WSOP 2011: All that jazz
The New York Times once described the Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet as "the definitive bop group." In 1954, joined by some of the best jazz musicians of their time, Brown and Roach sat down in Hollywood's Capitol Studios and recorded an eponymous album featuring the Duke Jordan tune "Jordu." The album would become one of the most important jazz recordings of its age. Since 1999, it has sat in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
As play began at the 2011 World Series of Poker today, Brown's trumpet squealed "Jordu" through the speakers of the Rio convention center. It hung from the air in stark contrast to the past two weeks of Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC that screamed at players as they entered the Amazon Room. The Van Zant clan went down in a Mississippi plane crash. Bon Scott died of misadventure. No matter how wholesome the WSOP has become, its entry music every day seemed to carry the weight of lives lived fast, lived hard, and ended in tragedy.
So, what then of Clifford Brown and his trumpet? After two weeks of rock and roll, today's 57 players walked calmly into the biggest poker event of their lives to laid-back jazz. Inside the Amazon Room, yesterday's booze-fueled rail is being policed by certain hangovers. Security forces are smiling and checking the IDs of pretty girls on the rail, perhaps more for sport than actual necessity. Phillip Gruissem has beturtled himself in a comfy, fleece jacket and only emerges to steal the blinds. Even Per Linde who unexpectedly went from an average chip stack to bust in the first half hour of play seemed positively peaceful as he waited to receive his winner's check in the payout room. For the past two weeks, the Amazon Room was a beer-storm rock show. Now, it's a smoky jazz club where people play in different time signatures on purpose. There is no overstating the change in atmosphere. No matter how many times one experiences it, this time in the WSOP Main Event is always like that first brush of autumn wind after a long summer.
Though the atmosphere may change, the life and death struggle of the WSOP does not. Sebastian Ruthenberg, Team PokerStars Pro's Bon Scott, succumbed this afternoon to a life lived too wild last night. For days he'd been among the top in chips. Last night, he ended at the very bottom of the list. Within an hour today, he was among the long list of people who will be remembered as heroes. Dead ones.
Team PokerStars Online's Andrew Brokos followed him out the door. There has never been anything rock and roll about the Brokos Brain In a Jar Show. If Ruthenberg's benediction was "Hell's Bells," Brokos's was more "Take the A Train." He just happened to get on the train when it was headed in the wrong direction. His ace-king couldn't get there against a pair, and he was gone, too.
For every bit of Brokos' graceful exit, there is an off-putting raggedness to the room, as well. Tony Hachem sounds like he was in a house fire last night. Every few minutes, he slips into a coughing fit that looks both painful and a harbinger of something wicked. Ruben Visser dryly advised, "Don't die."
A table away, JP Kelly's chip stack speaks of potential success. Of all the Team Pros who started the day, Kelly looks most likely for a final table. He has more than doubled up in the first 90 minutes of play. Nonetheless, he's suffered to get here. His t-shirt is wrinkled. A Team PokerStars Pro patch meant for his shoulder is affixed to his breast, a make-do solution to the niggling little problem of running out of PokerStars.net logos. He's playing the role of a winner today, but his costumer is down with the flu.
That's how the first level of the day looked. Rock and roll became jazz. PokerStars' six players became three. Summer became autumn, if only in the Amazon.
As Level 27 slips toward its end, a quick epilogue to the Clifford Brown saga:
Less than one year after he and Max Roach recorded "Jordu" and established themselves as quintessential musicians of their time, Brown died at age 25 when his car slid off a rain-slicked Pennsylvania Turnpike.
For almost everybody left in the World Series of Poker, rock or roll or jazz, the fun is going to end sooner than later.
* * *
QUAINT ACCESSORY OF THE HOUR
The male Rio employee walking across the parking lot holding a small, pink umbrella over his head to protect him from the sun.
UNPLEASANT SIGHT OF THE HOUR
Male jogger running down Flamingo Road in shorts, no top and carrying way too many pounds. Mind you, in this heat he would have lost two stone within ten minutes.
FINANCIAL MATTERS OF THE HOUR
According to tournament boss Jack Effel, today is last day to remove the contents of your WSOP safe deposit box at the Rio. All unclaimed boxes will be drilled tomorrow morning. Quite what happens to anything recovered remains unclear. Team PokerStars Blog will be making sure it takes its items from the safe: a packet of mints, two free drinks vouchers at The Palms, two notepads (used).
HAPPIEST MAN IN THE RIO OF THE HOUR
Still the Japanese guy from yesterday who, speaking no English, managed to order a second café latte from Starbucks.