"Australian Tim Napper shares his experiences from the 2009 World Series of Poker"
September 08, 2009
I'd never been to Vegas. It's a long way to go from Australia just to play some cards. But as Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime, so too must every poker player, of every nation, take the long journey to Vegas for the single most important poker event in the universe: the World Series of Poker. I had ten days. Ten days to make my mark on the poker world.
Vegas isn't just a long distance from Australia; it's a different world. One of the most striking things about Vegas is the scale. Everything is huge and over the top; the people, the drinks, the attire, the buffets, the shows, the breasts, the tournament fields, the prizes.
Vegas is timeless. Not in the way a classic Greek sculpture or a fine work of literature is timeless. It's timeless as in the time is always 10pm Friday night. No mornings, or mid-days or afternoons. It's party time, it's drinking time, and it's gambling time 24/7. One day I walked out of the poker room at 8.30 am after an all night session at the table. The casino outside was pumping! The slots were packed, the customers wasted, the wedding chapels churning. The degenerate in me finds a kind of beauty in this.
But anyway, I wasn't here to see the sights, I was here to play some poker, and after muddling through a few of the deep stack events at the Venetian and Caesar's Palace, I found myself at Thursday. This was the day.
I had a good night's sleep. I exercised when I woke up and ate a hearty breakfast. Strains of the 'Rocky' theme song were going off in my head. I did some shadow boxing. It's well known that any competitive pursuit is aided by talent, experience and a single minded focus. But if, like me, you lack these things, you simply cannot go past singing to yourself and pretending to punch donkeys right in the mouth. I was pumped and ready.
I made my way over to what has become the poker Mecca - the Rio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas. Rio is a Latin-American themed resort that is home to some of the most scantily clad waitresses, the raunchiest near-nude bathing pool in Vegas, the Chippendales, and the WSOP
. I am eternally grateful that the apparent baring-of-flesh theme of the Rio did not extend to the almost all-male mass of sweating, stinking, overweight, mouth-breathing poker players that swarmed in maddening clumps through the halls of the Rio.
Alongside the pros, the rooms are packed with the hordes of hopefuls - those foolish enough to take a shot at a bracelet. Most of these dreams end the same way. Outside the poker room you'll see a distraught player walking along narrating the inevitable bad beat story into his mobile phone.
So I entered the hall ready for the start of my tournament, the $1,500 Pot Limit Omaha
8-or-Better. I wandered towards my seat, wondering what I had got myself into. It turned out that my starting table was a good one. Everyone was playing pretty passive. One guy to by immediate right was a young Internet pro who had played several events at the World Series, but he seemed to be the only one who knew what he was doing. There was one girl at the table who introduced herself as 'Molice'. Yes, her name was Molice. She said her brother had come 13th at the World Series last year for US$500,000. She had bleached hair, her mascara was running and she probably talked too much about her waitressing job in Cornhole Mississippi or wherever it was, but she seemed nice enough.
In the first level I got caught up in a big pot with Molice and the Internet pro. On the turn, the board read KT36 with two spades. I found myself with a nut low draw, a straight draw and the nut flush draw so I bet the pot. Molice called and the Internet pro thought for ages before folding. The river was another ten. I missed everything. Molice checked. I was positive she was chasing a low and had missed, so I put in a big bet (I only had ace-high and this was the only way I was going to win the pot), and she started thinking...and thinking. I realised that she must have had trip tens to go with the busted low draw. She ummed and ahhed and said something like "that was a good card". I figured she needed encouragement to fold so I replied “Yeah, that was a very
good card!" "For you?" she asked. "For me," I confirmed, giving her a genuine, sorry-I-hit-the-nuts
on you smile. She deliberated for what seemed like forever. My heart was pounding in my ears. I stared at the green felt in front of me, trying not to writhe in agony. Then she folded. I threw my ace high into the muck and raked the pot.
The Internet pro then said, "I think I made a good fold. I folded KT". I replied by saying "I had pocket kings". Molice confirmed she had a ten. Internet pro then responded, "Phew...good fold!" Everyone was happy about making such great folds. However about a minute later, someone else at the table piped up, "But I had a King?!?" Clearly there were five kings in the deck! Internet Pro looked at me and sighed, "Damn...that was a bad fold, a bad fold!"
I leant back in my chair thinking about how cool I was, while taking sips of tap water from my Star Trek drinking container. At the first break I had 5,525 (starting stack 4,500), so that was a good start. The bluff
gave me confidence. I also hadn't hit a real hand in two hours, so to have increased my stack was a good result.
Then after the break I don't know what happened. Things started to fall apart. An old guy flopped quads on me and slow played it until I hit the nut flush (old guys always slow play - you can take that to the bank). I lost the minimum but after that I got a bit timid. I wanted to be there so bad and I didn't want to take any risks. Calculated risks, and heart, are of course essential to being a winning poker player, so I didn't do myself any favours. I didn't make any huge mistakes, and I certainly didn't get any cards, but I let myself leak some chips without much of a fight. This was only for half an hour, but that was enough for my stack to slip down to 2,500 by the next break.
I walked outside when the level ended, gave myself an uppercut, and told myself I was never going to fucking win this thing without heart. I returned after the break and first hand I picked up A2KQ double suited (a very strong starting hand for PLO8). I raised it from under the gun and only the big blind
called (a young guy new to the table).
was J85. Not the best in the world, but I had the nut low draw. He checked. PLO8 is a game where it is correct, most of the time, to lead at the pot when you hit, so I didn't believe he'd hit a set or a decent hand. I went all in. He called fairly quickly with AQT2. I was in great shape as all he really had was a low draw and the only cards he could hit to scoop were the 9 for a gutshot straight or ten for a pair. Every other card either gave me three-quarters of the pot or the whole lot. I'd gotten all my chips in as a prohibitive favourite and had given myself a real chance to get back into the tournament. The turn paired the board with a 5. My chances of scooping shot up even higher.
It's hard to explain what it feels like when you're knocked out of you're first (and likely only) WSOP event. There was an onrush of white noise. I couldn't really hear what anyone else was saying or take in what was happening around me. I just sat there staring at the 9 on the river. Molice was helpfully pointing it out to me, her finger resting on the card. I didn't sit for long or say anything. I found myself standing, then staggering out of the convention centre, into the glaring desert sunlight.
I walked around in the concrete carpark for awhile in the forty degree heat, trying to compute what had just happened. But what happened I guess is what happens to nearly everyone that goes to the WSOP looking for a bracelet. They end up with nothing but a bad beat story to tell their friends.