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A dramatic change in attitude hits the WSOP Main Event on Day 1B

5 July 2008

LAS VEGAS – As far as poker goes, two days couldn't be more opposite.

Day 1A of the World Series of Poker Main Event on Thursday was filled with nervous energy. The tournament staff, which had worked diligently to make sure it had taken care of every detail, was placing Everest Poker cushions on seats until just moments before doors opened.

The players were nervous as they began searching for seats in the cavernous Amazon Room at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino. Some couldn't find their tables. Some were focused intensely on the task at hand. And others just looked around in awe.

Even the pageantry of the day gave the event a sense of formality. Wayne Newton walked down a long aisle, escorted by Bally's showgirls, before joining WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel and WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack on stage. Then the UNLV marching band came rushing in playing Viva Las Vegas.

Entertaining? Sure. Relaxing? Not really.

By contrast, Friday morning was very casual.

Before the doors opened for players, Effel told the dealers they were the best in the world, and that they were all invited to a barbecue. All the dealers cheered. Then the doors opened, on time, and players streamed into the room.

These players walked in like they owned the Amazon Room. They found their seats quickly, and started chatting up their tablemates. Daniel Negreanu paused to hold a fuzzy pink bear for a picture before letting the ESPN crew wire him for sound. And Jamie Gold stashed his signature blueberries underneath his seat as he prepared for play.


From strip clubs to poker and concert halls, Andy Griggs really knows how to sing. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

The pageantry surrounding the start of play Friday was distinctly different from Thursday. In honor of the Independence Day holiday, the WSOP had country music star Andy Griggs sing the national anthem.

The Star Spangled Banner is the norm for most sporting events. But not poker. That didn't matter to the players though. They saw Griggs singing Ring of Fire Wednesday night during Doyle Brunson's party at Sapphire's -- the world's largest strip club. Griggs was one of them.

Minutes before Griggs starting singing, 2007 Main Event champion Jerry Yang made his way to the Milwaukee's Best No Limit Lounge, which sits between the two featured tables and raised above the floor.

Yang approached everyone in sight, greeting them with a "Happy Fourth of July" and a handshake. He stopped for pictures and autographs – in which he writes "Play to Win" above his signature - before settling in. After Riggs finished the national anthem, Yang ordered play to begin with the traditional call to "shuffle up and deal."

The cards hit the air, and the talking began. For the first time in the Main Event, din of voices was louder than clanking of chips.

ESPN baseball analyst and World Series MVP Orel Hersheiser was among the biggest talkers as play began. Hersheiser, sitting at a table just inside the ropes, involved everyone in the conversation.


Orel Hersheiser "bulldog" tenacity failed to get him into Day 2. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Hersheiser, who was using an encased baseball with his autograph and a PokerStars logo on it as a card protector, noted that a camera crew was on hand to capture him playing in a pot, asked the table to fold to him "for the sake of TV."

No one took up him on his offer.

After the TV crew left his table, Hersheiser was informed that Jason Alexander had a permanent camera watching him.

"That's because he has all the one-liners," Hersheiser quipped.

Then two spectators holding large martini glasses told Hersheiser they had just arrived in Las Vegas today and were big fans. Hersheiser saw the glasses and started telling them about the martini he had "doctored up" to the point where it might has well been a Long Island Ice Tea.

Then the fans told him that's what they had been drinking.

"That's why you're leaning (against the post)," Hersheiser cracked.

Then John Pappas, executive director for the Poker Players Alliance, reached across the ropes and tried to get Hersheiser to wear a PPA patch. Hersheiser asked what the PPA stood for, and when Pappas told him the organization stood for allowing poker to exist as a regulated industry in the U.S., he said he would check with PokerStars (his primary sponsor) to see. And after the first break, Hersheiser was sporting the PPA patch on his left sleeve.

As the day continued, Hersheiser split his time between preparing to call the Boston Red Sox-Minnesota Twins baseball game Monday night at Fenway Park -- he had a sheaf of research notes with him -- and keeping up with the conversation at the table.

He wasn't always successful. He was in the middle of a conversation with a player at the adjoining table when the dealer cleared his throat and said, "While we're young." Hersheiser then quickly looked at his cards and folded.

Hersheiser eventually shifted his focus from talking to studying the research notes and waiting for a hand to play. But that didn't stop San Francisco's Lee Henderson from trying to talk the pitcher's ear off.

Henderson started off by asking Hersheiser if liked chess. Hersheiser mentioned that he had played it before, and Henderson launched into an extended monologue on the virtues of the game.

"It's great for when you get older," Henderson told Hersheiser. "It allows you to stay competitive." Hersheiser just nodded as he continued to read his notes.

"I used teach chess to children for 25 years," Henderson went on.

Then, all of sudden, Henderson went all in.

His opponent, Andrew Pantling, was stunned. And so was the table. Everyone, including Hersheiser, leaned in to watch the action.

"Why would you do that?" Pantling asked.

"Maybe I'm insane," Henderson said.

Pantling, clearly think that was a possibility, thought about the hand for a few minutes before calling. Pantling had AK and Henderson had AQ. Pantling went on to win the hand and crippled Henderson in the process.

Henderson turned to resume his conversation with Hersheiser, but the former pitcher was already back to his notes.

While Hersheiser was studying game notes -- and on the road to busting out -- 2004 Main Event champion Greg Raymer was holding court on the opposite end of the Amazon Room.


Greg Raymer failed to make it to the dinner break on Day 1B. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Raymer was also in table near the ropes, and spectators had lined up five deep to watch him play.

He was explaining to Mickey Wernick and Daniel Duncan that he shouldn't have to show photo identification to get into the Amazon Room.

"My photo's right there," Raymer said, pointing the to the huge portraits of champions that line the walls. "It's just behind the Everest sign."

"I don't have the kind of pull at Harrah's for that not to be me," Raymer added laughing. "They should accept that."

Unfortunately for Raymer, he's not going to need his photo ID to enter the tournament room again this year. He was bounced from the Main Event and left the tournament muttering, "I got fucked over by the same guy four times."

Gold, the 2006 Main Event champ, was having slightly better luck than Raymer. Seated at table fairly removed from the spectators, Gold focused his chatter on the table -- at least until Ali Nejaf showed up.


No one is buying Jamie Gold's bluffs these days. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Gold had spotted Nejaf, the narrator of NBC's Poker After Dark and announcer for the National Heads-Up Championship, earlier. And when Gold's mom, Jane Gold, popped by for a quick visit. Gold called Nejaf over to make the introductions.

"My mom is playing better than me," Gold said. "She's playing great. She's made several final tables in a row in Atlantic City, and will be playing in the Main Event tomorrow."

An impressed Nejaf chatted with Jane Gold, who lasted longer than her son in last year's Main Event, for a moment before checking on Jamie's stack.

"You can't bluff anyone anymore," Nejaf announced with a smile.

A bemused Gold agreed. But before he could offer a retort, Gold's mom said she was leaving.

"No you're not," Jamie Gold said. "You've been bringing me luck."

And with that, Jane Gold stuck around to watch her son play some more.

But the luck that Gold's mom brought didn't last long. The former champ bowed out shortly before the dinner break.

While poker luminaries like Gold, Hersheiser and Raymer were busting out of the tournament, three players with unique background were chasing WSOP glory of their own in the middle of the tournament floor.


Hal Lubarsky doesn't let blindness keep him from thriving. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Hal Lubarsky loves to play poker. But he needs a little help. Lubarsky has a degenerative eye disease that's robbed him of almost all of his eyesight. The only thing he can see is blurred colors. So he uses an assistant to help him play. The assistant, who along with Lubarsky was wearing Full Tilt logos, whispers the hole cards in his ear and describes both the betting action and the board to him.

Lubarsky makes his decisions based of the information she gives him. Lubarsky cashed in last year's Main Event.

A few tables away from Lubarsky was Howard "Tahoe" Andrew. Andrew has played in every World Series of Poker since 1974. Even though he's missed a few Main Events -- he managed to play in other WSOP events those years -- Andrew easily holds the record for most consecutive Series appearances.

But the most interesting character in this section of the room is Alan Dvorkis, aka Alan Boston. For years, Boston earned his money betting on college basketball. He's widely considered to be the best college basketball handicapper in the business. He's also an excellent Seven-Card Stud player.


Vanessa Rousso has no problem rolling over opponents while listening to her music. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

In the far corner of the room, and away from much of the action, sits Vanessa Rousso. Decked out in a pink and white PokerStars baseball hat, oversized sunglasses and big earphones for her music, Rousso seems blissfully unaware of everything except the table in front of her.

Bopping her head to the music, she watches the table closely, looking for any opening to win a pot. After folding almost every hand before the break, Rousso worked herself into the flow and started picking up chips.

Notable eliminations: Sam Grizzle, Ross Boatman, Todd Witteles, Farzad Bonyadi, Jacobo Fernandez, Orel Hersheiser, Humberto Brenes, Olga Varkonyi, Jamie Gold, Ram Vaswani, David Levi, Greg Raymer, Kenny Tran, Steve Biko, Dewey Tomko, Daniel Negreanu, Andy Black, and Ted Forrest.

A dramatic change in attitude hits the WSOP Main Event on Day 1B is republished from
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the former managing editor at Casino City and has been involved in the gaming industry for over a decade Vin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he runs his own consultant group and works as head of gaming and public relations for Mega Digital
Entertainment Group.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the former managing editor at Casino City and has been involved in the gaming industry for over a decade Vin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he runs his own consultant group and works as head of gaming and public relations for Mega Digital
Entertainment Group.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for, USA WEEKEND and CNN.