Monday, July 14, 2008

A Rooting Interest

[Content Disclosure: 96% Poker; 17% Being a Fan; 15% The Book; 47% Life]

For the poker fans in the reading audience, I am going to be a lot more detailed, explanatory and even simplistic in this post because some of the readers of this blog are not hard core about our game, in fact, some of them can't tell a straight flush from a post oak bluff.

For the last six days I have been watching Mike Matusow play poker. This means standing at the rail (the rope that keeps the fans back) or grabbing a seat in the crowd when Mike was playing at the feature table or worming my way into back areas that my media badge did not exactly give me access to. Watching poker live means seeing only some of the hands, a few of the cards and less than a satisfying amount of the action and table talk. I assume everyone who comes anywhere near this blog knows that I am working on Mike's biography along with my Austin writing partner Amy Calistri. So you see my interest in what has played out the last two weeks.

To be fair "watching poker for the last six days" is actually a temporal anomaly. The Main Event of the World Series of Poker is playing over two weeks and for the uninitiated this is how it goes. There are four first days, the huge field (6,844 this year) is divided into four flights because there simply is not facility able to deal poker to more than about 2,000 players at a time. In fact, only the World Series has fields that go over 1,000; just consider the math of space, tables, dealers, chips, even playing cards and you have some idea of the scale of such an event. So I did see Mike play on his "day one" but there was really no need to watch him all the time or as it is called in the parlance: "sweating a player."

After the first flights the field was down to something under 3500 but still there were two Day Twos and as with the first day, I watched Mike on and off during the 12 hours of play each day and did some other work and yes, I went home to bed earlier than the players who begin play at noon and end around 1 AM. Finally, on Day Three all of the remaining players 1300+ players are all in one room playing at the same time. Still thirteen hundred players is a huge tournament, I got more time with Mike beginning on this day, I spent more time at this table getting updates and comments from him. Earlier in the tournament a single phone call or quick conversation before the following day's start was sufficient but now the details of the poker and Mike's mental and physical state are becoming more significant.

Beginning on Day Four (474 players), I was at the table all day every day with Mike. We took breaks together in the VIP players lounge and he would come over to the rail to discuss the other players at the table and his state of mind. By Day Five (189 players) the noise in the media was higher, Mike was still in. All of the name professionals, about 20, still in the field were getting a lot of notice. On Day Six, yesterday, with 79 players left in the field; the media attention was reaching a low roar. Again, for the non-poker readers, this is a special year at the World Series. The final table of nine players, that would in past years be played out later this week, has this year been moved to November. The reason, of course, is publicity. The World Series is attempting to break through into more of a mainstream "sports" interest to the general public and this November event is the current linchpin in that move. Everyone in the poker orbit was pulling for just one well known player to make the "November Nine". By late last night, Mike was the only surviving big name professional in the field.

Two really nasty bad beats (your opponent comes back from long odds to win the hand) ended Mike's run in 30th place. And while 30th out of 6,844 seems like one hell of a good run, even the non-sports drenched among us know what non-winning is all about. Of course, the pressure of the November media event was also a huge factor this year.

So for Mike and for me the 2008 World Series of Poker is over. A quorum of my poker buddies are in town this week, so I am going to hang out with them and actually play some poker and then I have a newly minted final chapter of a book to write. Amy and I will be back to the editing process in a few days and those who have been promised chapters to read will be sated soon.

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