WSOP Main Event: Meeting bati99, while Fossilman and Pokertrip Build their Stacks

by Wil Wheaton

I've had a rough day. Between beating myself up over my dismal play in the WSOP, and some questionable food last night, I've felt sick to my stomach for 48 hours, and I was very close to calling it an early night about an hour ago.

Just before I was going to leave, Otis passed me in the hallway, and we walked around the Rio for a few minutes, then went outside to commiserate about missing our wives and children.

"I'm going to walk the floor and get some check on our players," Otis said.

"I think I'll come with you," I said, "and peek in at Greg while we're out there."

We traded the ninety-four degrees of hot pavement in front of the poker kitchen for the quiet din of the tournament room, and noticed that they are still running satellites for Main Event entries. The cash games, while on fewer tables, are still taking up at least a quarter of the room though many tables are empty. (I note this because I thought that the entire room had been transitioned over to Main Event tournament play. Oops.)

On our way down the rail, as we got dangerously close to table 20 and my post traumatic stress disorder that was certain to ensue, we hung a quick right at table 40, where a couple of PokerStars players were seated.

One of the players looked up at us, and said, "Hey! Are you guys with the PokerStars blog?"

"Yes, sir, we are," Otis said.

"When are you going to come by and put us on it?" He said.

I don't know about Otis, but even though I know lots of people are reading our work, all the six digit stats in the world pale in comparison to the one guy who sees us walking past his table, and interrupts his play because what we do matters to him.

Otis pulled out his notepad and said, "I'll put your information on the blog the next time we update it, if you give it to me right now."

"Really?!" He said.

"Absolutely," Otis said.

And that's when I found out that seat three of table forty is Bret "bati99" Atiyeh. Bret is a self-made man who earned enough money to retire at the age of 39. Rather than sit on his pile of money, or have money fights with his friends, or build forts in his living room with stacks of cash[1], Bret turned his attention to poker, a passion he developed over thirty years, since he started playing in home games for baseball cards in the seventies. Our crack commando research staff (CJ) found out that Bret played at Annie Duke's table last year, and busted late on day one when QQ failed to hold up for him. In fact, ladies were his undoing in the 2005 WSOP. According to Bret, he could bluff everyone at his table except Annie, who called him every time.

Tonight, Bret has 23350 chips, which he counted out for us between hands. As a bonus for you, dear readers, I can report that we saw his stack dip from 23375 when he kicked in his ante. (Now that is some real-time action reporting, folks! Ding!)

Bret's table mate asked to remain anonymous, and Otis and I honored Mr. Hughes' request[2].

A few more tables into the room, we found ourselves next to Greg. He appeared to have more chips than his current count online, but he was in a hand -- cool fossilman glasses on and everything -- when we walked up, so we left him alone and continued to prowl the floor.

A few steps later, I saw that Greg's wife, Cheryl, was standing by the rail with her sister, so I zagged when Otis zigged, and walked over to talk with them.

"It looks like Greg has about 7500 or so," I said.

"He just texted me a few minutes ago," Cheryl said, "and he's up just over ten thousand."

"Oh? That's great!" I said. "I'm supposed to be covering him today, but I don't want to get too close while he's playing."

"Oh, you should just go over and talk with him. He likes you and it wouldn't bother him at all."

I didn't tell her that I'm convinced that if I walk too close to Greg, one of his opponents will pull an Aaron Kanter on him because I happened to be there. This is an entirely rational thought.

"I think I'll stay out of his way for the rest of the day," I said.

"Oh! Greg just won a pot," Cheryl's sister said.

I turned around, and Greg was raking some chips toward him. Table 36 is five or six tables in from the rail, near the center of its quadrant in the Amazon room, though, so I couldn't get even a rough estimate of the pot.

Greg looked up and smiled at his wife, who smiled back and waved. I've been around these two a few times since I joined Team PokerStars last year, and I don't think I'm revealing any big secrets when I tell you that they love each other. A lot. It's very cool.

Greg flashed a thumbs up, and went back to playing. I noticed, as I looked back at him, that an ESPN camera crew was hovering around him, and I wondered if that added any pressure to him when he got involved in a hand.

"He likes being on TV," Cheryl said, "I think it relaxes him to play while people are watching."

Aside: It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it makes sense. Greg likes to beat the hell out of his opponents and nobody wants to look stupid on TV. He can severely test people and they'll often fold a lot of hands to him, because they don't want to get caught with middle pair on a scary flop. Like all the top pros, Greg's game goes way beyond the cards.

The tournament director's voice filled the room, announcing that spectators needed to clear out, in advance of the players taking an end-of-level break.

"Are you guys going to meet up during the break?" I said.

"Not unless I can give him something to eat or drink," she said. "I just want him to be able to get up, relax, and make it to and from the bathroom if he needs to."

Now, I almost didn't report that last bit, but it's humanizing information: even the mightiest of champions need to see a man about a mule from time to time, and they are at the mercy of the break schedules as much as the rest of us.

She waved at Greg, and they made "I love you" motions at each other. Greg seemed really happy and relaxed, and I could see how proud of him she was. Even though my wife just got on a plane back to Los Angeles at seven this morning, I missed her as fiercely as ever in that moment.

The security goons began sweeping out the room, and I walked with Cheryl, her sister and her sister's husband, until we got to the intersection of Main Street and Wil Wheaton Kicks Ass Drive. They went down WWKAD, and continued down Main toward the hallway and media room, glancing at tables my whole way.

When I got to table 153, I saw Jon "pokertrip" Friedberg in seat 2, facing the rail.

His hands obscured his chipstack, but I noticed that he was wearing his bracelet, which made me very happy.

I watched a couple of hands, holding security at bay with my press badge, and Jon looked up and saw me. He smiled and waved, and I waved back. I looked at his chips and made the international face for "how many chips do you have? I don't want to walk over the rail and bother you while you're playing, and the stupid media rules prohibit me from explicitly asking you. Besides, you probably know and can just hold up a few fingers for me and make everyone happy while keeping us on the right side of the rules." This motion was accomplished by cocking my head to the right, and arching my left eyebrow. Yes, we actors can convey a lot in the most subtle of motions.

He held up his two index fingers, indicating eleven thousand. His huge smile indicated that he was very happy to have that stack in front of him.

I nodded my head, and wrote the information he shared with me in my notebook as the tournament director came over the loud speakers and shouted, "annnndddd GO! GO! GO! GO! Players, you are on a break for twenty minutes."

The players began to file out in a huge wave. I surfed it out of the tournament area, and into the media room.

For the last 48 hours, I've felt like a complete failure, and I really haven't liked it. After walking the floor with Otis, seeing Greg, talking with Cheryl and checking up on Jon, I feel like a writer again. I don't believe it's a coincidence that I don't feel like throwing up for the first time since Friday, either.

The next time I think about picking up a deck of cards and some chips, I think I'll reach for my notebook and pen, instead.

[1] Bret's post-retirement activities are exaggerated for comedic effect and to meet our self-imposed minimum of once gratuitous Simpsons reference a day.

[2]The player in seat four was not, in fact, Howard Hughes. Thank you for visiting
Footnote Comedy Theatre.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker