My Favorite Moments from Last Night’s WSOP Championship Finale (Not What You’re Expecting)
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:
When cards flew in the air at about 5:45 pm, the audience looked like what you’d expect to see at the entrance gates to Disneyland. People dressed in t-shirts. Wearing hats. Holding souveniers. Several others dressed up in costumes. Some came as animals. Yawn.
I first noticed the giant panda standing out in the general admission section of the audience. On occasion, the panda danced with the crowd and seemed to be having a good time. As the night went later however, the panda began ordering cocktails. By 10 pm, the panda has made its way onto the main stage — a definite no-no since he had no special badge. Then again, who’s going to stop and arrest a panda? The black and white faux-beast was making its way through the crowd, receiving cheers and jeers from the supporters of the other players. Even Tournament Director Jack Effel who was doing the announcing joined in the fun, noting the panda was stealing the spotlight away from the players.
Most of us gradually forgot about the panda. Then, with six players remaining, something shocking happened. Out of nowhere the giant panda rushed out of the VIP seating area and leapt up onto the main stage. Only, he tripped and fell face-flat, basically eating the floor. With ESPN’s television cameras rolling, the panda was sprawled out. He apparently couldn’t see very well out of the costume and tumbled over the steps. All Jack Effel and a stunned audience of nearly 2,000 spectators could do was watch in stunned disbelief.
The panda panicked and then lept up from the stage and then began running out of the arena. Even the players couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The poker action stopped momentarily while the Rio security detail grabbed the bearish tresspasser, headlocking the crazed attention seeker to the point of submission. Finally, the panda was escorted off the stage and out of the Penn and Teller Theater to the booming audience chant of “Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Hey….Good-bye.”
Within seconds, this was the biggest breaking story on Twitter and the most talked-about event at the Rio.
At the end of today’s article, I’ll give some background about what motivated the panda to go crazy, which was uncovered by Vin from Casino City.
JESUS WALKS ON WATER
Some moments are just too surreal to believe.
After one of the bust-out interviews held in the lobby, a few of us journalists were standing about to wrap up return to the auditorium. However, our attention was diverted by a man exiting the men’s restroom. The man was dressed in a long white robe, a cloth tie belt, and leather sandals. He had long brown hair and a beard. Halleluja! It was Jesus!
Now, my understanding is that Halloween took place last week. Either this guy was still in full costume, or was trying to divert some holy energy to his favorite poker player. Who knows? Maybe playing the role of J-Chris might bring a miracle card or two to the faithful.
I have no idea who Jesus was actually cheering for. He was last seen standing in the upper deck, guzzling down a Heineken while screaming profanities at the other fans.
BYE BYE, RUNNER RUNNER
This year’s layout in the ESPN Main Stage includes a giant banner for the movie “Runner Runner.” This terrible, utterly forgettable movie stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.
Back during the summer series, the banner was a constant reminder to attendees of the WSOP that a new poker movie was about to come out, the subject matter about the ups and downs of online poker. Trouble is, by the time the WSOP final table was played (last night) the film had already been released and bombed worse than bad nightclub act.
Apparently, half the people in last night’s audience missed the movie release, because it was yanked so quickly from theaters after disasterous box office receipts. I heard more than a few people ask, “when is the movie coming out.”
As things turned out — few people, even poker players, cared enough to go see a film that was reportedly motivated by Ben Affleck’s sour poker experiences years ago, and now wanting revenge on a game he views with some bitterness. Perhaps had Affleck not hung out with scumbags most of the time while he was playing poker, he might not have left the game with such resentment.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL MADNESS
Thank goodness I didn’t have to watch the Green Bay-Chicago game, played last night.
I rarely miss NFL games, especially if I have money riding on the outcome. But since I was tied up working with the WSOP, I didn’t get to watch any of the game.
What a blessing in diguise.
Apparently, Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers went down early in the game with a serious injury, leaving the team’s hope in the hands of a sandlot slinger named Seneca Wallace. Based on Wallace’s dismal numbers, which produced less than 100 total yards passing, despite having one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses, the Packers were doomed once Rogers was carted off the field. One rarely sees a professional athlete (even a backup) so uterly unprepared.
Well, the predictable happened. What would likely have been an easy win and teaser cover (-5) instead turned into a touchdown loss.
Like I said, it’s a relief I did not have to sit and watch Seneca Wallace try and throw a football for three hours. I’d much prefer the dead air of a WSOP broadcast. At least I kept my sanity and blood pressure under control. At least until Jesus and the panda showed up.
The champioinship table always attracts a mix of extremes. There are legends and novices, young and old, players and non players.
Nonetheless, you’d think everyone would know Phil, right?
Well, I guess they do. Sorta.
Phil Hellmuth was walking through the lobby just prior to the start of play. He was commentating for ESPN last night. No doubt, Helmuth was also enjoying his well-earned role as poker ambassador and mixing with the crowd.
When Hellmuth walked past two startled star-gazers, they knew he looked familiar. But they couldn’t quite place the name. I overheard their conversation, which unfolded as follows. I was standing there beside Hellmuth as he stopped to sign a few autographs. Someone called out to the 13-time gold bracelet winner from across the room.
“Hey Phil!” the fan screamed.
Hellmuth looked up. He smiled, waved, and went back to signing autographs.
Meanwhile, the two bystanders finally figured it out.
“It must be Phil Ivey,” one said to the other.
A CLASS ACT: J.C. TRAN
Of alll the finalists this year, I know J.C. Tran the best. Thats because he’s been around the poker scene for a long time, and has won many titles. He’s a fantastic player and a good person. I don’t admire every poker player I meet. But I greatlly admire and respect J.C. Tran.
The Sacramento-based poker pro came in with the weight of the world on his shoulders last night. He was the most well-known player in the November Nine. Many observers speculated that this would be the year that a highly-regarded pro would win the title, rather than a relatively unknown player, as has been the case over the past decade.
After busting out, Tran later spoke at a press conference where he revealed that he experienced the coldest run of cards he’d ever seen at any final table. Despite holding the chip lead when play started, his stack didn’t last under those adverse circumstances. Sure, with sheer talent and patience, he managed to last to fifth place. But the seven-figure score was bittersweet. Tran wanted to finish much higher.
I was impressed with the way Tran handled himself afterward. Most of the players, once eliminated, are as gracious as they can be under the circumstances. But Tran went a step beyond and praised his competitors. While disappointed, he looked back positively on the experience of making his first Main Event final table. No doubt, Tran had things in proper perspective, which was clear when he joined his family and freinds, in a giant embrace.
I’m not always proud nor impressed with what goes on in poker. But this moment was a matter of pride. I was proud of J.C. Tran, who is a true champion, not just in poker but in life.
PAY THE PANDA!
As I said, here’s the real story according to Vin.
The panda was walking around the crowd when a few poker players and fans began taking up a collection. They dared the panda to run across the stage. The panda refused. Well, everyone and everything apparently has a price.
A thousand dollars was raised. Then, two. Then four. Then five or maybe six (reports vary).
After beig promised somthing like $5,000, the panda had enough incentive to plunge onto the stage and basically steal the show in what is likely to go down as one of the most shocking moments in WSOP history.
Pay that man his money!
Here’s some links to some of the (more serious) quick stories I wrote and posted last night at the WSOP official website:
Also, written yesterday morning:
To read and follow the latest updates from tonight’s world poker championship, grand finale, please check out: WSOP.COM