The whirlwind of the World Series of poker is over, and I already can’t wait for it to come back.
This summer was my first working for PokerNews at the WSOP. After months of anticipation waiting for the 50th edition of the series to finally get here, it went by in a flash.
The gig was truly was everything I hoped it would be and much more, and I hope this was the first of many years to come on the PokerNews team. The highlights that follow are just a small piece of my experiences at the WSOP this summer.
MIXED GAME EVENTS
After kicking off with a couple of no-limit hold’em events in my first couple of shifts, I was assigned to Day 2 of the $1,500 Dealer’s Choice event. This event really kept me on my toes, and as a live reporter I’m walking up and down rows of tables that are all playing different games.
With 20 different possible games going on at the same time in this event, a unique challenge presents itself. Any WSOP tournament is going to require a live reporter to identify interesting hands and situations, get all of the exact details, and write a summary that puts the reader right at the table.
In a mixed-game format like the Dealer’s Choice event, the first order of business is figuring out which of the 20 games is going on, what stage of the hand we’re at, and who’s doing what from which position. Covering that tournament early on in the summer was an exhilarating experience indeed, and it set me up to be in a better position to cover other mixed-game events later in the WSOP.
MIXING IT UP IN THE MIXED HOME GAME
Watching and covering all of the different games really instilled in me a fascination with games that I hadn’t ever played. Like most who love the game, my poker experience is heavy on no-limit hold’em, with a sparse amount of pot-limit Omaha and not a whole lot else.
I covered the $1,500 Omaha Mix event later in the summer and worked with Milko van Winden, and we started talking about how there’s so much more to poker outside of hold’em. Milko invited me to his $0.25/0.50 dealer’s choice home game later that weekend, and those were the perfect stakes for me to jump in and play some of the games I had never tried.
The bad news is that I lost about $65, as my PokerNews co-workers Milko, Brandon Temple, and Aaron McBride quickly discovered that I was the mark at the table in most of the variants we played.
The good news, however, is that I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to engage in games like Badacy, deuce-to-seven triple draw, and even Pineapple Stud Hi-Lo, which isn’t an official variant played at the WSOP but was a blast nonetheless.
READ MORE: Low-Stakes Vegas Mixed Games = The Ultimate in Poker Fun
Throw a couple of beers into the equation and this night probably wasn’t the height of my competence as a poker player. It was one of the highlights of the summer though, and it definitely broadened my horizons and makes me want to spend more time at the table playing games other than Texas hold’em.
When you’re living in Las Vegas for close to two months and constantly surrounded by the allure of gambling, the itch to play doesn’t stop at just poker. Walk through any casino and you’re surrounded by a sea of slot machines. I couldn’t see myself sitting at a machine for very long though, but I felt that once I got back to my place for some downtime after work, I’d look into dabbling in online slot play a little. Like poker, I didn’t want to approach playing slots without at least a modicum of study beforehand and looked online for some educational resources so I could learn more about real money slots before making my first deposit and trying my luck. As for how I actually did, well, let’s just say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” … 😀
THE $50K POKER PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
The experience of covering mixed-game poker variants hit its absolute peak midway through the WSOP, when I had the chance to cover Day 3 of the $50,000 Poker Players Championship.
Phil Ivey had bagged the chip lead at the end of Day 2. The fact that Ivey, perhaps poker’s most legendary player, was coming into Day 3 at the top of the leaderboard of an event that’s considered one of the most prestigious at the WSOP, wasn’t lost on me.
Guess Who’s Back?! @philivey leads the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. @TomDwan busts in last level. https://t.co/h2zpEKlC7G
— PokerNews (@PokerNews) June 26, 2019
I had the previous day off and went to bed early that night, with the aim of being well-rested and at the top of my game for the PPC. Working with a couple of excellent live reporters in Brandon Temple and Hill Kerby on this tournament raised the bar even higher.
I had the best view in the house for a fascinating matchup between Ivey and Shaun Deeb, with Deeb on Ivey’s direct left for much of the latter part of the day. All of the poker that I covered at the series was fulfilling and amazing, but nothing quite compared to the experience of literally standing right over the shoulders of Deeb and Ivey, hearing everything they were saying and watching them match wits in a number of hands head-to head.
Other memories from that event included the opportunity to watch Dario Sammartino, Dan “Jungleman” Cates, Isaac Haxton and a now-rare appearance by Jason Mercier up close. The Players Championship had such a big-time feel, and reporting on that event was truly a privilege.
MAIN EVENT DAY 1C
PokerNews Head of Live Reporting Yori Eskamp encouraged us to really soak in and enjoy the experience of covering the Main Event, as it has an electric feel like no other event in poker. Yori was indeed right about that!
I had the opportunity to cover Days 1A, 1B and 1C of the Main Event. I enjoyed them all, but Day 1C really stands out as a day I’ll never forget, as it relates to my WSOP experience and just life in general.
My coverage jurisdiction for Day 1C included the Miranda Room and the overflow areas in the Rio Poker Room, the bowling alley overflow room, and an another overflow area just outside of Guy Fieri’s El Burro Borracho restaurant.
Early on in Level 1, I got word that Ivey was in the bowling alley, and I made my way over to that area to see if I could cover a few of his early hands. I walked into that room, scanned the scene, and spotted Ivey at a table in the middle of the room.
I don’t feel so bad that I’m playing the @wsop main event in the cheap seats since this guy just walked in and sat down in the storage room of the @RioVegas… @PokerNews pic.twitter.com/GkyCoz47mR
— Mark J (@MarkyPG) July 5, 2019
I squeezed my way through the outer tables and got into position, and on the very first hand I observed Ivey was right in the mix, on the button in a three-way, three-bet pot. The rest of the hand happened so fast that I didn’t even really process what I was seeing until well afterward.
Ivey had already called a small continuation bet from Hitrotaka Nakanishi, the pre-flop three-bettor. Jeffrey Chang, who had started the flop betting round off with a check, re-raised, Nakanishi called, and within a few seconds I saw the dealer toss the “All-In” button in front of Ivey. Chang made the call, Nakanishi got out of the way, and Ivey’s Main Event life was suddenly on the line.
The 10-time bracelet winner had put all the chips in with an ace-high flush draw, but found no help on the turn or river as Chang’s two pair held up. Ivey made a quick exit through a room that was abuzz about what had just transpired.
Ivey’s elimination in the first hour turned out to be just the beginning of the craziness of Day 1C. Two player disqualifications happened within the next two hours; one of those incidents involved a player, apparently jokingly, swiping his neighbor’s chips and adding them to his stack. The other involved a blind all in, a mooning, and a thrown pair of shoes.
When an earthquake is the 3rd or 4th biggest story of the day at the WSOP, you know it’s been a wild day.
— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) July 6, 2019
All of the above incidents happened within the first two levels of the day, and the already one-of-a-kind Main Event experience was reaching epic levels of strangeness. Just when things were settling down a bit, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake, epicentered in Ridgecrest, California, was emphatically felt throughout the Rio Convention Center.
This was the second earthquake in two days emanating from that same area, and I was in the Miranda Room when the ground and walls starting shaking, and the chandeliers and other ceiling fixtures began swaying. Many of the players in the room got up and rushed out into the hallway once it became clear what was going on.
The tournament clock was paused for several minutes after the shaking stopped, as WSOP officials tried to restore order. Many of the players in the Miranda Room weren’t quite ready to sit back down and resume play, so the tournament went on dinner break early.
The earthquake and the aftermath created quite the scene at the Rio. I finished the post I was working on and headed out through the main corridor of the convention center, with the aim of walking to my car and calling my girlfriend in California to tell her about all this madness.
The corridor connecting the convention center to the casino, however, was host to a human traffic jam, and foot travel through that hallway had come to a dead stop. With hundreds of people in front of me forming a dense and un-passable wall, I turned back around and used one of the outdoor exits, walked around the entire property and arrived at the Carnival Parking garage about 15 minutes later.
Day 1C also set the all time single-day attendance record for the WSOP Main Event, with 4,879 players registering for the flight.
Main Event players, you’re officially part of the 2nd largest WSOP Main Event in our 50 year history! Thank you.
Can it become the largest of all-time? Registration is still open…come on down and be part of history pic.twitter.com/O4yYpWX5gy
— WSOP (@WSOP) July 5, 2019
The entire summer was filled with moments and fulfilling experiences that I’ll never forget.
I got to cover the $1,000 Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship from beginning to end, an event that had such a fun atmosphere, and sense of camaraderie among the players. I would love to cover all four days of that event next year; lots of great people turned out for the tournament and it was hard not to root for some of them to make a deep run.
All of the events I got to cover had their own unique feel, and working for PokerNews had me truly embedded into the WSOP experience. One night, after wrapping up, I ran into Cardplayer Lifestyle founder Robbie Strazynski, who was heading to the Rio Poker Room for some late night cash game action.
Nothing like some quality time with a special guy. Thanks for a fun drink, @GeoffFisk! #goodtimes pic.twitter.com/vHi7OVmfJQ
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) July 9, 2019
It’s such a busy summer when you’re working at the WSOP, and I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with Robbie in person in about a year. “There are no coincidences in life,” Robbie said as we ran into each other. We did, indeed, have some business to discuss, and did just that while catching up over a round of Starbucks mocha frappuccinos.
I remember checking into my AirBnB in late May in Las Vegas, and thinking to myself that seven weeks is a long time to be away from home and in somebody else’s apartment. That seven weeks absolutely flew by, and I can’t wait to hopefully do it again in 2020.