WSOP Main Event: Poker freak

wsop2009_thn.gifMost poker commentators know by now that the likes of Dario Minieri and Noah Boeken graduated to playing poker from their love of the card game Magic: The Gathering. Similarly, few biographies of their Team PokerStars Pro colleague Ylon Schwartz failed to mention his days as a chess hustler in New York's Washington Square Park, before he made his surge to the Main Event final table last year.

But as anyone who has read a book named "Word Freak" (or seen the movie "Word Wars") will know, Washington Square Park is also the home to small gatherings around a different checkered board, where folks are also found rattling a bag of lettered tiles. New York's intellectual hustlers are also big fans of Scrabble, the ultimate test of word-making, and sitting in the Amazon Ballroom today, playing the World Series of Poker Main Event, is Jim Geary, one of the highest ranked Scrabble players in America.

Main Event_Day 1C_IJG_5374_IMPDI.jpg

Jim Geary

Geary is a PokerStars qualifier in the Main Event and has been having a terrific series so far, reaching two final tables and cashing in a third event. It seems the world of double word scores and bingos is not so far away from that of nut flushes and bad beats after all.

Indeed, there are far more similarities between the two games than might first be apparent. Geary is mentioned at length in "Word Freaks", tutoring the author, Stefan Fatsis, as he attempts to make it in the world of professional Scrabble. In that respect, the book is not too dissimilar to "Positively Fifth Street", the book charting the journalist Jim McManus's assault on the World Series.

But the two worlds overlap in other ways too. Fatsis and Geary, among others, visit the numerous tournaments around the world to compete in vast conference facilities of major hotels, and during downtime they loiter in the lobbies, corridors and bedrooms discussing strategy and tactics, else testing one another's word powers with a series of verbal problems. Anyone who has visited a major poker tournament will know exactly how this goes. You can't ever sit in a restaurant within a 50-mile radius of the Rio without hearing stories starting with a variation of "I had ace-king under the gun" or some such.

Geary is clearly a voracious fan of all intellectual games and problems, and Fatsis acknowledges his influence as one of Scrabble's most flexible thinkers. Geary's website links to countless puzzles and teasers, as well as a blog that details poker statistics (Sample quote: "I don't think I've ever been > 1000:1 favorite before" from a stud hand analysis) and shows crossword grids in the shape of a space invader, for example. A picture on the homepage shows Geary with a speech-bubble floating above his head, stating: "Something to bore everyone." Far from it -- at least for geeks like this reporter.

The main area in which Scrabble differs from poker, however, is the money. Fatsis and co, even those at the very top of the game, can only expect prize money in the low thousands, something that the poker player Geary is unlikely to tolerate. He took $230,000 for his third place in the $2,000 no limit event last month, adding that to more than $30,000 for seventh in an Omaha event the previous week. His hopes for the Main Event are perhaps as high as they've ever been, as described beneath the punning headline "Once More, Into the Bleach" in today's blog post:

"I'm off now to play the 10k. This is my fifth one. First four went

2003) out right at end of day 1
2004) out in 3rd hour
2007) day 4
2008) out in 3rd hour

With the slowww structure, I like my chances today of raising the median."

He's currently north of 50,000 and looking good to make good on that promise.

* * * * *


"Having a great time with Joe Hachem who is now afraid to bluff me (amen) & dreaming of dinner break. Sushi waiting." -- @Maridu

* * * * *


"I don't watch TV." -- TV's Scotty Nguyen talking to players at his table while surrounded by cameras and microphones.

* * * * *


Welcome to the team, Marcel Luske's coffee cup:

Main Event_Day 1C_IJG_5412_IMPDI.jpg

* * * * *


After four coolers within the hour, the PokerStars qualifier, and Friend of PokerStars Blog, John Caldwell is out. "Was is meant to be?" pondered Caldwell ruefully.