WSOP 2012: Color by numbers

wsop-130x100.pngThere used to be a day when the floor man only needed to point. "Grab the four-seat at the table by the radiator, and mind the steam, because it can get hot." When the World Series of Poker got bigger, they numbered the tables. "Table 4, seat 4, and, yeah, mind the steam and all." These days, a number just won't do. There are hundreds of tables and no radiators. Now the WSOP is color-coded.

In the post-dinner haze, an enchilada hangover can turn the WSOP floor psychedelic, and a walk through the colors reveals more about the game than the simple turn of a river card. I know this, because that was my duty in the waning hours of Day 1B: I was to see the whole field with both tired eyes and size it up in a way that could make sense in a thousand words or less. I don't know now whether I've succeeded or failed. I only know that I've seen the colors. All of them. Like I rubbed I my eyes too hard and saw a unicorn. A unicorn riding a unicorn. On a rainbow.

Everything was red in the corner of the Brasilia Room. I marveled at Antonio Esfandiari on the rail. He won the $18 million first prize in the Big One for One Drop last week. Today he was standing among the railbird masses. You couldn't have told him apart from the rest but for the people snapping pictures of him with their phones. But I wasn't there to see him. I was there to get a sense of the red, the section where Mickey Petersen, Alex Kravchenko, Vicky Coren, and Gabe Nassif started the day. There were all still there, half of them pecking on iPads, none of them looking the least bit happy. At first Nassif's clean-cut hairdo seemed the most startling thing under the red banner (he used to be a wild-haired hippy), but then I saw a man with something archaic in front of him. It was a book. A real book. Thick with pages, and paper, and words printed in ink. There were likely 1,000 pages in the hardbound tome. He looked to have read 30 of them. It was too much to watch.

I escaped the red section and looked at the other three quadrants of the room. That's when I realized how clever the WSOP had become. They weren't colors. They were metals--gold, silver, and bronze. It was Olympic. There was an implied hierarchy. And yet, the gold section seemed the worst of all. Food containers--including a large-sized pizza box--littered the floor. No one smiled. They didn't look like gold metal winners. They looked like transplants from the Gold Coast slot banks. The only people who looked more miserable were the people in the bronze section. Not only were they a metal instead of a color, but they were a lesser metal. The only middle ground--and fittingly so--was the silver section, where Chad Brown sat looking healthy, Darvin Moon sat looking like...well, Darvin Moon...and no one seemed to appreciate the giant hole left in the section by Victor Ramdin's untimely exit from the Main Event. Perhaps it was just me, but Ramdin busting out tarnished the whole scene. I ran out of the room, afraid to get caught up in the depression.

Across the room in the Pavilion Room was the white quadrant where the dregs of the day played on a few tables. Only one of them had a big rail. Tom Dwan--thin, unshaven, and eight-hours late to play--was in a big pot. Everyone, including a scowling T.J. Cloutier, watched as Dwan worked out the hand in his head, and ultimately called. Same hand. He chopped it with a guy nobody knew. T.J. kept scowling. There was nothing keeping me there, except the masochistic hope T.J. would try to hurt me. Again, I fled, down the hall, past the oxygen station, past the Total Rewards desk, and past a man staring blankly at an ATM scream that asked, "Would you like to see your available balance?"

Only one place remained--the iconic Amazon Room--where the purple section featured Barry Greenstein outplaying a nervous nellie across the table, then slow-playing kings in what turned out to be a bad turn of events. He lost a 50,000 pot to fall back to 50,000 in chips. I didn't belong there.



A few feet away, in the orange section Vanessa Selbst's glass was brimming with quartered limes. I wanted to ask her how refreshing they were, but fear overtook me. The orange section contained the one player in the WSOP who frightens me, a man I only call The Devil. Today he brought whiskey and was trying to tempt his tablemates with it. Again, I ran. When I stopped running, I was in the tan section, a forgotten, bland place where it seemed nothing--nothing at all--could happen. I waited, calmed myself, and realized I'd landed in WSOP purgatory. These people in the tan section had been there all day, and they knew they couldn't leave until their chips were gone or the clock struck midnight (:30).

When this is all said and done, the colors won't matter anymore. By this time next week, a majority of the field will be in one section, and only the numbers will remain. And few days after that, it will just be one table of yonder. And if we're lucky, it will be somewhere near a radiator.

Just be sure to mind the steam.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker