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World Series Follies

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Jun 04, 2004

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Well, here I am spending a delightful month at the World Series again, slaving away and staying up all night writing tournament reports as a fill-in for Andy Glazer. This time it was for a new online information portal, Finaltablepoker.com, started by Adam Schoenfeld and Diego Cordovez.

You understand that I wouldn't be forced to do such backbreaking labor if Barry Shulman would only pay me a living wage for the gems I deliver to his magazine every two weeks. If I had to depend just on his largesse, I would fall into the subpoverty level. I wouldn't even make enough to qualify for welfare.

Anyway, you've heard that complaint before, so why waste space crying for a raise? Santa Claus, that guy ain't.

One of the perks I was looking forward to was the free food to which the press traditionally has been treated. I got my first shock when I learned that this year the media wouldn't be comped. But if that was a blow to me, it was a total disaster for Mike Paulle, who also does tournament reporting. Paulle is a talented writer, but he is known mainly for his vast size, exceeded only by his vaster appetite. He was enraged when he was told that he would no longer have free rein at the buffet. What he had forgotten was that Binion's was driven to near bankruptcy the year before when he did enjoy full rein. Paulle, by the way, was seen wearing a Fitness Club shirt a couple of times. I asked him if he belonged to that gym. "Of course not," he replied. "I'm just trying to extort money from them. I warned them that I'd keep wearing the shirt unless they paid me $2,000."

My next shock came when we bumped heads with the increasingly intrusive and dictating broadcast media. This year, ESPN planned to film not just the championship event, but a whole bunch of final tables, mainly the various hold'em tournaments. (They had also considered filming Omaha high-low, but were afraid their viewers would think it was just a joke.) On the days that events were filmed on a raised soundstage, the writers were forced to sit at a table about 20 feet back, where it was impossible to see the cards or the chips, hear conversations, or get a feel for the flow of the game. We were dependent on narration by the tournament director or whoever else felt inclined to pick up the mike, and monitors that showed the board cards but not the players' cards. We didn't dare stand up for fear of being decapitated by swinging booms the size of those construction cranes that you see lifting entire buildings. I was even asked to remove my logoed Finaltablepoker cap with the flimsy excuse that it was causing a glare. Yeah, like my shiny dome wouldn't cause 20 times the glare.

Later, we were moved even further back to make room for a couple of rows of chairs for friends and family of the final-table players. At any minute we expected to be moved into another building. By now I needed a telescope the size of the Hubble to see the table.

This brings up a good question. If science can create a telescope able to see to the edge of the universe, 120 billion trillion miles away, why can't it come up with some device to let you see a table 20 feet away? And don't forget, 120 billion trillion is a big number, a very big number. How big? Well, if you took one fried chicken leg for every one of those digits, you would have enough chicken legs to feed Mike Paulle for an entire year.

Still, I suppose I shouldn't be too harsh on television, which can take credit for the explosion of interest in poker. This year, one of the tournaments was briefly paused so that everyone in the room could watch the running of the Kentucky Derby. Next year they plan to halt the Kentucky Derby so that everyone in the stands can watch the World Series of Poker.

Incidentally, I attended the Derby a couple of times when I was in the Army and stationed with the 3rd Armored Division at Fort Knox, which is near Louisville. I'll never forget the moment, just before the race went off, when they played My Old Kentucky Home, and all the good ol' boys in the venerable stands of Churchill Downs planted one hand over their hearts while clutching their mint juleps with the other as tears flooded down their faces. How weird it was, I thought at the time, to see so many grown men cry. Little did I know I'd end up in a business where I have to listen to at least 50 bad-beat stories a day.

Talking about bad beats, a player named Ivo Donev (who's also an international chess master) suffered a series of admittedly tough beats at the final table of a hold'em shootout event. Afterward, he came over to make sure I had every detail of those beats written down, so that readers wouldn't think he was playing badly. Sure, Ivo, you really have my sympathy – especially after the way you knocked my sweetie out in the International Heads-Up poker competition in Vienna last year. She raised with aces, and you called with 10-4 offsuit. When a 10 flopped, she check-raised all in and you called with your no-kicker pair of tens … and promptly caught a third 10!

Anyway, I did make one fortuitous discovery while in Vegas. I had a near disaster when my laptop started going blooey. Chuck Humphrey warned me it was on its deathbed and urged me to trash it and get a new one immediately. Then, Nolan Dalla put me in touch with a young guy named Tim Kalkofen, who operates Southern Nevada Computer. He came by and saved my butt by cleaning out all the viruses and spyware that were choking the laptop to death. This is not a plug, but a public service announcement: If you live in the Vegas area and need computer surgery, call this guy.

There's still a long way to go at the World Series as I write this, and maybe I'll come up with enough additional material for another column.diamonds