"But most of the places that you go, the girl ain't gonna fuck you. You call the number on this card and tell them Tony sent you, you'll have a good time, if you know what I mean..."
It's 10am on Tuesday July 6 2010 and I'm in the back of a cab driving through Las Vegas.
I have $10,000 in my pocket.
Clearly there has been some kind of misunderstanding.
When I mentioned to the taxi driver that I was playing in the Main Event and then afterwards I planned to relax, he obviously took that to mean I'd like to hire a lady for night. Being the kindhearted fella that he is, he chose to advise me which escort agency to use so I didn't get 'dickrolled'. Yes he used the word dickrolled.
I take Tony's card and that of the agency, pay for the cab and walk through the 40 degree early morning heat towards the back entrance of the Rio Casino. There is even a red carpet with cold air blowers to sooth my passage to the casino entrance. I bin the business cards and make my way to the cashier where I will buy into the World Series of Poker Main event with two $500 casino chips and $9,000, mainly in $20 bills. Although I'd won most of this money a couple of weeks previously, I thought I would find it quite difficult to hand it over at the desk, but it is surprisingly easy even though it's the most money I've ever had in my hands and the most expensive thing I've ever paid for.
It takes about ten minutes for them to count all the money and process my entry. In return I get my seat card and a $10 meal voucher. Nice! I'm seated in seat three in one of the tables on the edge of the Pavilion Room. The Pavilion is the overspill area from the main Rio room. It's a vast hangar with about 200 poker tables in it and Arctic air conditioning. I'm in seat three which I always like as it gives a good view of the rest of the table. I have about 90 minutes to spare so I go and freshen up and grab some food.
How I got here?
I'd made the decision not to come and play at the World Series this year, but a last minute win in a satellite tournament changed all that. American gambling regulations mean that Full Tilt, the poker site I won the seat on can't buy me directly into the tournament and as I was too late to wire the money to the casino, that left only one option - buy in with cash!
I arrived in the US with a little under $10k, I planned to hopefully win the rest whilst I was there, otherwise just withdraw it from an ATM and buy in a few days before. What I didn't compensate for is how bad I would do!
I entered the $1,000 preliminary event the day after I landed. I was a little jet lagged but didn't think it would be a problem. I'd heard about the legendary softness of these tournaments, but sadly didn't stick around long enough to find out and was knocked out within three hours. I flopped top pair twice and was out kicked and then got my aces cracked to bust me when I was by then too short to make a fold and get away from it. The structure is very fast early on but is supposed to slow down more later on. Of course I didn't get that far.
After a bad start I decide to play some of the one table satellite tournaments that I've heard so much about. These are 10 player mini tournaments that last around 90 minutes and usually end with a two or three way chop. They run around the clock and always have a queue of grizzled gamblers ready to play. Maybe I ran bad, maybe I played bad, but I got my ass completely kicked in these and only managed to chop one in about 14 over the course of a couple of days.
I also played some cash games and although I had one nice winning day at the Bellagio, I finished slightly down in this too.
All of this meant that I didn't actually have enough physical cash to buy into the tournament I came here to play. I did my sums and worked out that if I maxed out my bank cards for the next two days I would have just enough to play. That left me a day to enjoy/endure Las Vegas before I checked into my comped hotel suite at the Rio courtesy of Full Tilt.
It's my third visit to the city and I think it's safe to now say that Las Vegas and I don't get along. I find both the desert heat and the overpowering and omnipresence of gambling to be oppressive. I hate the lack of culture and the general complete fakeness of the place.
But I was here and I had a poker tournament to play...
I took my seat along with 1,488 other hopefuls on Day 1b of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. In total the field would amount to 7,319 people and it required four day ones and two second days before the field would finally all come together on day three.
My table was on the rail at the edge of the Pavilion Room. I didn't think about it at the time, but this meant that we wouldn't last long before our table got split up and we all moved to new seats. I scanned my opponents as Phil Gordon droned on about something and the rules were gone through. Eventually we hear those magical words 'Shuffle Up And Deal' and we are away.
2007 player of the year Tom Schneider is on my table, clad in a gharish blazer. He's chatting to someone he knows from the Commerce in LA, but the rest of the table seems pretty soft. There is an Italian guy who doesn't speak English and has no idea how to handle his chips or bet. Also we have an old man chewing an unlit cigar and wearing a Fox News cap (wtf?!?) - I really want to take some of his chips. I ask everyone their nationalities so I can get my regional stereotypes set and we also have a Frenchman and a slightly clueless old Venezuelan guy. Strangely, this is the second clueless old Venezuelan guy I've played against this year and the third Venezuelan in total.
At the other end of the table is a man from Alabama, missing a couple of teeth and wearing a vest, he is glaring at me a little. If you were alone in a dive bar at 1am in a town that you didn't know so well, then this might be something of a worry. Here at the poker table, the gap toothed man in a vest glaring at you is a beautiful sight. I love the Main Event already.
My first hand of note comes after about 25 minutes.
Blinds are 50/100 and everyone has around their starting stack of 30,000. Fox News limps from the hijack position in seat one. The guy on the button who I don't really have an opinion on yet raises to 400. I have 28,500 after splashing around a little. On the button I look down at pocket jacks. I decide to raise to 1275. This is clearly a mistake. So early in the tournament, 300 big blinds deep and facing an unknown opponent, it's much better to keep the pot controlable and just play post flop in position. Fox News folds and the cut off four bets to 3,100 and I throw it away disgustedly. Am I deep enough to call just to try and hit my set? Not really, as I don't know whether he is the kind of guy who is going to put a lot of chips in with an overpair even if I do hit my dream jack. I'm really annoyed with myself as play continues. I've decided that I hate getting big pairs in the first level of big deepstacked tournaments. I recall getting pocket queens the very first hand of EPT Berlin and I was terrified. With no information on the table, I was delighted to just steal the blinds.
As we are near the rail and have someone of note on our table, we have TV cameras filming us a fair bit. As I suspected though, this is only until something better comes along. When Robert Williamson III enters the room with a bevy of scantily clad girls advertising beer, I hear the call from the producer to the camera man crackle through the radio - "Quick - over to the door to get Williamson's entry!" If ever a man has managed to maintain a career as a 'TV Poker celeb' with so little recent success, then it is Robert Williamson III. If being quick witted and having interesting glasses is a recipe for longevity, then there's hope for Timmy Mallet* yet.
The first level is a disaster and I don't win a single pot. After 90 minutes our table is broken and I am assigned a new seat in the Amazon Room. To get there we follow one of the tournament staff through the bowels of the building where the waiters and staff prepare drinks and food. When I hit the Amazon Room I feel like I'm really in the WSOP Main Event. The elevated feature table is in front being filmed for ESPN and poker media are around everywhere. There's a buzz.
At my new table is a face I recognise immediately, EPT Berlin winner Kevin MacPhee. Other than that I can't identify anyone, so this is good. I don't actually win my first pot of the tournament until well into the second level, about two and a half hours in. When it happens something seems to turn around and I manage to chip up nicely throughout the rest of the day. Mainly I do this through flopping top pair, betting the flop, checking the turn and catching a bluff on the river. People are bluffing way too much but it's such a slow tournament that my opinion is that it's possibly correct to almost never bluff. I try to play solid hands and just fold if I don't connect with the board or there is a lot of action.
Joe Sebok is on the next table and has cameras trained on him all day, yet MacPhee who to me is clearly a far better player, is unlogoed largely ignored.
My poker forum friend Chris kindly checks in with me at the last break, after buying in for the following day. We chat some and he tells me he thinks Brandon Cantu has just moved to my table - Cantu has the reputation for being one of the most insanely aggressive players in the world and I play the last hour thinking it is him. However when at the close of play I find out it isn't. The lookalike is still a very good player though.
As the day goes on the table gets tougher and some of the bad players bust out and are replaced by young guys. There's an aggressive freshfaced young Swede, 'not Brandon Cantu' and a couple of other tricky players. Kevin MacPhee has a tough day but hangs in there and finishes on about 16k. He seems like a nice guy, has a good line in disparaging comments about people who act up for the TV camera and gives me a great sushi recommendation. He's from Idaho, but sadly I don't get into a conversation with him about the time I stayed there in a giant 30 foot dog. This is something I now regret.
By the end of the day I'm the second oldest on the table and it is decidedly tricky, so I'm glad when we finally get to bag up our chips and I'm sitting on 60,900. I've doubled my starting stack and I sit 232nd of the 1018 survivors. I would most likely have taken that before start of play and certainly would have after the torturous first level. Greg Raymer, Joe Sebok and several other 'big names' don't make it.
I get my table draw for day two and hope it contains more toothless men in vests from Alabama than freshfaced young Swedes.
* (For Americans) Timmy Mallet - 1990s UK children's TV presenter famous for outlandish glasses and a foam mallet. Had a number one chart hit with the song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Current status unknown.