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WSOP Main Event fans organized, creative, loud

7 November 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Frederick Kafkas III willingly arrived at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino at 6:30 am on Sunday morning to watch nine men he didn’t know play poker for over 10 hours.

Crazy? Perhaps. But similar to how diehard supporters wait outside for playoff tickets in the freezing cold for hours when their favorite team makes the postseason, Kafkas III was one of dozens of poker fans who descended on the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to watch the World Series of Poker Main Event final table.

Kafkas III and another gentleman were the only two people in line until 8:00 am.

"I'm just a fan of poker," he said. "I've been planning on coming here for a month. I've always wanted to do this."

The WSOP Main Event final table is Exhibit A on how poker can be a raucous and engaging spectator sport. Over 1,000 spectators packed the Penn & Teller Theater to watch nine players get whittled down to three. Some, like Kafkas III, just love the game of poker. Others, like Dublin's David English, came in support of one of the participants.

English was one of dozens of Irishmen and Irishwomen who traveled across the Pond to support Eoghan O’Dea. English, like many of his countrymen, sported a custom green T-shirt and wore an Irish flag like a cape. Not surprisingly, he and a few of his fellow O’Dea fans were found at the bar before play kicked off on Sunday. They had all decided in July to make the trip to Vegas to support their friend and had flown in Saturday night.

The unemployed English said he didn’t have to miss any work to come over, and that’s a good thing, because he and his mates planned on partying for quite awhile.

"I think we're all staying for at least five or seven days,” he said with a laugh. “It should be a crazy week."

O’Dea’s supporters were quite loud and probably more than slightly intoxicated throughout Sunday. Their major “O’Dea, O’Dea, O’Dea, O’Dea!” chant didn’t win points on originality, but was still quite effective.

However, the most organized crowd had to be the supporters of Badih "Bob" Bounahra. Four of those supporters waited in the general admission line before play started. Mike Roche traveled in from Denver. Ben Ellenbogen came in from New York City. Michael and Megan Lyons were from Texas. They all wore “Team Belize” custom shirts and were all geared up to cheer their man.

"With his attitude, I think he's going to be the most relaxed out there. He's playing for Belize, not himself," said Roche.

Bounahra relished his crowd’s support. His fans waved flags and banged on drums. When he was eliminated in seventh place, he tipped his hat to his fans as they cheered.

"It is one of the greatest feelings a poker player can ever have,” he said. “And making the November Nine has been a great experience. I'm trying to get Belize to come here every year."
Bounahra said all of his supporters were his friends, and that their night was just beginning.

"I know everybody and everybody knows me," he said. "Belize is a party city. We're a lively people, and we're going to rock and roll again."

"I love it, and I want to thank all of them," he added. "Let's go party!"

Supporters of American Phil Collins were not to be outdone or overshadowed. They were decked out in custom T-shirts. They also serenaded (or annoyed, depending on your viewpoint) the crowd with renditions of “In the Air Tonight” whenever Collins took down a major pot.

The lobby of the Penn & Teller Theater was a madhouse after the eliminations of O’Dea and Collins. O’Dea supporters erupted in cheers and their familiar chant when he made his media appearance. A similar scene awaited Collins when he busted only a hand later.

The Las Vegas native was thrilled that so many of his family and friends railed him on Sunday.
"It's pretty awesome. I didn't even notice they were singing because it was what kept me going and probably helped me drill that diamond on the river too,” he said. “Unfortunately it just wasn't enough."

And count Collins as a fan of both playing on such a grand stage and of ESPN’s live coverage of the Main Event.

“Actually I think [playing on the stage] is easier,” he said. “I feel like you can focus more whenever there are distractions because you actually have to block something out. I really didn't notice them all that much because I was so in my head."

"I think [the live coverage] is absolutely great for poker,” he added. “It's exactly how our game should be.”

Ukrainian Anton Makiievskyi was one of the only November Nine members who wasn’t a fan of the hoopla and the outside distractions.

"I don't think [the atmosphere] affected my play,” he said. “But I didn't like it. Sometimes it was too loud during the hand. They would say 'shhhhh' but it wouldn't work. I didn't like it but I don't think it affected my game.”

But Makiievskyi was the exception, not the rule, when discussing the experience of playing on poker’s biggest stage.

There has been chatter on whether the November Nine will cease to exist after this year, and whether the Main Event will be just like any other tournament. Start on one day, and finish until you have a champion. The upside is that players wouldn’t lose any momentum they built during the tournament, and a four-month break wouldn’t disrupt the playing field.

But is Caesars Entertainment willing to lose the November Nine spectacle? The sight of hundreds of fans, all chanting and cheering and enjoying the game of poker, is something that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Not to mention the revenue generated from hundreds of tourists deciding to spend their weekend at the Rio.

The November Nine is poker’s Super Bowl, and it won’t be easy for Caesars to walk away from what has become the premier date on the calendar.
WSOP Main Event fans organized, creative, loud is republished from