WSOP 2013: Chasing Red Bull Robbie

Speed kills, or so goes the saying. Robbie Thompson defies this axiom with such ruthless efficiency that it makes one think, "Maybe I do want to try amphetamines!"

Under a strawberry blonde faux-hawk, Thompson (better known as Red Bull Robbie) is a WSOP fixture, a floor man and stage announcer who mainlines Red Bull in a way that simply can't be safe. No one ever wants to see him die. He's a beloved character. But if his heart were to explode in the middle of a floor decision, you wouldn't find a single surprised person in the blood spatter radius.

We've written about Red Bull Robbie before, but we've never tried the impossible: to keep up with him.

Today, as he flashed through my peripheral vision, I decided I would try to keep tabs on Robbie Thompson for 30 minutes. This was a mistake.

I have run a 5K in 23 minutes and change. I have run two half marathons. I once ran 11 miles up and down a mountain in Tahoe while jumping in and out of ice water. I should be able to keep up with a poker floor man.

No, this was a mistake. Red Bull Robbie--a man who looks like he came out the extras pool in a Mad Max movie--is no 5K. He is a grown man who gets his fuel 8.4 ounces at a time. And if Red Bull truly gives you wings, Robbie is a poker's version of the mythical garuda.

I am in trouble.

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3:01-- There is an argument in the middle of the Amazon Room's orange section. A player has tried to shoot and angle, and it's about to get out of hand. Thompson appears from the ether, listens for 30 seconds to the case, and issues summary judgment.

"One round penalty," he barks.

And he's gone before the offender has a chance to appeal.

3:02-- I've just looked up from my notepad, and I've already lost Thompson. He couldn't have gone far, but he has. He's forty yards away in the tan section and moving through the tables like Pac-Man dodging the blue ghost. I give chase and catch him just as the offender from the orange section arrives to protest.

"It is what it is, man," Thompson says, and then disappears, Mad Max Pac-Man on speed. This time I won't let him out of my sight.

3:03--He does a fly-by of the offender's table where a new dealer has just pushed in. Without stopping, Thompson calls, "Six seat is on a one-round penalty!" I've just realized I'm breathing heavy.

3:04pm--Sweet respite, Thompson is forced to stop and monitor what looks a like like a prisoner transfer, but is in fact a line of players coming in from another convention room. He stares intently at each one as if sizing up whether any of them might be carrying weapons or Red Bull.

3:05--The players are gone, and Thompson is Pac-Man again. He travels 50 yards, taps a woman on the shoulder, says hello, and is gone before she cans say anything. If he approached women like this in bars, he would probably spend a lot of time alone. There was a reason they invented Ms. Pac-Man.

3:06--I've lost him again, but just as sure as I think he's passed out from exhaustion, he appears from a back bar area with a cup of ice and two Red Bulls. I try to remember how much sleep I had the night before and...

3:07--It feels like he's freaking running. He picks up seat cards without stopping. I am afraid people are looking at me and wondering if I'm on crank.

3:08--I am on the verge of abandoning this idea. I can't do this without PEDs or risking a stint in rehab.

3:09--Bless Jake Cody's British heart! He's busting a guy with tens versus nines, and this interests Thompson long enough to make him stop moving. I inhale. I exhale. I inhale. Thompson is gone again. I say a word I'm not allowed to write on this blog.

3:10--I see Thompson 70 yards away darting in and out of tables, never stopping. I hear the bloop-bloop-bloopbloopbloopbloop from Pac-Man in my head.

3:11--I start to run toward him, but he's suddenly coming back in my face. It's like one of those scenes in a car chase movie where Ryan Gosling pulls one of those 180-degree handbrake turns and drives right in the face of his enemy. I freak out a little bit.

3:13--I see a flash of something in Thompson's hand. It's an empty gallon plastic bag. It seems like Thompson doesn't even know he's holding it. He flies through the tables, plucks a marked 6♦ from a dealer's hand. I'm amazed at how he can do it without stopping. It's like he's a shark. Stasis is death, so Thompson is forced to live and understand everything on the move.

"Two hands," he barks at the guy with the one-round penalty before engaging in what appears to be staff meeting. Yes, a moving staff meeting.

3:14--Lost him again. Spot him all the way across the room. This time I'm smart. He isn't going to pull that Ryan Gosling stuff on me again.

3:15--It's my job to know what's happening with Team PokerStars Pro Jake Cody, but my back is turned as Thompson flies by me, seemingly pulled to the biggest pot of the moment, Cody getting a huge double to 400,000 after someone tried to bluff him off aces with Q♠J♠. Thompson darts his head into the center of the table, cuts out the chips for the dealer, and disappears. I start comparing notes with PokerNews' Martin Harris, and yeah, I lose Robbie again.

3:19--I find Thompson curiously immobile at Greg "FBT" Mueller's table. Everything looks copasetic to me, but it's clear Thompson's radar has sensed an issue. He's waiting for someone to make a decision on Mueller's bet. Thompson rocks back and forth on his feet, obviously uncomfortable with the fact his feet aren't moving. The Pac-Man ghosts could be coming.

3:21--The hand is still happening. Thompson is still there, and now he has to be miserable. There are four coffees on the table, but not one Red Bull.

3:22--Yeah, he's not going to be able to wait and see this hand play out. He disappears again.

WAIT! He's back just as soon as he left.

WAIT! He's gone again. He runs for the side door, but seems to almost bounce off of it, Pac-Man who tried to go out one of the side exits on the screen, only to see the red ghost.

3:23--He makes it back to Mueller's table just as the hand finishes. Now, I can see what's happened. The dealer has mistakenly used the words "all-in" when nobody said them. It almost caused a problem.

"Be careful what you say," Thompson whispers.


3:25--Thompson's boss Jack Effel has appeared, and Thompson laughs at a joke as he walks away quickly.

3:26--I look at my phone's clock and see I only have to do this for another four minutes. I get a second wind just as Thompson seems to realize he's still carrying the gallon bag in his hand. He drops it in a cart and heads for the back door. I'm just preparing for the Ryan Gosling move when Thompson sails out the door.

I give chase again, bent on asking him, "How many Red Bulls have you had today?"

But he's gone. I run outside and look through the Mt. Charleston wildfire smoke. Red Bull Robbie is gone, almost as if he had never been there at all.

And somewhere in the distance--although I'm sure it's just an auditory hallucination brought on by exertion--I'm sure I can hear someone cracking a Red Bull can open.

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

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker