WSOP 2012: From the rail at the feature table
The best seat in the house, if you're not playing that is, is at the feature table. You can't see anything, let's be clear about that, but it's comfortable and a row of leather recliners arranged on the front row feels great for those looking to rest their legs.
When I arrived, Daniel Negreanu was under the largely red and blue lights, but his table was soon exchanged for another, featuring Ben Lamb and Chris Moorman. Negreanu was released back into the Twitterverse, where he would soon tell his followers that he'd lost a 250k pot with aces, dropping back to 200,000.
"Enjoy yourselves up here," said tournament staff as the camera regained focus and the card caller learned all their names from a scribbled note on the back of his mike. Few players looked entirely comfortable, but they laughed about their new predicament anyway.
The feature table in action earlier this week
A few spectators arrived to have a look at what to most people unfamiliar with poker is a giant curiosity in the middle of a conference room.
In years past the feature table has taken up less than a quarter of the space. Then it grew, taking over about a quarter of the Amazon Room before the Mother Ship, presumably sending messages via glockenspiels and mashed potato to set designers around the world, took up nearly twice the space. Now there are sponsors too, with the major food groups advertising their wears: an alcoholic beverage company that Comforts Southerners, and a jerky firm.
While there is a crowd, most are here to do something else rather than watch the poker, which made me self-conscious enough to remove my feet from the rail. A good number of them look at telephones (did generations before us stare at telephones?) and these days an experience is not experienced unless it's in fact missed while you text the experience via telephone.
On the other side of the rail, but hidden in darkness, presenter Kara Scott sips a drink through a straw and chats with television staff. A man sitting behind me talks into a phone. "Tell him to get Jeff," he says. "Tell him to get Jeff." I resolve to find Jeff.
While opportunity to see the action is limited (although a flop-cam shows cards are on the table in high definition), a battery of cameras are what make the end product so visually stunning.
Four of them prowl the stage, each covered by a black sheet which on screen makes them difficult to spot, but close up looks as effective as when a two year old holds their hands over their eyes and tells you to come and find him.
One thing that can be seen though is the winner's bracelet, designed by Jason of Beverly Hills.
Jason is evidently so famous he needs only one name, more famous in fact than Beverley Hills, who has two. But whoever this Jason is his work is immaculate, and the bracelet that is on display looks like his masterpiece. The glass case in which it rests serves two purposes; protecting it from theft and from gathering dust, as it's not due to be awarded until late October.
When it comes to the moment when that's presented to the winner, this stage will be alive with a noise not yet heard in the World Series. Until then, the hard-core will watch from the rail and the soft-core will stare at their telephones. Whichever they choose they can do it in comfort.
MOST EMBARRASSING ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE YEAR
"Does anyone in the room recognize Sam Blankenship? He's lost his table. There is a black and orange backpack under his seat. He's right here. Does anyone recognize Mr. Sam Blankenship?"
PRICE CHECK OF THE HOUR
Price of 20 oz. diet soda at the snack stand outside the Amazon Room: $4.25
Price of 20 oz. diet soda at the snack stand approximately 100 steps farther down the hallway: $2.92
Price of 20 oz. diet soda in Gold Coast hotel vending machine: $2.00
Price of 20 oz. diet soda on Amazon.com: 86¢
FALSE HOPE OF THE HOUR
"Get a picture of him. Who knows? In a few years, it might be worth something!" -- Poker fan in hallway stalking WSOP players on break
VIDEO OF HOUR