2007 World Series: The Day Before Tomorrow

Late at night in the Rio's Amazon Room, sides of beef would feel perfectly comfortable. It's salad-bar-plate cold when the room gets basically empty. It would be silent but for the few cash games still running in the far corner of the room and the couple of drunks that frequent the early morning action.

It's at this time that a curious group of technicians enters the room. They work under the cover of night and carry squirt bottles and buckets. They work like elves, close to the ground, and with a concentration reserved for artists. Their job is not one the casual observer can understand. It takes close study, which here amounts to standing still long enough to actually look at something. These people are likely paid as much as they are noticed, but if they didn't show up, their absence would be recognized.

These people are part of a clean-up crew with the sole duty of removing small stains--by hand--from the carpet of the Amazon Room. Unlike the huge, industrial carpet cleaning machines that roam the Rio like poker's zambonis, these people work one spot at a time, getting rid of the spilled Red Bull, toppled coffee, and carelessly tossed pieces of gum. It's odd that I think of these people now. They are long gone by late afternoon. So is product of their work.

I guess they come to mind, because in my head they are symbols of the few quiet times at the World Series. Now, there is no such thing as quiet. For several days, the concepts of clean carpets and blessed silence will be long forgotten. In less than 24 hours, the Main Event of the World Series will begin.

This final day before the world championship of poker has been one unlike any so far this year. It began with the annual Media Event--the one chance for members of the media to compete against each other en masse in poker rather than the press. I managed to repeat last year's final table performance by making it all the way into the charity "money" and then busting out as quickly as the dealer and a loose caller in the small blind would allow.

Even then, though, it was relatively quiet. The afternoon has brought such insanity that even I--a guy who has spent most of two careers battling crowds--have come down with a case of claustrophobia that would make Woody Allen feel at home. Poker players from all over the world descended on the Rio today to register for the Main Event. Sign-up lines stretch out of the room, down the hall, around the corner, and down another hall. As if that weren't enough, a charity event here has drawn the mainstream looky-loo crowd down from the main casino.

But, wait. Let's not talk bad about the charity event, because it's a good one. The Ante Up For Africa event is a $5,000 buy-in event that will send money to aid the suffering in Darfur, Sudan. Celebrities from every walk of life have shown up to play with some of the world's biggest poker celebs. Everyone from Kevin Smith, to Don Cheadle, to Matt Damon, to Ben Affleck, to Montel Williams are here. Team PokerStars was well-represented and featured Joe Hachem, Katja Thater, Daniel Negreanu, and and Victor Ramdin put up their cash for a good cause. Even actors Jason Alexander and Shanon Elizabeth flew the PokerStars flag today as he played in the charity event. Below you can see photos of the players in the event today, courtesy of our friends at Image Masters.

Team PokerStars' Barry Greenstein also anted $5,000 up for Africa, but was unable to take his seat at the beginning of the tournament. He was still playing in the $5,000 rebuy no-limit 2-7 draw event. It was around that table that I could really see the contrast between yesterday and today. Greenstein sat among his poker peers. They were some of the best in the world, down to the final eight, and playing a game that takes such marked concentration, it's amazing any of the players could function amid the chaos. Greenstein sat patiently, studying his opponents, and making his bets. All the while, his copy of "Ace on the River" sat at his seat at the charity Table 60 and watched his blinds disappear. It wasn't a hard decision for Greenstein. His $5,000 was going to charity in the Ante up for Africa event. At the other table, there was a bracelet on the line. By early evening, we'd watch as Barry came up just short, making the final table, but placing eighth.

Tonight is a night reserved for parties. Every organization out here is throwing some sort of party. Bluff Media is throwing an event at a gentleman's club, the Ante Up For Africa event is throwing a bash at the Rio's Voodoo Lounge. Next door at The Palms, I hear the PokerStars Supernovas are getting together. If I make it out to any of the parties tonight, you can guess where I'll be (and, no honey, it's not Sapphire).

For now, this place is a zoo and a sure sign poker is still thriving in a difficult environment. I'm confident, though, it's enough to make the veterans long for the old days of eating steak at Binion's and being able to move without the aid of an electric cattle prod. A little while ago, Anthony Holden walked in and was kind enough to chat with me for a bit and offer small apology for leaving me out of his book, The Bigger Deal (I'll leave him to reveal his excuse). Holden is among the old guard here in a room full of youngsters. I fall somewhere in the middle, having been here since the beginning of the New World Series.

Holden has seen history, I've seen the recent past, and all the new folks are living the present. What none of us know is what tomorrow will bring. All we know is that it's the beginning of another World Championship and the birth of another piece of poker history.

I wonder if the carpet elves will come in tonight. In a poker tournament dominated by such massive crowds, the little touches are the things worth noticing. Whether it's the subtle nod a player makes when he's got the nuts or the smooth way she slides her chips into the pot when she's on a bluff, it's the stuff that will keep me watching and writing for the next two weeks.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in