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My Top 10 WSOP Memories

by Rebecca McAdam |  Published: Nov 01, 2010

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Seven weeks in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker. No, make that seven weeks in Las Vegas’ Rio All-Suites Hotel, immersed in a 24-hour cabaret show, where the passing of time is marked by the number of winners’ photographs placed on a blank wall. If I had a word for each week to describe the whole experience, the list would probably go something like — exciting, exhausting, fun, frustrating, crazy, surreal, and unforgettable. Despite the fact the lows were as extreme as the highs, picking my top 10 WSOP memories was very, very tough. Even getting the list down to 10 was a difficult chore. So coming from someone who was on the tournament floor every single day and spoke to each and every winner, here, in no particular order, are my 10 favourite WSOP memories.

Stuff of Legends

The $1,000 Seniors Championship appeared mid-WSOP schedule and as it was obviously just for those the far side of 21, for many it was one of those tournaments to by-pass on the road to the main event. To be honest, I didn’t think anything of it beforehand myself, but I now know that was just ignorance.

Going down to the Pavilion to do my daily winner’s interview, I was accosted by cowboy hats, bolo ties, zimmer frames, tortoise shell rimmed glasses, and splashes of blue rinse and puce-pink lipstick. It was in such contrast to the oversized-headphone-wearing, bejeweled crowd that it almost felt like some sort of weird dream.

On stage, all the living members of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame were being photographed around the Golden Eagle trophy, which lists the event’s winners and is passed on each year. “Oklahoma” Johnny Hale, the “Elder Statesman of Poker” had made his traditional roll call before start of play, which included a moment of silence for legends no longer with us like Stu Ungar and Benny Binion.

The many powerful images of history and tradition surrounding this event had a deeply humbling affect on me, as did Harold Angle, the eventual champion. The 78-year-old was old enough to be some of the players’ father and as he made his comeback from just 400 in chips on day 1, he did not stop until he held that trophy surrounded by his extended family. The man knows nothing about online poker or even computers for that matter, but with charisma and grace had beaten a record-breaking field of 3,142 players.

Father and Son

Two bracelet ceremonies I will always remember were in honour of Israeli Tomer Berda and American pro Daniel Alaei. Berda decided to fly his father out for his birthday so that he could play some poker. However when Papa Berda got to the airport, he realised his visa had expired so he missed the flight. Overnight, a visa was made possible and he arrived a day late. It was going to be perfect timing for the Berda boys however, as two days later Tomer was on the final table of event No. 56, a $2,500 no-limit hold’em tournament. His heads-up opponent had many supporters, but as Tomer battled his way to the finish line, his father was right behind him, eyes gleaming with pride-driven tears, as they did when Berda received his first bracelet in front of hundreds of players the following day.

The father and son theme was also evident during Daniel Alaei’s (third) bracelet ceremony. While Daniel accepted his bracelet, I noticed a man standing behind me in the corner. He looked familiar, so I asked him, “Are you here for Daniel?” And the man shyly replied, “Yes, I’m his father.” “You must be very proud,” I continued. “Yes. I always try to come and support him at every event. I love to watch him play,” he said beaming in his son’s direction. Mr. Alaei Senior and I then had a great chat and after a bit of coaxing he got into a few photographs with Daniel. It was a tremendously touching moment shared between two gentle and gracious souls. It’s moments like those that remind me what it is I truly love about working in this industry.

Dutch for a Day

The day Marcel Vonk took to the stage to accept his first WSOP bracelet is one that sticks in my mind. Not just because he was the only Dutchman, and most likely the only theoretical physicist, to win an event this year, but because it just so happened to coincide with some very important World Cup results. Being Irish, I like many others at home had to vicariously live through others for the World Cup — let’s not go in to the reasons for this. For those not so in tune, simply Google the words ‘Thierry Henry’ and ‘Ireland’.

For a while I tried to side with the American “soccer” team, considering I was going to be living in the States for the best part of two months, but I soon found myself following the Dutch. Their support and enthusiasm was infectious, and being an underdog fan, I was hoping to see them go the whole way. Funnily enough, the day the Netherlands won their semi-final was the same day Vonk received his bracelet, and you could almost taste the excitement as Dutch players, bloggers, and railers, cried out their national anthem while Vonk held his head high, smiling tearfully, with his hand on his heart. I think we all felt a little Dutch that day.

Endurance

For the first week or so I was in Vegas, I hopped back and forth between the Rio and the Bellagio as we kept an eye on Phil Laak and his Endurance Challenge. Laak was hoping to set a new Guinness World Record by playing poker non-stop for 80 hours. We made a few videos on this that you can check out on Card Player TV and see Laak’s gradual descent into delirium. At first the stakes were $10-$20 and Laak was buying in for $4,000 but at one point when I came to see him he had $100,000 in front of him. He also had a dietician on hand, ready-made meals, profit and loss graphs, and lots of supporters including Jennifer Tilly.

We were there when the champagne bottles were popped and the usually quiet poker room was filled with cheering as Laak beat the old record. At this point I think we all realised he was the kind of person who liked to test the limits and that he wasn’t going to give up lightly. The Unabomber didn’t call it a day until he had beat the previous record by 37 hours — that’s a 115-hour-long poker session!

DurrrrFest

The whole obsession with Tom “Durrrr” Dwan during the Series largely boiled down to the reportedly millions he had on the line in bracelet bets. Every time I saw him, people were asking him for autographs and pictures, and when he played, they fought over the rail nearest to him. The Card Player TV team decided to play on this and do something different, so we created “Durrrr Watch 2010”. The intro for the show was hilarious as it featured a dinosaur breathing fire, and a warrior Durrrr with lazer beams shooting from his eyes. But it wasn’t all design and no substance, we got some good interviews with Dwan about the bets — he’s a pretty funny guy. Between Durrrr Watch 2010, the bracelet bets, and Dwan’s near-miss at taking a whopper chunk out of the high stakes community, Durrrr definitely made his mark on this year’s World Series.

The Ivey Factor

You could tell Phil Ivey was hungry for a big win, and not just by the fact he was all over the Rio, hopping between different events, but there was fire in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. I’ve witnessed Ivey take his seat at an EPT high roller event, and blatantly not want to be there. Moments later, he’s gone, and tens of thousands are down the drain. But at this WSOP, he seemed different.

He was accompanied at the final table of the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event by professionals such as John Juanda, Jeffrey Lisandro, David Baker, and Bill Chen. At one point Chen had 75 percent of the chips in play and was storming towards gold. When Ivey and Chen went heads up, I returned to my hotel room and tried to stay awake to watch the updates. It was a battle of epic proportions with Ivey and Chen playing tug of war over the chip lead, but in the early hours of the morning a cold deck hit Chen in the face, and Ivey won his eighth bracelet.

With so many people wanting to interview Ivey, it was decided that he would hold a press conference a day later. The buzz was unreal as we waited for him to make his entrance — you’d swear the Pope was coming! People gathered around a pulpit whispering and nervously giggling, and photographers hung out of ceiling lights and backdrops, desperate for the best view. He arrived late, casually chewing gum, oversized shirt hanging out, and that icey, carefree stare. He told us something that made me regain interest in what could be yet to come from him — “As I’m getting older I’m realising my place in poker history, and I think that it’s very important how you perform in tournaments.”

Ivey went on to finish third at his ninth WPT final table in the Bellagio Cup VI shortly after this, despite being one of the last players to register on day 3.

Brits and Scandis

Needless to say, Britain did very well at this year’s WSOP with five bracelets. It was truly fantastic to see them flying the flag for Europe as they are a great bunch of people, as well as players. They appear as a tight-knit kind of group, always on hand for each other for advice or general support, the way any poker community should be. Their success in Vegas must have triggered something off because they’ve been killing the international circuit ever since.

It was so great to see Swede William Thorson and Norwegian Johnny Lodden go deep in this year’s main event. As anyone knows, an event is always far more interesting to follow, if someone you know or like is playing in it. Well, it would be hard to find two nicer guys than Lodden and Thorson. The funny thing is out of the hundreds of events they have played together, they have never both cashed in the same tournament. The main event would be their first with Lodden finishing in 27th place for $317,161, and Thorson in 22nd for $317,161. When they each got knocked out, there were no dramatic explosions, they just shook their opponents’ hands and made their exits quietly, calmly, and of course, disappointedly. Thorson even spent some time with media and friends in appreciation of their support, and obliged others with interviews and photographs. Now that is class!

Matt Damon and the World Cup

During my Card Player TV duties, I got to hit up the red carpet with the celebs (the other side of the rail of course) for the Ante Up for Africa tournament. Poker players such as Annie Duke, Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey, and Phil Gordon (who went on to win it) mingled with celebrities such as Don Cheadle, Brad Garrett, David Allan Grier, and Matt Damon. I got to interview each and every one of them so it was a really interesting day. The most memorable thing about it however was Matt Damon… and no, not just because I’m a young woman and he’s a beautiful, amnesiac spy/ fallen angel / Ocean’s member, plus not to forget, the main character of what is probably the best poker movie ever made — Rounders, but because he is an unbelievably down to earth, nice guy. We spoke for 10 minutes about the World Cup before I realised I had better start recording and asking him about poker. And by the way, sorry France, he’s on Ireland’s side for this one (See Dutch for a Day).

Party Central

In anyone’s memories of Las Vegas and the World Series, parties and celebrations are always going to come to the fore. So, I decided to pile all my favourite nights into one ultimate party memory.

During the Series, there is very little time for tomfoolery when you have to work or play every day. However, throughout seven weeks, you would go truly nuts if you didn’t let your hair down, and in Vegas, you can let your hair down to the extreme. You can dance on see-through rooftops, you can sit back and let servers pour you drinks from magnums, you can swim instead of hitting the dance floor, and watch your barmaid dance a jig on the bar she just served you on. You just might happen to find yourself at an Irish party in a luxurious villa, or at exclusive shows like Run DMC, not to forget Snoop Dogg at the PokerStars WSOP party — he was amazing!

I managed to take part in and witness two dance offs during my time in Vegas; one featuring Paul Marrow, and the other Randall “RandALLin” Flowers and Andrew “luckychewy” Lichtenberger. Paul and I managed to stir up a major dance off in one of the clubs. We had everyone up in the centre of the floor break-dancing and competing. I stood back and watched as popstar wannabes attempted to out-style Mr. Marrow. Now, anyone who knows Paul, will know that this simply is not possible. The man wears two different coloured shoes for God’s sake.

Online whizz kids Luckychewy and Tony “Bond18” Dunst decided to throw a house party during the Series. Luckychewy, Ryan “Golfa” D’Angelo, and Maria Ho took to the dance floor with fervour while Lauren Kling, Christina Lindley, and Adam Levy got out their scoreboards. It was surprise entry Randall Flowers who blew them all the way. Although I have to say, they would have had some stiff competition if Paul Marrow had been there!

Mizrachi Madness

The Mizrachi family really stole the show this year. Mike “The Grinder” took the prestigious $50,000 Players Championship title, knocking brother Robert out along the way, much to his mother’s chagrin. From there the man seemed to find his stride more and more. His whole family was such a support, and to be honest, they are a really funny and interesting bunch.

It was the Series for the Mizrachis, so what better way to end it than to have one on the final table of the main event. As players dropped by the wayside, we all hoped against hope that one known player would make it and keep us interested until November. The odds were against Michael as he was so short-stacked but he managed to squeeze his way to the final, and now we wait to see if he can make some poker history. ♠