PCA 2012: Red Bull Robbie starts with a double

PCA-2010-thumbnail.jpgA floral shirt sits in stark relief against the coffee-colored skin of the cocktail server. He's holding up one finger at the strawberry blonde man with the goatee in the middle of the stage.

"One?" asks the server.

A look of seriousness--fierce, almost anxious seriousness--crosses the goateed man's face. This is not a playground. This is not a nunnery. This is the Thunderdome. This is the main event of the one of the biggest tournaments in the world. This is not a place where "one" will do.

In a suit, lime green shirt, and striped tie, Robbie Thompson holds up a peace sign--wait...no, that's not it. It's a revision on his order.

"Two," he says. There is not a hint of a joke in his voice.

The server nods and scurries away as if he knows just how important his job is.

Anyone who knows Thompson knows what will be on the tray when the server returns from his mission. In recent years, Thompson has become known simply as Red Bull Robbie, a final table announcer with the kind of appetite for Red Bull reserved for recovering methamphetamine addicts and fighter pilots. It's a crime Thompson hasn't earned an official sponsorship from the energy drink maker. Instead, that sponsorship belongs to some other Red Bull Robbie, an Australian stunt motorcycle rider who presumably doesn't know a damned thing about poker or "shooting them into the muck."

That last bit is the other important part about Thompson. It's not only his maniacal consumption of Red Bull that distinguishes him from a small but worldwide network of final table announcers. Thompson also has a thick mental thesaurus and can describe the action of a player folding his cards in about 100 different ways. If he were a funeral director, Thompson might say, "Let's us commit this man to the earth one last time. Let us shove him into muck for eternity."


Robbie Thompson hard at work

I sit in the back row of the audience, head pounding, eyes puffy, a wreck from a restless few hours of nightmares in between the end of work last night and the beginning of work today. Involuntarily, my mouth stretches into a long lion-like yawn. It's the kind of yawn that makes one's eyes water and jaw joints hurt. When it's over and my eyes clear, I think I see Thompson looking at me. And I'm pretty sure I know what he's thinking.

If only that tired writer had a Red Bull...no....two Red Bulls...he'd be just fine.

Thompson doesn't speak. I may be imagining it all. Perhaps there is a part of me that wants to have the announcer's energy and mental stack of synonyms. More than anything, there is a part of me that would just like to be really, really awake. But I also wonder if Thompson isn't due some friendly warning. That is, will there come a day when Red Bull Robbie doesn't really want to drink Red Bull anymore? What happens then? It is, I dare say, maybe something like a guy who develops a funny reputation for falling down all the time, but then one day decides, "Man, falling down really isn't any fun."

It's a short-lived thought, because now the server is back, and sure enough, he has two cans of Red Bull on his tray. This is how it begins.

As if on cue, Thompson grabs his cans, grabs his microphone, steps on stage, and gets the show underway.

"This is... the maaaaaain event."

As long as the server in the floral shirt doesn't stray too far, Thompson will be good to go for the next 24 hours.