The 44th Annual World Series of Poker began this week.
This will be the 19th WSOP I’ve attended. My first was way back in 1985. I’ve also missed nine, since then.
I initially attended the WSOP as a player, then as a writer-journalist, and finally over the past decade-plus as a tournament staffer. If any job is a labor of love, this is it.
Many people outside of poker think of the WSOP solely in terms of the Main Event. But it’s so much more than that. It’s like pro football. The Main Event is the Super Bowl. But the other gold bracelet events are kind of like the regular season and playoffs. I tend to like working the earlier events better, because there are so many more people with interesting stories.
Last year was one of the most exciting WSOPs in history. Considering all the great storylines of the 2012 series, combined with some memorable moments surely to be remembered, as the 2013 events now begin, we’ll have a hard act to follow.
Here’s a look back to the personal moments I remember with greatest affection, along with a snippet from the official reports written by me, now archived at WSOP.com. I encourage everyone who enjoys poker — playing or just watching — to visit the WSOP.com website regularly as this year’s series progresses over the next six weeks, when additional history will be made.
Let the countdown from 2012 now begin:
Writer’s Note: I’ll try and write up the final chapter of the Chris Moneymaker “behind the scenes” story in the next day or so. In the meantime, here’s something from the Binion’s Horseshoe era that happened in August 2003.
Remembering back ten years ago to the days working at Binion’s Horseshoe, I’m reminded of my all too brief career as a reality television “star.”
Fresh off our public relations coup from the 2003 World Series of Poker and the ESPN broadcast which was attracting huge ratings, my cell phone never stopped ringing. From that instant forward — Las Vegas, gambling, and poker were hot topics. My philosophy was — anyone with a television camera was allowed to film inside the casino. We didn’t care who they were.
That policy made us really different. While the corporate stiffs on the other end of The Strip made things practically impossible (they wanted forms filled out, lawyers’ signatures, proof of insurance, total bullshit), we opened up our doors to the entire world. We rolled out the red carpet, and let everyone inside.
Writer’s Note: This is the fifth in an extended series of articles about Chris Moneymaker’s victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker and what went on behind the scenes at Binion’s Horseshoe — before, during, and after.
CLICK HERE — Introduction
CLICK HERE — PART 1 (War of the Binions)
CLICK HERE– PARTS 2 AND 3 (Day One as Director of Public Relations for Binion’s Horseshoe / The Sit Down)
CLICK HERE — PARTS 4 AND 5 (Send in the Clowns / The Decline and Death of the World Series of Poker)
CLICK HERE — PART 6 (Friends of the Family)
Part 7: “839”
On the eve of the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, the preliminary numbers weren’t just down. They were abysmal. We dropped about 25 percent overall in attendance from the previous year, which had also been a disaster.
But after four weeks, no one was bringing up the ugly numbers. Instead, everyone was talking about big names.
The very biggest names in poker won gold bracelets — and lots of them. Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Huck Seed, Layne Flack, Mickey Appleman, John Juanda, Daniel Negreanu, Men “the Master” Nguyen, Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel, and Carlos Mortensen were among the illustrious winners. Imagine a single series with Brunson, Chan, and Hellmuth all winning titles. In fact, Chan and Hellmuth both won two each!
Those were the headlines and became the talk of poker. Not declining numbers.
Benny’s Bullpen at Binion’s Horseshoe — site of the WSOP 1998-2004
Writer’s Note: This is the fourth in an extended series of articles about Chris Moneymaker’s victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker and what went on behind the scenes at Binion’s Horseshoe — before, during, and after.
CLICK HERE — Introduction
CLICK HERE — PART 1 (War of the Binions)
CLICK HERE— PARTS 2 AND 3 (Day One as Director of Public Relations for Binion’s Horseshoe / The Sit Down)
CLICK HERE — PARTS 4 AND 5 (Send in the Clowns / The Decline and Death f the World Series of Poker)
Part 6: Friends of the Family
Hidden within the shadows were the shadiest of characters.
Personalities seemingly fit for a Martin Scorcese movie dotted the landscape, seemingly without purpose. No one — not even full-time staff — knew who they were nor what they did. Flocked in cheap suits, they often appeared half-shaven and wore dark glasses. You’d see these creeps around the casino at any time, day or night. Just standing. Just watching.
Once the WSOP began, we began seeing these shadowy types around the tournament area and poker room with much greater frequency.
They hung out for hours at a time, then disappeared. Then, they came back again, or were replaced by someone else. They never spoke to anyone. Once, I managed to get a name. He curtly identified himself as “Slimer” providing no additional comment. That’s right, his name was Slimer — as in “slime-er.”
You couldn’t make up that name.
At some point, Nick informed me that he liked to use “spotters” inside the casino. They were supposedly hired to spot known cheaters. It was made rather obvious that I wasn’t to ask any more questions. We were given explicit instructions to simply leave them alone and let them conduct their business.
Photo Credit — David Milton
Writer’s Note: This is the third in an extended series of articles about Chris Moneymaker’s victory at the 2003 World Series of Poker and what went on behind the scenes at Binion’s Horseshoe — before, during, and after.
CLICK HERE — INTRODUCTION
CLICK HERE — PART 1 (BEFORE THE STORM)
CLICK HERE — PARTS 2 AND 3 (DAY ONE AS DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS FOR BINION’S HORSESHOE
Part 4: Send in the Clowns
Binion’s Horseshoe was freak show.
Not a day passed without a “you’re not going to fucking believe this” moment.
A typical work day: Vagrants wondering in and out, crashing on the furniture inside the sportsbook. Nests of hookers at the bar. Cowboys shouldered up next to gangsters wolfing down hot pastrami sandwiches and guzzling Dr Brown’s cream sodas at the Horseshoe deli. Fistfights. Drunkeness. Card cheats. The mentally ill. Drug dealers and junkies. You name it — you saw it at “the Shoe.”
One of the most detestable of all the regulars was a crusty curmudgeon named Sam Angel, quite possibly the most repulsive person to have ever lived in Las Vegas, and that’s really saying something. A part-time pawnbroker and full-time hustler, Angel was the devil in disguise. By the time I had the misfortune to know him, Angel was pushing 80 years. His pot belly hung over his britches. Half the time his fly was open. Once, a bystander whispered to him about it and Angel said he didn’t care.