WSOP Diary Day 31: Soccer sickness infects Rio as World Series pauses for World Cup
In Europe and Latin America, the world has always stood still for what we call football. If the national team is playing in a major tournament, you can forget about a quiet drink in London or Buenos Aires and you'll wait an age for your room-service in Rio.
For perhaps the first time, similar soccer fever has infected the United States this summer as the World Cup in South Africa suddenly tapped in to the otherwise impenetrable American sports' psyche. It's helped that the US team had been involved in three of the competition's best matches: an heroic tie against England, a bullish comeback against Slovenia and then a dramatic victory over Algeria thanks to an injury-time goal.
The national appetite had been whetted and expectations were therefore high for a round-of-16 match against Ghana yesterday, which kicked off at 11.30am World Series of Poker time (WSOPT). That was just as the masses were gathering for the latest $1,000 no limit hold 'em event, which started at noon.
It was immediately apparent that something of the cold air of a South African winter had blown through the desert of Las Vegas. People were chattering about soccer like never before, and in the Amazon and Pavilion Rooms, there were as many screens showing the soccer match as there were showing the tournament clock. "Great view of the #worldcup game from table 108 seat 8" tweeted the Team PokerStars Pro Gavin Griffin as both the match and the poker got under way.
It was a unique couple of hours in World Series history. Poker railbirds, usually bending the ropes to get close to the tables, were instead halted in the middle of the walkways, their heads craned upwards to watch the screens. They saw the United States ship another early goal: Ghana's Kevin-Prince Boateng drilling the ball low past Tim Howard in the USA net. The room groaned together at a familiar failing.
But when Clint Dempsey was fouled to give the United States a penalty kick, some marginal hands were quickly folded so their keepers could watch Landon Donovan step up to put the game level again. The roar was as though the bubble had burst in the Main Event.
As the clock ticked down (in the football, that is), the score was still tied and they headed into overtime. By now, of course, a handful of poker players' days were already over. They had 3,000 starting chips and that's sometimes not enough to last more than about 60 minutes. All the more freedom to watch the soccer.
But it all started to go wrong in the football too. Ghana scored again, putting them 2-1 ahead, and the United States again had to pull off the kind of out-draw they had been managing almost daily in the group stages. In poker terms, their chances with 15 minutes left were about the equivalent of hitting an up-and-down straight draw. At five minutes to go, they were now sitting with an underpair and were all in. As the clock hit 120 minutes, they were hoping for another miracle one outer.
For a moment, it seemed as though it had hit. A player in the white section leapt from his seat to celebrate, but was quickly silenced by scowls. He had been watching a replay of Donovan's earlier goal - the equivalent of rivering a straight with the card that gives your opponent a flush.
With just seconds left in the match, I passed by Griffin's table. With one eye on the screen, he limped from late position, then checked a flop of A♣5♥7♦. His opponent bet 175, Griffin raised to 450, his opponent shoved. In a microcosm of what was happening on the pitch, Griffin folded disconsolately. His heart wasn't in it. The game was up.
"1425 first break, USA lost, and Gloria Balding called me Gavin Smith, doubt things could be going worse today..." Griffin tweeted soon after. But it would get worse very quickly: Griffin bust.
The United States' - and the World Series' - brief flirtation with soccer was over for another four years. But today they'll really get to see what mourning is about: England were thrashed by Germany, so look out for the very long faces on anyone with an English accent.
Simon Young wrote a week or so ago about Peter Eastgate's decision to sit out the early stages of the World Series in order to watch the World Cup from his home in London. He was following his native Denmark, but even the support of a world champion couldn't help them out the group stages. Japan dealt them the final blow.
Although we're still waiting for Eastgate to hop on a plane to Vegas, his countryman Allan Baekke, a dominant EPT force last season, arrived from Copengagen. Baekke, the champion at Snowfest who followed up with a deep run in San Remo, will be a certain force in the WSOP too.
There was also a notable influx of Italian to the Rio this weekend. Like Denmark, Italy went out of the World Cup with a whimper, and that was probably all the encouragement Luca Pagano and Salvatore Bonavena needed to flee the country. Both made their World Series debuts in the $1,500 no limit event on Friday - and both emulated their football-playing countrymen by busting in the first round.
Unlike the World Cup, the World Series offers second, third and fourth chances, and so both were back in the action today. Pagano played the $2,500 mixed game and Bonavena went into the $1,000 no limit event. Bonavena is the latest addition to Team PokerStars Pro Italy, signed up in time for his trip to Nevada, bringing with him a good run of results from the EPT.
Bonavena won EPT Prague in season four, then picked up two major titles in Italy including a victory on the IPT. He then finished 11th in this year's EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo. It was about time he made it to the team.
Yesterday we also had our first sighting of the Team PokerStars Pros Marcin Horecki and Vadim Markushevski. Their late arrivals were probably not football related (neither Horecki's Poland nor Markushevski's Belarus qualified for the World Cup) but it's good to finally have them here.
Markushevski played in the $1,000 event, while Horecki joined Pagano in the "eight-game" tournament. That particular event tests eight disciplines and attracted a predictably star-studded field.
Going through to day two are: George Danzer (4,100), Marcel Luske (5,500), Juan Maceiras (6,800), Sebastian Sabic (7,500), JP Kelly (7,500), Pat Pezzin (8,200), Horecki (8,500), Jason Mercier (9,700), Dario Minieri (11,000), Bill Chen (11,000), Daniel Negreanu (12,500), Griffin (13,000), Nacho Barbero (20,400), Michael Keiner (23,000), Alex Kravchenko (37,000) and Pagano (48,100).
Meanwhile in the two hold 'em events progressing yesterday, Fatima Moreira de Melo and Veronica Dabul earned another small cash each, while the French Team PokerStars Pro Thomas Bichon bagged up 264,000 and is in the last 35 players remaining from the 3,097 who started.
Up near the summit of the leaderboard in that event is Stephen Chidwick, the PokerStars satellite dynamo better known as "stevie444". Chidwick has qualified for more WSOP events online than perhaps any other player, but he's actually appearing at his first series having only recently turned 21. He has now secured his second cash.
Another word too about Barry Greenstein. After going so close to the final table in the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Low Split a few days ago, Greenstein was back in the saddle in the $5,000 version of that variation. Again it was a deep run, but again he came up a touch short. Greenstein took $11,479 for 24th place.
TAKING STOCK OF THE CASHES
The 2010 World Series is a month old today. There's been action every day for the past 31 and 44 bracelets have been handed over, with uncountable (at least by anyone with anything else to do today) millions of dollars changing hands.
No one can deny it's been a tough start for Team PokerStars Pro. The nature of poker in all its variants, as well as the many thousands of top players these days, means that no one can guarantee victories for even the best.
However, there have been some notable performances to celebrate, so here's a quick breakdown of how Team Pro have fared at the WSOP this year. And when you take a look at the length of this list, you'll probably notice that it's hardly been disastrous:
REFRESHMENT COUNTER REVIEW CORNER
Discontinued on health grounds.
TWEETS OF THE DAY
@RealKidPoker (Daniel Negreanu), television star: "ESPN Decided TOC Feature Table. Doyle, Negreanu, Duke, Lederer, Hachem, TJ, Esfandari, Elky, Scotty Nguyen. Pretty cool. Noon ET on ESPN3"
A humble @MarcinHorecki joins the Vegas party: "Playing 1st WSOP event. 2500 mixed 8 game. Double up so far but I am not Stud beast so we will see ;)"
And @VictoriaCoren attempts to help England drown its sorrows: "Anyone fancy a cup of tea?"
Previous WSOP Diary entries
WSOP Diary: Day 30: Climbing the cash ladder with Humberto Brenes
WSOP Diary: Day 29: Mandy "roxy24" Thomas mixes it with the big boys
WSOP Diary: Day 28: Barry Greenstein eyes final as shark attacks the Rio
WSOP Diary: Day 27: PokerStars party goes Dogg style
WSOP Diary Day 26: Bill Chen: Poker player, wedding planner, bridesmaid
WSOP Diary Day 25: Cutting through the throngs
WSOP Diary Day 24: Last chance to join us in Las Vegas
WSOP Diary Day 23: Anh Van Nguyen, remember the name
WSOP Diary Day 22: Love to hate Phil Hellmuth? You gotta see this
WSOP Diary Day 21: Classic rub down for Daniel Negreanu