WSOP 2011: Two marathons in the desert

wsop2011-thumb-blog.pngThere are people who have said the World Series of Poker is a marathon.

This morning, somewhere out in the middle of Death Valley, 94 people started running. With nothing to power them but their feet and a will 99.9% of the population doesn't understand, most of those competitors will not stop running until they have crossed 135 miles in up to 130 temperatures. The Badwater Ultra Marathon is the world's toughest footrace.

A few hours later and a few hours away, more than 2,000 people sat down in chairs. To this point they had already spent more than 12 hours sitting down. Now they hoped to sit down for another 12 hours. If they did--and managed to play their game well--they would earn the privilege of sitting down for another 12 hours. At the end of that? Well, yes, probably another 12 hours in their chairs. The World Series of Poker is the world's biggest poker tournament.

The people who make it through the first 36-40 hours of playing poker and the grueling 30-foot walks between their seats will earn a minimum of $19,000. The last person standing will win nearly $9 million.

Along the Badwater route, the cumulative elevation gain is 13,000 feet. At the end of Badwater, there is a mountain. It's not part of the race, but many people who finish the 135-mile course decide to climb it anyway. Anyone who completes Badwater in 48 hours or less gets a belt buckle. And a t-shirt. That's it.


Part of the Badwater course (courtesy

It is unfair to compare Badwater and the WSOP, but it's tempting to do so, anyway, if only to help those of us involved in the latter keep a firm grasp on perspective. Both events started 40-some years ago. Both events happen in the hottest part of summer. Both events celebrate the best of their sport's competitors. Both are marathons in their own right.

That is to say, there is nothing easy about the WSOP, but the trials the players face today will involve the turn of a card and the loss of a stack of chips. The ultra runners at Badwater will compete with heat exhaustion, destroyed feet, and a seemingly endless road. The people knocked out of the WSOP will head to a bar, the craps pit, or the room service menu. The Badwater runners who don't make the end of the race will probably spend the night in the hospital.

Along with the poker community that supports it, the WSOP has faced its trials over the years. It has weathered those struggles and succeeded beyond expectation. It has to be applauded for its ability to thrive under difficult conditions. There are many people among its player ranks, however, who sit down in their chairs for their 12-hour shifts and rest a cushion of entitlement. The worst thing that will happen to them at the end of the day is they will have to give up their seat at the table. We'd all do well to remember that the ability to be here each year is something of a privilege.

The Day 2a players will go to bed tonight at 1am in advance of a full day off before their next level of play. At that time and for hours and hours afterward, the Badwater competitors who started this morning will still be running.

Think about that the next time your back starts to hurt from sitting for too long.

* * * *

The healthiest rail right now is the secondary feature table, where Team PokerStars Pro Dennis Phillips is plying his trade.

A line of players snaking from the Pavilion Room to the Amazon Room, their tables having broken. Each carries a clear plastic bag with their chips in.

"I love it when a plan comes together. Pity I have not got one." - PokerStars blogger Simon Young contemplating his next post.

@PatPezzin: "That's a wrap from my worst and most frustrating series ever. Be home in Canada tomorrow. Can't wait."

"Security broke into my room, I'm like, 'What's going on?!?' Guard says, 'You're playing in the World Series of Poker today.' I jump out of bed, dress, and run down to my car. Didn't know you could drive 75 on side roads! I Thought I played Day 2 Tuesday..." - Phil Hellmuth

When you say go-go dancers do you mean the ones who dance on podiums in French maid outfits?

The girl sitting outside the Amazon Room reading a book and giggling to herself.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker