2008 World Series: Sweating vultures

The first couple of days of the $50,000 HORSE event were played out in some of the most spacious conditions ever seen at the World Series. Recognising the fact that players coughing up $50,000 for a single tournament deserve, and have paid for, their space, the 148 connoisseurs who anted up were spread widely across the quadrant of the hangar that is the Amazon Room, allowing enough room for a tea dance between tables.

Today, however, the tournament is down to its final 70-odd players and the hefty beast that is the $2,000 no limit hold 'em event has come barging into sight. It is as though a demure gathering in the drawing room of one's mansion has been gatecrashed by a frat party; crystal tumblers of finest Scotch have been swept to the floor in favour of beer-pong with plastic cups on tressle tables.

One of the results of this reorganisation in the tournament area is the slight tightening of media restrictions around the tables. "There is to be no sweating of players," an announcement recently boomed over the Tannoy. "Please move back from the tables."

In one way, this was actually not a bad thing. I, for one, found in it an excuse to cease a spell of vulturing: that unfortunate period in any poker reporter's life when you're forced to hang around one particular notable player and their ever-shortening short-stack in order to record the details of the inevitable and imminent elimination. Once a player gets below a certain number of chips, the rail swells, the reporters swarm, and we're all after some meat from the carcass of the recently departed.

Today, that ailing beast was Team PokerStars Pro Dario Minieri. I had started vulturing the Italian bracelet-winner late yesterday, when it looked for all the world as though he was heading out the door at the end of day two. In the event, he managed to sort-of double up, splitting a pot with Doyle Brunson after three players had made it to showdown. He came back today as the tournament short stack, with 50,000 in chips. And Dario isn't the kind of player to hang around. We knew he'd be speculating either to accumulate, or to get himself to that frat party next door.

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In the short time I was with him, I saw him make a judicious lay-down to Paul Fisher during the hold 'em round, but it left him with just 20,000 in chips. They all went in very soon afterwards, behind Qs-Js and he was called by Mark Gregorich's pair of eights. That was about as good as he could have hoped for, and sure enough the jack popped on the flop to double him up. That means he's back to about 50,000 again, and the process of battling for life, vulturing and survival or extinction starts again.

Similarly last night, I was keeping a watchful eye on Team PokerStars Pro Katja Thater, lest it be her to surrender a relatively short stack and join team-mate Greg Raymer on the rail. Thater had been cruising earlier in the day, with close to 250,000. But that quarter of a million was sliced down to 18,000 in just four hands, twice during a stud round when Gabe Kaplan's flush draws made it, each time for pots of around 80,000.

But when she was forced to put all her remaining chips in the middle very late on, in an eight-or-better hand, she scooped and bounced back to about 30,000, which, about an orbit later, was up to about 140,000, the very definition of yo-yo. The vultures have flapped away from Thater's table now, at least after Max Pescatori, who did perish early today from a seat to Katja's right.

It's still touch and go for Dario, but no one is ruling out a miracle.