2008 World Series: The pony club
When the poker explosion occurred some time earlier this decade, long-time players of the game could be heard sneering that it wasn't poker that was taking over the world, it was no limit Texas hold 'em. "There's more to poker than just two-card chicken," they'd sometimes add, before hastening to toss in a bring in in a stud game, or fanning a four-card pot-limit Omaha hand.
Reluctant as I am to agree with the old guard, there was an element of truth to their observation. Certainly the televised poker phenomenon was based exclusively on Texas hold 'em, and its sophisticated simplicity -- a minute to learn, a lifetime to master, etc -- remains seductive. It's still the easiest and smoothest way into the game.
But poker's durability through the centuries of its existence owes much to its continued adaptability to suit demand, and the innovations that keep it fresh. Hold 'em, Omaha, razz, stud, and stud eight-or-better, are all as old as the hills, but putting them all together, at least at the World Series, to create that HORSE we keep going on about, is comparatively new.
And now HORSE is the new hold 'em, it seems.
Yesterday, event 51 of this year's Series, a $1,500 HORSE tournament, got under way with more than 800 entrants. That's quite possibly the largest mixed-game field in poker history. These are the kind of numbers that previously only hold 'em events have attracted; proof that those enticed into the game by two-card chicken are keen to continue their poker education.
Sure, the games have sometimes been kind of slow. There are few sights more amusing in poker than seeing three or more players exposing all seven of their cards in a stud eight-or-better round and watch all those pairs of eyes flick up and down and around and around attempting to ascertain who has the high, who has the low, who's scooping, who's chopping and who has just called all the way with ace high and no low and is now out. Watching the dealer attempt to chop up the multiple split pots can also raise a pitying chuckle.
But the action has been fascinating to watch and no less enjoyable to play. Among the 179 returning competitors today were five Team PokerStars Pros: Victor Ramdin, Luca Pagano, Vicky Coren, Chad Brown and Joe Hachem. Hachem missed out on the $50,000 HORSE event as he was busy going deep in an Omaha tournament at the time it kicked off. Meanwhile, Brown made it to day four of that championship event before busting just shy of the money, but has used the experience to his benefit here.
Brown is in the top 10 percent of players a few hours into day two.
For Vicky, Victor and Luca, the event offers a chance to spread their wings a little and sample the variety of the mixed games. As mentioned earlier, Vicky multi-tabled the HORSE with the $1,500 hold 'em today but is now sadly out of both. Victor and Luca, meanwhile are on the same table and having fun.
The Ramdin back is undergoing a severe pummelling from a member of Team Massage Pro, who will need to be careful not to knock over his sizeable pile of chips. Luca's stack is shorter, but he's just limbering up for his favourite event tomorrow, the limit shoot-out.
"I am going to win that one," he told me. Well, while you're still on this HORSE, let's take one jump at a time, Luca.