WSOP Main Event: Interview with the clones
Poker has its fans, no doubt. Just look out over the rail today and you'll see a line of people willing to stand on their feet for two hours at a time to watch people 40 feet away play cards . They don't move. They can barely see what happens, save the occasional smile or riffle of cards. And yet they stand. That's not even mentioning the people in the hallway with black Sharpie markers who chase down anyone they have ever seen on television for an autograph--hats, shirts, chests, whatever has space for a 'Daniel Negreanu' or 'Barry Greenstein.'
Nowhere, though, do you find such a large and dedicated group of people as the ones we've taken to calling The Clones. They are the red-capped, work shirt-wearing doppelgangers of Team PokerStars Pro Dennis Phillips.
Phillips' Clones became mildly famous after their man's televised third place finish in last year's Main Event. We fully expected that was the last we'd see of the roving group of Phillips followers. We were wrong.
On Phillips' first day of play here, we noticed several dozen Clones on the rail, and some even playing in the event. Some of them were natural fans.
"He's my nephew," said Jim Robertson this afternoon. "I have always supported him."
But many others are like like Peter John of West Palm Beach, Florida.
"I didn't know Dennis Phillips from Adam until last year on television," John said.
The tan, long-haired man with the earring looks nothing like Phillips, but he's dressed exactly the same and he's been here since Day 1.
"He appeared to me as a simple blue collar-type hard working guy who found that star shining down on him that given day and he took advantage of it," John said. "He's the kind of guy I could find sitting next to me at a bowling alley."
Looking at Phillips, it's not a stretch to imagine him drinking a beer alongside The Dude in the Big Lebowski. Bowling, though, is not what's made him famous. It's a game his father taught him and that tons of his family have played together.
"He and I love the same game," Robertson said. "I'm an old time poker player. I love the game and I love to watch what he's doing."
Watch, they do, from the first flop to the last river every day. There are those Clones who will admit to envy, a visceral desire to be sitting right where Phillips is today. It's only natural. They may be Clones, but they are human clones.
Some of the Clones speak of Phillips in the same way people spoke of Chris Moneymaker--a man who came into the poker world as an unknown and has managed to keep a star shining for longer than one streak across the sky.
"I'm just so happy that a normal guy can rise above it and grab that brass ring," John said.
All of that said, an overriding theme as you talk to this group of people is that they aren't here to ride coattails or get a piece of Phillips' action. To listen to them talk, it's a matter of respect. In a world that is often sodden with hustlers and thieves, the Clones have found themselves someone the can actually respect. Phillips, a fifty-something Midwestern working man, has managed to do something that few other poker players can do: he's inspired people.
"I look at an individual who has worked hard all his life. Nobody gave him anything. Dennis Phillips earned everything," John said. "I'm inspired by his work ethic and the way he has taken hold of it."'
Phillips' life since the 2008 World Series has been one of giving back. He's involved in several charity efforts, and the rumors of his altruism barely outrun the reality.
One Clone said it best.
"Bottom line is...he's a good man."
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HONESTY DOESN'T PAY MOMENT OF THE HOUR
Tony, head of security at the Rio, to railbird at feature table: "How old are you?"
Tony: "Get the hell outta here."
HAND OF THE HOUR
After doubling up to about 900,000, then taking another small pot when his K-J hit top pair jacks and stood up, Peter Eastgate just shipped a big pot to another sizeable stack at his table. Eastgate called all the way -- a 26,000 pre-flop bet, a 51,000 bet on the flop of J♠5♣9♠, a 125,000 bet on the turn of [10h] and a 250,000 bet on the river of 3♠. His opponent tabled [10s]8♠ for the rivered flush (and turned pair) and Eastgate mucked with an audible wince.
THE ONE TIME CHIP MOMENT OF THE HOUR
Thierry van den Berg was all-in with aces against ace-king. "One time!" he cried, in the traditional fashion, and those bullets held true. That's it for his one times though. He knows the rules.
MATT AFFLECK UPDATE OF THE HOUR
PokerStars qualifier Matt Affleck now on 2,600,000.
TEAM POKERSTARS PRO UPDATE OF THE HOUR
Noah Boeken, who began the day on 499,000 is now up to 1,120,000.
TWEET OF THE HOUR
"I'm on the Pokerroad @DreamTeamPoker team as a last minute replacement for Joe Sebok who's still in the ME." @barrygreenstein
JOE GIRON PHOTO HOUR