El juego insano

Looking for updates from Event #31 and #33? Look here.

by Wil Wheaton

As long as I can remember, I've read stories about the pros coming out to Vegas to play in the cash games that get going around the World Series. Back in the old days, it was because it was the only time of year when the really big games happened. Since poker's explosion in 2004, though, the cash games around the World Series have been filled up with rich businessman and tourists who buy in short just so they can say they played with Greg Raymer or Andrew Black. They are the deadest of money, but they usually know it and don't particularly mind.

There is one aisle that I call Main Street in the Amazon room. It separates the cash games from the main tournament area, and it is intersected by another aisle I call Wil Wheaton Kicks Ass Drive (hey, if you can't name a street after yourself, why bother naming them at all?) The two of them divide the room into quadrants, and when they're not clogged by railbirds, they make movement around the room quick and efficient.

I walked down WWKAD toward the final table area, and made a right up Main Street toward the cash games, where I saw a Greg playing what looked like Omaha with Eskimo Clark, Noli Francisco, and five other guys I didn't recognize.

Aside: If you're looking to go poker superstar watching, the late-night cash games are your best bet: the crowds have thinned out, the tourneys are usually down to 200 players or less, and it's just easier to get close to the guys you see on TV.

I figured I'd stop by and say hello to Greg, but got distracted by a crazy game on the way: Andrew Black, Johnny Chan, a couple of other pros and a few of the short-stacked dead money guys who were apparently responsible for Andrew Black not leaving the game for something like thirty hours played at table one.

The game they were playing was officially 25-50 No-Limit Hold'Em, but they were playing it with one fifty dollar blind and a twenty-five dollar ante. There was well over a million dollars on the table, and just being close to it made me nervous (have you ever seen a million dollars? Until this night, the only time I had was back at Binion's when they still had the horseshoe display in the front.) There was also a special rule that anyone dropping the hammer (72o) would win a $200 bounty from each player at the table. Yes, the "serious" players had managed to make the hammer almost as +EV as it is in a WPBT tournament. Almost.

I watched them play for a few orbits, heavily identifying with the guy in the five seat who was out-classed and out-cashed, and walked over to Greg's table. I didn't recognize the players in the one through four seats, but Eskimo Clark (who is the only player that I know of to have the distinction of being required to shower before beginning a final table) was in the five seat, and Noli Francisco was in the seven seat. The six seat was empty -- but there was a huge stack of chips there -- and Greg was in the seven seat. Seats eight and nine were empty.

When I walked up, they were playing pot-limit Omaha with just black chips, so I guessed it was 100-200. (Sadly, the exact limit is one of the few things I didn't record in my notes.) I did a quick count, and it looked like there was about $200,000 on the table. Or maybe there was two million. Or forty million, because I'll be honest with you: after I finish counting the first fifteen mortgage payments, it's all just insane to me.

The table played a few hands of PLO, and I was amazed how much like my homegame it was: laughing, teasing, even drinking, while more money than you or I will see in a year was passed around the table.

Aside: A guy who sounds exactly like Dan Harrington just walked into the suite and asked for a hat. I looked -- okay, I jumped -- up to see if it was Action Dan himself, but it wasn't. It's just some guy (which is how most people who don't play poker would describe Harrington.)

I never got a chance to talk with Greg; he was immersed in the game, and with several thousand dollars in front of him, I didn't want to be a distraction. I watched for about ten more minutes, before the wave of exhaustion that hits me somewhere around three every morning crashed into me and propelled me back to my hotel room.

When I came back the following morning, Greg was gone, but Andrew Black was still playing.

Two days ago, I saw Greg at the same table, in the same seat. Sean Sheikhan was in seat nine. Sheikhan had about eight towers of black chips, each at least 60 chips tall, in front of him. Greg's stacks were smaller, but appeared to be mostly built out of lavender chips. Again, I was intimidated by the sheer enormity of the money in play, and I kept my distance.

After I busted yesterday, I talked with Greg about the game.

"I saw you playing with Sheikhan last night," I said. "Is he as much of a jerk as he seems like on television?"

Greg never likes to say a bad thing about anyone, and I could sense that he was choosing his words carefully.

"He's not as bad as he was last year," he said, "when he made a dealer cry, and seemed to just be oozing contempt for all the players around him."

"So what I see on TV isn't just an act, huh?" I said.

"Last year he just looked at everyone like he wanted to cut their throats," he said, "and this year he seems a little less intense."

"Well," I said, "I hope you take all his money!"

I wish I could write that he said something cool like, "I'll try," or "You can have half when I do," but he just smiled.

"How are you running in the cash games?" I said.

"I'm almost even, or just a little bit ahead of even, on my tournament buy-ins," he said.

"Even HORSE?" I said.

"Yeah," Greg said. "Even HORSE."

I found myself at a loss for words, because the only one that came to mind was insane.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker