WSOP Main Event Day 1A: Stars of sports, stage, screen and felt
Poker has a habit of making stars from unknowns. On day one of the 2003, 2004 and 2005 World Series, few outside the immediate Moneymaker, Raymer and Hachem families would have been able to pick their now-famous sons out of a crowd. These days, they're mobbed in the halls.
However, poker also has a habit of making unknowns out of celebrities. Stars of sports, movies, stage and television flock to Las Vegas to take part in the poker jamboree, and when they take a seat in the Amazon Room they're just one of the crowd.
They have the same number of chips, they have paid the same entry fee and they have the same chance as anyone else of getting dealt pocket aces. (In truth, a lot of the "unknown" poker players will look at the "celebrities" and lick their lips. Eaaaasy money.)
In the opening stages of day 1A, all eyes were fixed on Greg Raymer - a bona fide poker celebrity. He did the "Shuffle up and deal!", he lost almost all of his chips in the first few hands, and then he was the first notable elimination. One tournament reporting outlet soon noted: "Now that Raymer is gone, the Red Section's featured table is devoid of recognizable players, and the rail has gone from three-deep to entirely empty in two minutes."
A forgivable mistake, but not true. Not true at all. Especially if you're Norwegian. Although Raymer has indeed departed, there's still a celebrity on that table, sitting in seat one. And arguably two gold medals at the Winter Olympics are more valuable even than a Main Event bracelet.
The man is Petter Northug, who couldn't walk down a street in Oslo without attracting a huge crowd. Northug is a big, big star. He took gold in the 50km classical cross country skiing race in Vancouver this year, and added to that success with gold in the team sprint. He also took silver in the 4x10km relay and bronze in the individual sprint. If you come from a country that has a lot of snow, this is an amazing achievement. He's a megastar.
Northug is playing the Main Event here, as he did at the EPT Grand Final, where a massive Norwegian press pack tracked his every move. Don't think he can shake them all the way in Nevada, though. Last night, Northug played a heads up match against Marcus Hellner, a Swedish ski champion, and there were about 30 journalists watching. (Hellner won.)
Tomorrow morning, Northug will again challenge Hellner, this time to a race around the parking lot of the Palms - on roller skis. I have no idea what this means either, but they're Scandinavian and that explains a lot.
We'll have cameras there for that excitement tomorrow morning, but in the meantime we'll just keep an eye on Northug's poker. He's still got about 20,000 chips in his stack and seems to be enjoying his afternoon out of the spotlight.
So with a rail bereft of railbirds, why not get yourself down to the Amazon Room to watch Northug? It's the closest you'll get to a megastar without anyone in your way.
CELEBRITY II OF THE HOUR
Also in today's field is Ray Romano, the star of Everybody Loves Raymond. He's wearing a cap advertising Men of a Certain Age, his new show.
RECIPE OF THE HOUR
1 large Starbucks black iced tea, unsweetened
1 CVS Gold Emblem Atomic Fireball, unwrapped
Place unwrapped Atomic Fireball in mouth. Drink iced tea. Enjoy.
HAND OF THE HOUR
We picked up the hand on a flop of 6♥4♦9♠ and saw Thierry van den Berg betting 2,300 into his opponent. Said opponent (who will remain nameless for reasons that will soon become obvious) raised to 6,000 with nary a blink. Van den Berg thought for two minutes, had the dealer pull in the bets, then made it an additional 8,200. Again, there was barely a moment of thought before his foe raised all-in. It was nearly all of Van den Berg's stack, but he didn't need any time to call. He held 9♥9♦ for the flopped top set.
"I have no outs," his opponent said, and turned over...K♠Q♠
Needing runner-runner to crack the seat, Mr. King-Queen-Push (it's a Scottish-Romanian name, we believe) turned the T♦, giving him four outs. The river, however, was the 2♣. Covered and busted, the man stood to go. Van den Berg couldn't resist a quiet parting shot. He said, "I really respect that you can make that play on the first day."
DOPPELGANGER OF THE HOUR
If you're wandering through the Amazon Room and think you're getting an autograph from Jesus Ferguson, you might want to check his ID. Just because the guy has the exact same black hat, jacket, pants, shoes, sunglasses, long black hair, and goatee doesn't mean you've found Jesus. We're now searching for a double for Sandra Naujoks (preferably one who thinks we're the dreamiest bloggers she has ever met).
JOE GIRON'S PHOTO HOUR
There are few more shiny sights in poker than the ESPN feature table stage.