WSOP 2013: Back to reality after the caddy swim

There is a red carpet that leads up the steps to the Rio. It's shaded by a white tent affixed with water-misters for hot days. The red path leads all the way up the steps to the Rio, riches, and gold bracelets. It's how we get into this palace of dreams at the start of the day.

But now it's 9:30pm, and I'm about to see a man cry.

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I have a bowl of food in my hand, and I'm rushing back to my work station at the WSOP. I'm smiling, joking with fellow writer Stephen Bartley, and basking in the afterglow of yet another unsuccessful performance in the annual WSOP media caddy swim.

Every year, the WSOP is nice enough to throw a freeroll for the assembled media here. It's always a fun, fast affair, a turbo tourney with enough slowrolls, bad beats, and silliness to make your head spin. It always reminds me of the scene in Caddyshack where the caddies are allowed in the Bushwood pool from 1pm until 1:15pm.

By and by, I'm out in 26th, and it's time to grab some food and head back to work.

It's the hallway of the Rio Convention Center, and there is revelry here and there as a man walks toward us. We hear him before we see him. He's whipped off his ball cap, slapped a huge cardboard advertisement, and screamed, "Damn it!"

He is alone in a very big crowd, and this is important, because it lets us know this isn't a performance. This is raw emotion.

There are a great many people in the world who will hit things, curse, and stomp around simply for the benefit of their friends' compassion. But this man is without friends. He isn't on the phone. He doesn't have a soul standing next to him. He's a big guy. The kind of guy you'd bet even-money will take a swing at you in a bar. And it's clear he is about to cry.

Suddenly, I feel sort of bad for feeling sort of happy. I'm excited about shoving some food in my face. I was happy to hold cards and chips for a few minutes. There's only a few hours left in the work day. My life is going pretty well, thanks.

But this guy? This guy is so mad that he's sad. Or, maybe he's so sad that he's mad. No matter which it is, he is enough of one of those emotions that he is hitting things with his hat and cursing loud enough for everyone to hear it. And I can't stress this enough: there are literal tears on his lower lids.

No one--and I mean no one--is going to stop this guy and ask if he's okay. No one is going to hold out a hand and offer to buy him a drink or give him a hug. This guy is capital "A" Alone, and he's on an edge none of us can see.

It's hard to find this particular scene anywhere else in sports. A baseball player may hurl his batting helmet into the dugout or sweep all the bats onto the ground. That's a typical tantrum. And a basketball player may drape his sweat towel over his head while he sheds a tear of disappointment. It's a private moment in a public place.

The hallway of the Rio is different, because for every grinder who pretends not to care, and for every dreamer who was just happy to be here, there is one of these guys--maybe somebody who needed the cash, maybe somebody who was on his last buy-in, maybe somebody who believed so much that he was going to win that he simply can't comprehend that he lost.

I don't stop the guy. It's not my place, and if I were him, I'd just want to be alone as fast as possible. And I know we'll see it again and again--brutally public moments in a brutally public place.

Everybody that busts out tonight and everybody who busts out tomorrow? They all go home with nothing except the new knowledge that the WSOP's red carpet also acts as an exit.

Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Photos courtesy Poker Photo Archive.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker