At about 10:30 last night, the monotony of another mostly chatterless WSOP Main Event final table was broken by a giant panda rushing onto the stage and subsequently crashing at the feet of six stunned poker players, playing for millions of dollars.
That was undoubtedly one of the highlights of a November Nine final table atmosphere which has become the equivalent of poker’s giant one-ring circus held the Rio’s big top — an excuse for anyone and everyone who can spell POKER to dress up, drink up, chant, celebrate, and party like there’s no tomorow, all interspersed with a mind-boggling marathon of down time during which nothing much happens.
This is televised poker. This is the World Series of Poker championship. This is the culmination of the profound wisdom pontificated by recent Poker Hall of Fame inductee Tom McEvoy when he said, “Poker is hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”
Here are some of my most memorable moments from last night:
The official induction ceremony for the Poker Hall of Fame — Class of 2013 — took place on Sunday night at the Rio. I was privileged to emcee the event, at the request of WSOP executive director Ty Stewart.
What an honor.
Being on stage among the Poker Hall of Fame members, both new and old, is a tremendous privilege. I hoped to give the induction ceremony the proper fanfare and reverence is deserves. In my view, the Poker Hall of Fame needs to be elevated greatly, and I was proud to see Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), which oversees the entire process, put forth a fabulous show.
The reception and official ceremony were held at a really cool place which added to the atmosphere of celebration. The Winer Cellar at the Rio is somewhat overlooked, as it’s easy to miss when you walk by. After all, it’s actually in the cellar of the Masquerade Tower. Go downstairs and step inside, and it’s like you’re in France during harvest season. Wine bottles are everywhere. It’s like a cave.
CIE and the Rio put out a fabulous spread for the guests. Some of the best wines were poured freely (no Yellow Tail). I must admit, I had a tough time limiting my pre-speech wine tasting to five glasses.
The reception started at 5 pm. I’m sure you’ll be seeing photos and videos of the gathering in the days and weeks to come.
On the 19th hole at Rio Secco today, I took a 3-iron blast to the left side of my face.
The feeling of a resin-encased titanium bullet blasting into my skull at something like 150-mph isn’t pleasant. What’s worse is the pain post-trauma, when my swollen cheek starts looking like something out of The Elephant Man.
Hey, no one warned me about golf being a blood sport.
Then again, this is what it’s like tangling with Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, and Gary Thompson — three merciless vultures who left me broke and bludgeoned out in the 111-degree heat that was Thursday, July 18th in Las Vegas.
In a stunning final hand of the 2013 summer series, former world poker champion Carlos Mortensen was eliminated just one position short of making the famed “November Nine.”
The 2001 World Series of Poker Main Even winner appeared to have a decent shot at getting to the so-called big dance and possibly becoming the first repeat champion since the late Stu Ungar. He moved steadily up the leaderboard on this, the final day of the championship, which is the final playing session prior to the mandatory 3.5 month break. However, the Spaniard busted out on the final dramatic hand that will be played here on this stage. The world championship finale takes place in November here in Las Vegas, thus the nickname — “November Nine.”
Here’s Mortensen exiting the main stage with obvious disappointment, yet typical grace. He’s being interviewed by ESPN’s Kara Scott (photo above).
There’s now a move to include Mortensen as a serious contender in this year’s Poker Hall of Fame nominees. While I do think there are others who are equally credible, and perhaps just as overlooked, I do believe Mortensen measures up as someone who should receive that honor sometime in the future.
Congratulations to Carlos Mortensen and the 2013 November Nine.
At the Rio, even with the final stages of the 2013 Main Event Championship still going on, it’s already the start of a new day. Nearly 400 poker tables, dozens of television cameras, miles of cables and electrical wires, thousands of lights, and tens of thousands of bad beat stories are but a distant memory of the 52-day poker festival that was the busiest overall tournament series in history.
So, what happens next?
Remarkably, much of the former main tournament room called the Pavilion has already been converted over to the next big thing about to happen — a national billiards championship. That’s right, poker tables have been wheeled out, and pool tables have been put in place. Oddly enough, the room looks strikingly similar to the way it looked during the WSOP. The same floor once covered by tables and low-hanging lights is now covered again by — stop the presses — tables and low-hanging lights. The only thing missing are the chairs.
The 2014 WSOP — which is coming next summer — will be here before you know it. In fact, our game is about to enter an exciting new era. The spread of legal online poker in the United States and poker’s continued growth internationally are two major reasons for optimism. I expect that next year’s WSOP will reflect many of these changes we are about to see both inside and outside the U.S. Somehow, the WSOP always seems to mirror where poker is at the moment.
As for me, very soon I’ll be long gone from this place where I have pretty much lived non-stop since May 26th. I’m looking forward to some rest, followed by many new challenges, which includes my direct involvement in a major television production which is currently in development. I also look forward to getting back to writing about lots of issues in the news lately, which merit reflection. Be on the lookout for a bursting dam of commentary on politics, religion, and all the things that make me either joyful or furious.
And so looking out now over the vast see of pool tables here at the Rio, my parting words are — go ahead, give me a break.