WSOP 2011: Only one bracelet left
Brad Kondracki's smile seemed to stretch from the six seat to the nine seat and he didn't seem to care much about coming up just short of a WSOP Main Event bracelet. He was a new millionaire. Daniel Bergsdorf looked as though he'd come from a tribe that didn't know the word "happy." He looked more the part of an also-ran who left Vegas with a lot more money but no important jewelry. Though both would win seven-figure sums on that one day in 2005, the poker world would hear nothing so loud from them ever again. Neither player ever cashed for more than $20,000 again. They simply disappeared into the poker ether, mere mist above the statues built in the honor of one Aussie named Joe Hachem.
The fortunes of those men were what I sat down to watch in 2005 from a perch in the back corner of Benny's Bullpen. It was the last time the WSOP Main Event final table ever played out at Binion's in downtown Las Vegas. It was the first year the PokerStars Blog covered the WSOP. Within a few days, Joe Hachem would be a worldwide poker sensation and the pride of Australia. His fellow PokerStars players Kondracki and Bergsdorf were left with their million bucks and a chance to say at cocktail parties, "Joe Hachem? Yeah, I played against him once."
In less than an hour, the 2011 WSOP Main Event will kick off for the 42nd straight year. Thousands of people from all around the world will come here to the Rio and not one of them would turn down an opportunity to make the final table. Right now, most of them will just be happy to make the dinner break. Most of them are people we'll never hear from again. A select few are the Brad Kondrackis and Daniel Bergsdorfs. Everybody else is just everybody else. That's what a WSOP Main Event bracelet means. There are precious few games or sports that have so many players who win so much money but have no championship trophy to put above their fireplace.
Consider Jonathan Duhamel. He was the first man from Canada to ever win a WSOP bracelet. The Team PokerStars Pro from Boucherville in Quebec became a national hero last year when he won the 2010 WSOP Main Event. There aren't many poker players in Canada who don't know his name. But, ask your random player from Boucherville if they know Soi Nguyen and you'll probably get a confused look or slapped in the face. No matter how much money is at stake, no matter how trite it is to say it, it's all about the bracelet.
Back in 2005, the stable of Team PokerStars Pro was tiny by comparison. Team Pro is now a worldwide network of players from more than 25 countries. They came to the 2011 WSOP bent on taking home a truckload of gold. Since this Series started several weeks ago, Team Pro has seen Jason Mercier, Bertrand "ElkY" Grospellier, Eugene Katchalov, Andre Akkari, and Max Lykov all win gold bracelets. The achievements will follow the men everywhere. That said, even though the polish on the gold isn't event dry, each one of those men will set their preliminary event bracelets aside this week and focus on the one 2011 bracelet left in the Rio. It's the only thing that matters to them right now, and it's the only thing that really matters when this year is finished. It's the only thing left for the legions of people who have nothing to show for their WSOP than a pile of tournament receipts and a case of leg muscle atrophy.
Now, there is but one bracelet left to win. By the end of this year, only the player who won the Main Event bracelet will matter. To get to that point, however, will take thousands of hands and enough emotion to light Las Vegas. Like most journeys, we take the snapshot mementos of our destination, but the good stories come out of the trip. That trip starts rolling at noon local time.
Like we have since 2005, we'll be here to see how it plays out. We'll be keeping an eye on all the Team PokerStars Pros and the big group of people who won PokerStars Main Event Passports for the WSOP. If you're one of those folks, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org or on our @PokerStarsBlog Twitter account so we can follow your trip.
In the meantime, if anyone sees Brad Kondracki, let us know.