2007 World Series: Upstream

Imagine a locker room at halftime of a NFL game. A few dozen sweaty people leave the playing field in a mix of urgency and fatigue. All look for a few moment's respite and maybe a chance to hit the head. Now, imagine if the team had 2,700 players on it and they'd all been drinking water and Red Bull for two hours. That's the scene as the players here head for the first bathroom break.

Today, the World Series $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em event sold out before the end of the first level. A total of 2,780 players packed into the Rio in what PokerNews' Change100 dubbed "The Dead Money Parade."

Less than 25% of the field in the $1,500 NL Hold'em Event

It's a chance at World Series glory, a gold bracelet grappled by hand from the middle of a dark ocean floor. This is a sea of faces that I--without much embarrassment--just don't recognize. Walking the floor this afternoon, I finally vocalized to a couple people what I'd been thinking for two hours.

"Who are these people?" I asked. I literally had looked at two hundred faces before I saw one that even glimmered with recognition. Most times I asked the question to fellow members of the media, they just shrugged.

I was 75% of my way through the crowd when I figured it out. This is the live version of an online tournament. It's more than 2,700 players strong. Every once in a while, you see a name or face you recognize, but most of the time, you're playing against unknowns.

Overflow playing area--a tent air conditioned by giant plastic tubes

Lest you think I have any animosity or disdain for this field, you should know that, if I were to play an event this year, it would likely be one a lot like this. In fact, all the Series events I've played in the past have been like this. So, it's not that I can't relate to this field. It's just that it's so big...and so anonymous.

Finally, near the end of my walk, I find some more popular faces. There's Noah Boeken hitting his flush on the river. There's Humberto Brenes talking his opponent into a fold. There's Steve Paul-Ambrose looking down to see if he has cards he's willing to put up against a field so big. There are others, to be sure. And maybe those folks will make it to the final table over the next three days. Who knows?

Noah Boeken all-in (he won)

Noah Boeken gives an interview to the Dutch media

Humberto Brenes, an alternate who got a seat

That's the thing in a field this big. The "Who Knows" factor is huge. That's actually part of its appeal. It's part of the reason the World Series is so popular. Anybody can come here with dream in their head and $1,500 in their pocket and walk away three days later being able to say what a very, very small percentage of poker players will ever be able to say: "I won a World Series bracelet."

The other night, I sat with Jim McManus--well-known poker writer and player--and chatted for a while about poker, writing, and money. We've each had our own levels of success in these arenas, but there was one thing both lacked and wanted. McManus said it quietly, looking into his drink and saying it so quietly it was almost as if he didn't even want to hear it himself.

"I want the bracelet," he said.

The flotsam and jetsam of dreams still float here. It will be three days before we know which of the faces will be the one we won't forget.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in