The work cycle for the average slob working at the World Series of Poker goes something like this: The first two days, the shock of being there doesn't let the work sink in. The next week, the excitement of being there hits you like an adrenal ton of bricks; you're happy to do anything and everything because, well, you're back at WSOP! When that wears off, the grind sets in. I was doing a pretty good job of fighting the grind, a combination of work fatigue from 80-hour work weeks and the collected germs, leading to inevitable illness. After celebrating the Hellmuth win though, I started feeling the burnout.
The last few days, I've been going through the motions a little more than usual. The creativity wasn't exactly at peak, and while the job was still getting done (I'm producing video content for worldseriesofpoker.com) it wasn't with the same flair. Each night, I'd end my work day, sit down to work and nothing would come out of my fingers. Blank pages don't make for good articles, so when Bluff Media voice/leader/boss Nick Geber announced with a smile that we'd all have Saturday off, I was a happy man.
This is the first day off I've ever taken at the Series. There are no days off here; no weekends, just days on end of the same, timeless routine. Half the time you don't know if it's light or dark out, so sleeping in today, then seeing the city a bit was a little hard on the eyes, but in a good way. Still, there's a lot that's happened since Phil won number eleven, and the statute of limitations on those stories is getting close, so here I am, working on my day off. I've actually lost a bet by doing this to a fellow industry type who understands the relationship between a workaholic and his work. I have too much to write about for one column, so today, two big stories, then tomorrow, a bunch of small ones.
Lost in the shuffle of Hellmuth's win was Allen Cunningham's the night before. The thirty-year old professional survived the toughest final table of the Series thus far (look for the $50,000 HORSE to eclipse it) to win the $5,000 pot-limit hold 'em world championship.
Here's how tough this field was. Not only did Allen beat one of the toughest players in the world in Jeffrey Lisandro, after turfing three-time 2007 WSOP final table finisher Humberto Brenes, but he also had to beat two of the last three champions of the event; Jason Lester (2006) and Gavin Griffin (2004). 2005 Champion Brian Wilson insists Cunningham only won because Wilson fell ill. I guess that leaves us all thinking about what could have been. Right.
Cunningham's win puts him in some extraordinary company. At 30, he's the third-youngest player in history to win five bracelets, trailing only the two big Phil's; Hellmuth and Ivey. It also ties him with Ivey, Jesus Ferguson and Johnny Chan for the most bracelets in the 2000's. For me though, this next detail was the most extraordinary.
This is the third year in a row that Cunningham has won a bracelet (actually, he's also made it to heads-up in seven of the last eight WSOPs). The last player to win in three consecutive years was Erik Seidel, who did it from 1992-'94. Thirteen years, and Cunningham's fields were a lot bigger and a lot tougher. The amazing thing though, is that before Seidel, it had been fifteen years since anyone else had done it. Only Johnny Moss (1974-76), Doyle Brunson (1976-79) and the more or less despicable Bones Berland (1977-79) had done it previously, and that was against two-figure fields.
Now you understand why Peter Feldman picked Cunningham first overall in the ESPN Fantasy draft. This guy may be the best tournament player in the world right now, and that includes Ivey, Hellmuth and the rest. There are obviously arguments to be made; it's not cut and dry. Quietly though, Cunningham may be exposing us to the greatest tournament poker ever played.
For me, the single most glaring, horrific moment of the 2006 World Series came during the ladies event. After hours of close-to-literal scratching, clawing and general bitchiness (This isn't me being a chauvinist idiot, by the way. The ladies have no problem hiding their disdain for one another at the table), Tournament Director Jack Effel took the microphone in hand and made the proclamation; "Congratulations ladies, you've made it to the money."
That's when they hugged. All of them.
It was disgusting. It was revolting. Dozens of women congratulating one another like they'd worked to achieve it together. Usually fierce, normally accustomed to dealing with the sweaty masses of the opposite sex, they turned into a bunch of happy, blubbering sissies. With the obvious exception of John Gale, there's no hugging. There's no hugging in poker. Thank you for that, Tom Hanks.
On top of the hugging, I heard all of the following at the tables;
• "You played that really well!"
• "Let's all introduce ourselves!"
• "Where did you get that dress?"
• "Good luck, all-in!"
• "Three queens! That's really good!"
• With one out in the deck; "You can still win!"
• Cat-like hissing
I mean, is this a poker game or a cotillion? Imagine in your mind's eye, a pudgy, balding, cynical, pompous man in his mid-thirties projectile vomiting. That's me. Hi!
The ladies do come out in full force. 1,286 made it out to the 2007 edition. Along with them were tens of thousands of dirty looks, miles of cleavage (apparently belonging to women accustomed to disrupting male poker patterns who forgot who'd they'd be playing today), 1,029 questionable hairdos, 23 tons of makeup, more poker-based jewelry than the rules of tackiness should allow to exist and 19,323 rhinestones. There were celebrities (Jen Tilly, Shannon Elizabeth, Cheryl Hines, Mimi Rogers), professionals (Kathy Liebert, Vanessa Russo, Isabelle Mercier, Clonie Gowan), ladies of the game (Susie Isaacs, Wendeen Eolis), charities and the returning champion Mary Jones, as classy a player as you'll find in the community. The support for the event wasn't unanimous, though.
Many have pointed out that the ladies event could be demeaning women in a game where all things are equal when we arrive on the felt. "The cards don't know if they're going to a man or woman" one not-so-casual observer noted. In fact, some feel women have the advantage at the table due to more level-headed thought processes and an environment where women unaccustomed to being vastly outnumbered by men in social situations can relax. It also offers Harrah's the opportunity to have 1,286 husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, father or puppy-dog lap dogs to come to the Rio and gamble while waiting for their lady and a keener understanding of men (Of course, others argue women will never be able to understand men). Still, the ladies event has become a tradition going back to a time when poker really needed help to promote itself in order to survive. That time has obviously passed.
The event won't go away. It still offers counterparts to go bust. It's a gold mine. Still, it seems that in one way or another, most industry insiders have a problem with the ladies championship.
On top of the belittling suggestion the tournament makes, the male pros gripe that the level of play is lower, and, as a result, there shouldn't be a bracelet awarded. Harsh? Yes, but there's a lot of stupidity going on.
As I talked to the women pros who'd been busted by one mathematically ludicrous play after another, it was obvious that the prevailing opinion was that many of the women didn't know what they were doing. The husbands, boyfriends, etc. seemed to agree, hunched over their significant others with this lecture or that advice. At the final table, either six or seven of the eight eliminated players were taken out by their own, obvious misplays, and that includes Katja Thater, the statuesque Aryan sex-goddess German pro who really should have won the thing. She called the tightest player at the table, eventual winner Sally Boyer, with pocket tens after Boyer made an all-in reraise. Until that call, Katja had almost double everyone else's chips. After that, the steam got to her and she went out fourth.
Should the ladies get a bracelet? I think so, since it's ludicrous to think that winning a $1,000 bracelet is a bigger deal than say a $25,000 non-bracelet event. Still, giving that one piece of jewelry out is a slap in the face to the Erick Lindgren's of the world, the guys who have tried and failed to get their piece of jewelry against superior opposition. I give Sally her due but won't forget she didn't have to go through Phil Ivey or JC Tran to get it.
Tomorrow, how Eli Elezra saved the World Series of Poker and a few other fun stories.
Gary Wise tries and often fails to be a gentleman of Allen Cunningham's caliber. That's why he's been slapped by over 1,268 ladies.