStars qualifier who had moved to Vegas and grinded the low-stakes cash games for a living. I had had several chats with him during the first few days of the tournament and he had repeatedly told me he was going to win the main event. The whole shebang. He was sure of it; he just absolutely knew it. Not a shadow of a doubt. I was there when he bust and will never forget it. The player fell slowly to his knees and started sobbing, loudly. It was deep, heart-wrenching despair. He remained there, his face buried in his hands and wailing, for what seemed like a lifetime. A crowd gathered and we all continued to watch. It was car-crash ghastly but we couldn't tear ourselves away. In the end, a tournament organizer came and gently led the him away. He continued sobbing in the Rio hall, more quietly though, for many minutes more.

That was the worst reaction I have seen but most players are up that end of the scale to a greater or lesser degree. Most are not happy; the $36,000 cheque that they're about to pick up from the Payouts room across the way is not a consolation. Yes, they have won thousands of dollars but almost all had their sights on a lot more. Yesterday however I bumped into Dutch PokerStars qualifier Rolf Slotboom in the Rio hall, recently busted. I expressed my sympathy. Rolf Slotboom is a well-known figure in the European poker community, a long-time writer and now a professional player. I had no idea what his reaction would be and was amazed by what he said. "I feel great," he said. "I'm really pleased with how I played - and how it went. It was a great tournament. Thanks so much for asking."

I admire Rolf immensely for that response. It showed he is a true gentleman, but if there is one thing that poker tournaments teach you, it's that even gentlemen can behave like toddlers when their shot at $8 million has been snatched away.