The best story the PokerStars Blog ever published

This week, we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the PokerStars Blog with a series of articles looking back on the blog's history and the people who make it what it has become.

July 17, 2010 was a Saturday, and we knew it was going to be a long one. The World Series of Poker Main Event was trying to work its way down to a final table. The night had grown late, and 15 players remained from the starting field of 7,319.

Over at the outer table, we heard shouts and groans. For everyone who was ready for the night to be over, it was like a happy alarm: one more player was down. Many people would tell the terrible story of what happened to send young Matt Affleck out in 15th place, but only one person managed to tell the story of what happened next.

Howard Swains, a man who has written for this site for as long as nearly anyone, wandered away from our work station and disappeared for longer than usual. When he returned, he had a look on his face I'd never seen in the five years I'd known him. I recall him saying something to the effect of, "I've just seen the most remarkable thing."

Today, five years removed from that moment, he is also a little fuzzy on how the next minutes transpired.

"I'm no longer certain why I first decided to head out after Affleck -- maybe I was going to try to interview him, I'm not sure -- but once I was out in the corridor and saw him, I found that I couldn't really avert my gaze," Swains said.


Bear in mind, Swains is a proper journalist who has written for many big-time publications. He's gone to the best schools, traveled the world, and written about subjects you can't even imagine (to wit: he recently returned from Africa to produce White Pygmy: 30 years in the African jungle). He interviews people better than almost anyone I know. This time, though, he held back and didn't corner Affleck, a young man so overcome with emotion that it startled everyone.

"I had never seen that kind of emotion at a poker table and it was immediately clear that even when he was away from the whole melee inside the Amazon Room, nothing had got any easier for him. I guess I was then just intrigued to see what he would do next. What could he do next? What do you do when something like that has just happened?" Swains said. "I tried to hang back, but once I'd followed him all the way down the corridor for the first time, I think I realized I'd have to see it through. I'm still torn as to whether I should have approached him. I can definitely see that it would have been an unwelcome intrusion to be confronted by a journalist after something like that, and that was my thinking at the time. But the flip-side is that it's maybe a bit voyeuristic, just tailing somebody like that without letting them know it's happening."

Swains sat down at his computer and started typing. Meanwhile, our photographer Joe Giron returned with his camera and the news he had also captured a moment. The result was a story that I still consider to be the best thing we have ever published.

Longtime contributor Kristin Bihr called it,"One of the most heartbreaking moments I've witnessed in poker, captured with such sad beauty."

I remember sitting there with our partner Stephen Bartley. Both of us knew Howard had something.

"It also came in that period of the day when you're tired, and kind of waiting for the day to end so you can report on the day's events," Bartley said. "Instead Howard spotted a story, disappeared for an hour, and came back to write what I think is still one of the best pieces ever written for the PokerStars Blog. I still remember our immediate reaction on reading it. It almost didn't matter what was happening a few feet away in the Main Event. That was the story of the day."

Swains' piece was eventually republished in Bluff magazine. Today, the conceit has been tried a few times by other folks with varying degrees of success. Swains' article, though, stood out at the time as something completely different from the kind of poker reporting people were doing in 2010.

"I'd like to claim that I had seen how important it was to write a piece like this before I actually wrote it, but, in truth, it mostly wrote itself," Swains said today. "After witnessing what Affleck did for the 15 minutes or so that I was following him, it was obvious that it needed to be shared. I don't think you'll ever see anyone look that crestfallen for having just won $500,000, and that's unique to poker. We very rarely get to see or experience how it feels to be the guy who just misses out, but this certainly offered that opportunity."

In the past ten years, the PokerStars Blog's English language site has published more than 20,000 individual entries. I'm proud of many of them. In this story, I declared we have the best photographers in the poker business. I also believe we have some of the best poker writers in the world. Swains, though he would be loathe to admit it, wrote the best poker story we ever published.

James Hartigan, who worked ever-so-briefly with the PokerStars Blog before becoming the lead presenter and broadcaster in European poker, said, "It was an absorbing piece of writing, which perfectly captured the drama, impact and emotion of this shocking moment. I remember seeing the TV show later in the year and thinking, 'They should have kept the camera on Affleck. They should have stuck with him when he left the room.' Howard stuck with him. And Howard got the story."

The original version appears here. Here is the story republished in full.


The long, lonely walk of Matt Affleck
Story by Howard Swains -- Photos by Joe Giron

At a conservative estimation, more than two million poker hands have been dealt in this World Series Main Event. But if any single hand is likely to be remembered long into the future of poker, it is the one that has just eliminated Matt Affleck in 15th place.

It wasn't necessarily what happened with the cards - the outdraw was no less horrific than thousands that occur every hour. But the reaction from Affleck, both the very minute an 8♦ rivered a straight for Johnathan Duhamel, and then for the next 20 minutes as Affleck attempted to begin the rest of his life, was without comparison in modern poker memory.

Here's what happened, from the very start:

At the table

Affleck and Duhamel were involved in a pot worth 42 million tournament chips, an amount large enough to carry to November's final table with serious expectations of becoming World Champion. Affleck, 23, had pocket aces. Duhamel, 22, had pocket jacks. They had seen a flop of T♦9♣7♥, and then a turn of Q♦. And then all of Affleck's chips found their way into the middle.

Duhamel took five minutes before calling the bet. Affleck was leading but Duhamel could hit any king, any jack or any eight to win, eliminating Affleck. He hit the 8♦.

As the eight-deep crowd gasped and roared, Affleck leant forward, slid his hat forward over his eyes, and rested his head on the arm-rest around the table. His body started to shake like a man beginning to weep. He held his head there for longer than any player I've ever seen. When he lifted it, he held his cap over his reddened cheeks. He wanted no one to see the tears in his eyes, but no one could look anywhere else.


Matt Affleck is reduced to tears after his elimination from the 2010 World Series Main Event

He shook hands with his opponents, he took his off his microphone, he didn't pause to watch his chip stacks, meticulously arranged and scrupulously earned through eight days, slid in the direction of Duhamel.


Matt Affleck shakes Jonathan Duhamel's hand

In the corridor

As play resumed - it always does that - there was still the nervous chattering that follows any kind of monumental happening in any sporting pursuit. Folks discussed the hand, adding their own inexpert views to what they had seen, then discussed what they expected to happen in the future. "They sure take their time to make a decision these guys," said one man on the rail. "I mean, man, either do it or don't. Come on."

Affleck was not around to hear it. In the long corridor outside the Amazon Room, he stood beside three friends, all of them silent and frozen. He was in the very middle of the hall, like a statue. A few strays from the MMA fight in the neighbouring Pavilion Room ambled past. A janitor swept a plastic cup into his trash-can.

One poker spectator had pursued Affleck all the way out into the hall and he sheepishly approached him with a baseball cap and a marker pen, proffering it nervously. Affleck took the pen, scribbled on the white baseball cap, and sent the man on his way. No words were exchanged.

Affleck then blew out his cheeks, still red and still moist, and wandered along the hall towards the main Rio Casino. He stopped when he caught sight of one of the monitors that showed the chip counts to spectators. It still had his name on it, fifth in chips, and heading to the November Nine. It was wrong, plain wrong. Affleck pulled his cap over his eyes again.

Off he went once more. He walked slowly, feet splayed outward, his "Griffey 24" Seattle Mariners jersey disappearing into the distance. He was still crying. His friends followed, but they gave him a five yard start. Affleck was alone; there was nothing a fist pump or a handshake could do.

Outside by the taxi rank

When he reached the end of the corridor, Affleck left the building and stood by the stairs leading to the taxi rank. He walked through a few smokers to a railing and lent over it, two elbows propping him there, as though he was about to be sick. He stood for two minutes before one of his friends walked over and patted him twice on the shoulder. They said nothing.

Affleck moved away and propped on another stretch of railing. His friend removed his jacket but stayed where he was. A group of four MMA fans smoked and talked about a car wreck one of them had recently been in. The petty minutiae of their impending court case, peppered by expletives, was out of earshot. Affleck instead stared into the shrubbery beneath the suites of the Palazzo Towers. That's usually where the November Nine stay when they return to Vegas to play the final table.

A plane flew into McCarran airport and Affleck watched it briefly. Then his friend moved over again and patted his back once more. Aflleck turned around and this time the buddies talked. Then they walked together back into the hall.

Back in the hall

As he held the door open for a lady to leave the corridor, the woman recognised Affleck and wanted to talk. "Congratulations," she said. "Congratulations on getting that far. We've been watching you for days."

Affleck thanked her but wandered away. She shouted after him: "Congratulations on getting that far."

He wandered back in the direction of the Amazon Room, pausing again to sign another baseball cap with a Sharpie and accepting congratulations. Three other poker supporters approached him, including Greg Mueller. They exchanged handshakes, but Affleck did not tarry. He seemed to be heading to the payouts room, but once again got only as far as the rotunda, and turned 180 degrees again.

Once more, with his silent three-man entourage lagging five paces behind, Affleck headed away. It was now the third time he had walked this corridor in as many minutes, like a polar bear in a zoo, having lost all sense of purpose. This time he turned past the shuttered merchandise stand and past the photos of previous Main Event champions. Six cabinets displayed World Series bracelets. Affleck did not look.

He then drifted into the corridor that led to the bedlam of the main casino. About a week ago, a banner hanged there that read "Thank You For Visiting the World Series of Poker. Don't Forget the Main Event."

Matt Affleck will never forget the 2010 Main Event. And the Main Event should never forget Matt Affleck.



Thanks for reading all these years. If you'd like to play in the April 20th 15:00 ET PokerStars Blog 10th Anniversary freeroll, you can find it by searching "Blog" in the PokerStars lobby and using the password accurate

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Brad Willis
@BradWillis in PokerStars news