2008 World Series: Planet poker
Everything about the World Series has grown bigger and more slick year-on-year since its inception. The most obvious representation is in the number of players and prize pool in the main event, and the advent of the HORSE championship three years ago also reflected the boom.
A couple of hours ago, I gained admittance for the first time this year to the ESPN inner circle, the makeshift television studio taking up a huge square in the corner of the Amazon Room to accommodate everything required to transfer the poker action from Las Vegas, Nevada, to your television screen anywhere in the world. It's safe to say that television coverage has moved on somewhat from the early years; they're not seating them in the middle of Freemont Street any more.
Here's what it takes these days.
Right in the centre of the action, of course, is a deck of cards in the middle of a kidney-shaped table with a raised, padded elbow rail in which are housed the hole-card cameras, or "holecams", to those in the know. Suspended above is an oval scaffold of lights, hanging from which is also the overhead "flop-cam" and four television screens, relaying what the cameras see to the live audience. The screens do not show the hole-cards, of course. If a pot doesn't make showdown, no one here ever knows what a player had.
Circling the table are the players, naturally, and ghosting around them, silently on casters, are four two-man camera rigs. One cameraman sits on board and guides the camera itself, the other is the rudderman who drives the rig. Both have headphones clamped over their ears and expressions of intense concentration painted onto their faces, tongues occasionally buckled out like an amateur pool player lining up a tricky cut shot.
On three sides of the arena are the bleachers accommodating family, friends and investors in the front rows -- often whooping, especially the latter. Behind them are the less personally connected, but no less excitable, casual fans, some of whom queued for about an hour to get anywhere near their heroes. On the fourth side is a row of laptops, behind which sit twitching media fingers and tournament officials. Beside the WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla is a table stacked with brick upon brick of hundred dollar bills.
Then, on a raised area at one end of the table is the viewing lounge, where they're four-deep to get an aerial view of the action. At the other end is a similar, smaller platform on which gleams the Chip Reese trophy and the shimmering winner's bracelet. Ringing everything is the light-encrusted curtain that you see a lot of on TV and makes us all feel as though we're on a strange rogue star -- Planet Poker, perhaps -- drifting ceaselessly through the galaxy.
It's only a couple of steps away from the bustling of the rest of the tournament area, but is another peculiar capsule within a capsule within a capsule that separates the feature table from the World Series, from Las Vegas from the real world. Please, just take me home.
Home, unfortunately, is where Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein is now headed from his time spent in this bubble. "I can't win a hand," he lamented to a friend in the stands during a recent break, and won a consolation kiss from her instead. Then he shook a few hands and lapped up some compliments ("Barry, I think you're awesome," etc.) before returning to the table and hoping for a change in fortune.
It didn't come. He got it all in against Scotty Nguyen in a stud eight or better hand, but by seventh street had been scooped by the Prince of Poker and is now on his way out. Scotty's girlfriend carried a copy of Barry's "Ace on the River" as Barry exited.
STOP PRESS: Actually, Barry didn't go home. He's now taken his seat in the $1,500 HORSE and is back in the thick of the action. That's a poker player.