2007 World Series: Living and dying on five streets

"Do you know where we can get a medic?"

One of the tournament directors looked only vaguely troubled. One of his colleagues pointed to the security stand and said, "Tell them."

The first tournament director pulled one of the ubiquitous microphones up to his mouth and started to call for security when the other one stopped him.

"Don't do that. That's the last thing we need."

The rail around the area was already thick. A call for security to the area around Table 65 would do nothing to help the already crowded conditions.

At times around the World Series, there have been gallows-style conversations about the possibility of somebody dying at the tables.

"With this many people in the room," I recall one person saying last year, "Statistically, it's a good bet."

The man sitting off to the side of Table 65 was not dying, although the pained look on his face made it look like he thought he was. I was sitting just a few feet away, my focus on the people sitting around one of the few remaining tables in the $5,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em event.

When the bubble popped in the event, the story at table 65 was all about Humberto Brenes. After starting the day without a huge stack to speak of, he'd worked his way up to 260,000 in chips, nearly double the average. To his right, Jan Von Halle was below average at 70,000. Across the way, W$ buy-in Alan Jaffray sat on 130,000.

Humberto was buoyed and looking happy.

"Now I have a good chance. Good chips," he said with his mischievous smile.

With the medics now working to calm the not-dying man, I pondered the physical requirements of a good poker player. There are those here who drink Red Bull like it's water and shotgun cigarettes on the break. There are others who get long, tough massages. There are still others who refuse to eat anything within hours of their event so as not to play on a full stomach. When Allen Cunningham folded his cutoff and sprinted for the bathroom, I wondered if he was employing perfect position-based emergency bathroom break strategy or whether he just couldn't hold it any longer.

While Cunningham sprinted, Humberto tried to bust a shortstack. He held 55 to the shortie's 44. They got it all in pre-flop, making the four on the turn a bit of uncontrollable bad luck. A few hands later, Humberto got AK in against QQ. Though he screamed for an ace on every street, he never found one (nor did he find a king). He shrugged as if to say, "Whatta ya do?" and looked down to see he'd lost 80,000 over just a few hands.

Secure in the fact a man wasn't dying within my sight-line, I focused on other things, like how Barry Greenstein was taking breaks from his stud tournament to come over and coach (or, at the very least, provide some encouragement or a kick in the pants) his son Joe Sebok. Sebok was still alive but short-stacked in the PL Hold'em event. Staying alive in a tournament, it's clear, is not only dependent on your cards. There's something mental about it, and words from one of the world's top pros can't hurt.


Humberto was stretching his legs when he walked over to me. He was patting his stomach unconsciously, almost like he was thinking about a good meal.

"Ace-king versus two queens wasn't that bad," he said. "But two fives versus two fours...whew."

Still, he was happy. "I'm now 45 times in the money at the World Series," he said.

As he looked around for a Bluff magazine to confirm his claim, he thought it would take a few minutes for the TD to balance the tables. It didn't take long and Humberto ended up missing his big blind.

It was a harbinger of things to come.


All along, Jan Von Halle looked miserable. To be fair, his expression is almost always the same on and off the table. Still, his rail full of friends just couldn't seem to help the fact Jan was now short-stacked. Just as I'm writing this, Jan got AK all-in against Allen Cunningham's QdTd. The flop, Ah8d9d, was scary, but, as they say, nothing bad happened and Jan doubled up to around 100,000.

While Humberto couldn't seem to find any traction, Jan was now in stride. He either picked up a hand or executed a pretty good re-steal while facing a Joe Sebok button raise. A few minutes later, after the event was down to 25 players, Jan picked up pocket aces for the first time since he's been at the World Series. Keep in mind, he played three days in the $1,000 re-buy event, so he was certainly due.

The Fates paid him off. At the very same time Jan picked up his aces, one player picked up queens and another had AK. They got it all in and Jan got both of their stacks. Now, with 22 players remaining, Jan sits among the chip leaders. Alan Jaffray, PokerStars W$ buy-in is up there as well.

Now, blue strobe lights are flashing, the tell-tale sign of a fire alarm. It's yet another in a series of faux-emergencies that rarely, if ever, detract from the living and dying that goes on at the tables.

That's just sort of how the World Series goes. It's not a matter of life and death, but sometimes it feels like it.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in