WSOP Main Event: Beyond the Bubble

by Wil Wheaton

Just before the money bubble burst, almost all of the spectators and media were sent off to the island of misfit toys, where we sang claymation songs and watched bumbles bounce.

As soon as we were let back into the tournament area, CJ and I headed down the hallway and into the room. We worked our way around the line of spectators hoping to get in, and flashed our passes at the security guy. Once we passed the door, we were greeted by a dull roar of celebration, the ever-present clattering of poker chips, and the occasional "Yeah!" shouted from someone, somewhere.

"I'm going to check on my man Dmitri," CJ said, as he vanished deep into the back of the room, while I climbed under the rail to check on Humberto.

Holy. Crap. Humberto has so many chips, his black one hundreds are arranged in a 5x5 grid, twenty chips tall. That's fifty thousand right there. Then there are his yellows and pinks, in towers close to forty chips tall. Just at a glance, I could tell that Humberto had more chips than the rest of his table combined.

He stood up and shook my hand when I got to his table, just as a prominent poker publisher shoved his hand into my back, nearly knocking me over as he passed. "Well," I thought, "at least he said 'excuse me.'"

"Looks like you have some chips there, sir," I said.

Humberto laughed. I couldn't tell if it was with relief or genuine joy, but I suspect that it's a combination of both.

"About three hundred and fifty?" I said.

He pointed his right thumb into the air, and lifted it skyward, just as he did when he said, "Raise it," on a pure bluff two days ago and said, "over four hundred."

"That's fantastic, sir," I said, and then I got out of the way before someone else ran over me.

I made my way to the center of the room, where I hid behind a flat panel TV, in the eye of the hurricane, and made some notes: It is tense and festive, if that makes any sense, and very chaotic.

From the rail on Main Street, a woman cried out, "Whoooo!" at a nearby player, as she celebrated from a distance with someone who had made it into the money.

Voices and chips combine into dull roar. Hiding in the eye of a hurricane

A tournament official's voice came over the speakers, "Dealers hold up. Hold up after this hand. Players, please stay in your seats."

I looked up, and noticed that the line of players at the cashier's cage was snaking out of the room; apparently, once the money bubble burst, so many players went all-in and busted, the tournament can't keep up with them. "That explains the chaos," I thought.

Above the roar I heard a dealer call out, "Cocktails! one thirty-eight!"

"Ah, I bet I'd like a drink right now too," I thought.

I went to check on my friend Ryan, and saw Joe Hachem, his head down on his table while he got a massage during this unscheduled break. Joe had a respectable stack of chips in front of him, carefully stacked up and neatly organized. "Joe's been here many times before," I thought. It's not a particularly deep sentiment, but he's made three major final tables since he won his title last year, and even though he's not currently in the top ten, he has a lot of experience, and that is an extremely important X-factor.

Aside: Joe "The Show" O'Neill just came into the media room. According to our Irish friends, Joe is a big Star Trek fan, and wanted to say hello to me. It was the least I could do, because Joe went out on the bubble with aces versus sixes, when both players flopped a set, and the other guy (Mike Sullivan) turned the case six to make quads. Thanks to the round-for-round system they're using this year, Joe gets $10,616, but it's a long, long way from where he hoped to finish.

Against the wall next to Joe, I saw Ali Lightman talking with Joe's brother Tony, taking down notes while Tony told her a (bad beat?) story. Tony is a great guy, and quite a poker player, too. I saw Cindy Violette at her table, her eyes closed as she listened to something on her iPod. She looked like she was trying her best to relax. I couldn't tell if she was successful.

I checked in with Ryan, who had about 107K (an outstanding achievement, especially since he started the day with under 50) and slowly made my way back out of the room.

I got up near Humberto's table, and stopped to check in on Rob "boiling fish" Berryman, and I nearly panicked when I saw an empty seat where he was the last time I looked.

I bumped into my friend Joy, who is shooting some of the great pictures you're seeing with our posts, and asked her if they were breaking tables in this area.

"No," she said, "I don't think so."

"Oh, [expletive deleted]," I said. "I was really hoping that --"

Just then, Rob walked back to his seat. I hadn't even noticed that he had a healthy stack there. I guess when I saw the empty seat, they fell into some sort of panic-induced blind spot.

"-- this guy was still in!" I said.

I extended my hand to him and introduced myself. "I'm the guy your dad asked to cover you on the blog," I said.

He grinned sheepishly and said, "I think my dad's more excited than I am."

"I'm a dad," I said, "and I totally understand how he feels. When he's watching you and wearing a PokerStars cap, I can see myself watching my kids play T-ball while I wear a Direct Tire T-shirt."

He turned over his shoulder, and saw his dad standing at the rail. He waved and turned back around. I watched his dad swell with pride.

"How are you doing?" I said.

"I have about one hundred and five thousand," he said.

"This is good," I said.

"Yeah, and I didn't even think I would be here today, because I was so sick last night."

"Nerves?" I said.

"Oh no," he said, "I think I ate some bad food or something, because I was up all night long."

"Oh man," I said. "That sucks."

"Yeah, I finally had a doctor come in and give me a shot around six this morning, and even then I didn't think I'd make it here."

We looked at his stack together. "So this is pretty cool, considering." He said.

"Yeah, I think I'll agree with you," I said.

"And did you know that I got here on sixteen dollars?"

"Oh yes," I told him, and I didn't even try to suppress the huge smile that spread across my face. "We on Team Blog know all about you, and we're cheering like hell for you."

Another PokerStars qualifier, who wore a PokerStars visor Dmitri Nobles-style, came over and joined us.

"Man, did you hear about the aces versus the sixes?" He said to Rob.

They talked about Joe "The Show's" hand, while I made some notes.

I introduced myself to him, and found out that his PokerStars name is APAC3232.

"Man, I had a sick hand on the bubble," he said. "I got it all in with pocket kings against ace queen. The flop comes queen queen trey with two hearts. I had the king of hearts, and caught runner / runner hearts to make my flush! I had to order a beer after that."

It didn't occur to me to ask him if he was at table 138, but wouldn't it be cool if he was?

"Hey, you were ahead at the beginning, and you got there at the end," I said.

"Can I just tell you that this has been the best and worst week of my life?" He laughed.

"I totally understand," I said.

They talked with each other, and I left them to think about things like making the next money jump.

I passed the rail, and stopped to talk with Rob's father.

"Congratulations, dad!" I said.

"Thank you," he said. "Did he tell you about being sick overnight?"

"Yeah," I said, "I'm really glad that he's here, though."

"So am I," he said. The pride in his eyes may have brought tears to mine.

On a personal note, I've just filled up my notebook, and I'm now switching over to a new one. I'll understand if nobody else is as excited about this as I am.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker