WSOP 2013: The Eleventh Hour

"The six seat just threatened to punch the seven seat!"

It's 4pm, and nowhere is there is more drama, more tension, or more threats of violence than in the back corner of the WSOP Pavilion.

Within a 300-yard radius, there are thousands of people who have spent collective millions to play the summer's biggest and most prestigious tournament. What's happening with those people is boring by comparison to what's happening in the back corner.

This little square of the Pavilion is where the satellites happen, and for the next hour, it will be where a handful of people are trying desperately to get into the Main Event before the 5pm deadline. They have each put up $1,000 to play against nine other people in a break-neck crapshoot game that is the rough equivalent of hoping to find a happy person at a Morrissey concert. It's winner-take-all for a $10,000 entry into the tournament. And it all has to be finished in sixty minutes or less.

There will be threats. There will be profanity. There will be more drama in sixty minutes than we'll see in the next three days combined. At stake is these people's last chance at playing the Main Event. For some it's a dream. For some it's a last-gasp attempt to get even on the summer. For some it's a lost cause. It happens in real time, and one could be forgiven for believing they are about to bear witness to riches, blood, and criminal or cardiac arrest.

60 minutes left: "It's horrible, horrible, horrible," says the man in the glasses. He's stood from his seat at Table 339 to watch the disintegration of everyone's last best chance at getting into the Main. There's been a dispute about the size of a player's stack after a pot, and it's gotten heated. The floor has arrived and gone to the security camera tape to see who is lying and who is telling the truth.

"It's going to take half an hour to get this done!" someone screams. You can smell bedlam on the edge of the felt. Paul Darden is there, and he's wearing work boots embroidered with royal flush. In diamonds. There is no comfort in this.

There are five single table satellites left. The blind levels are ten minutes apiece, and that's too long. There isn't a soul at one of the tables that doesn't look like he wouldn't sell his dog into obscene servitude to hurry everything up. It bears repeating, if they don't finish, they don't play the Main.

55 minutes left: A man named Bach Vu ("Everybody calls me B") finishes off his table having knocked out all but two of his opponents. He now has $10,000 worth of lammers, and they're only good if he gets to the cage in time. He pauses long enough for me to snap a picture with my phone.

"I have a feeling that picture will be worth something someday," he says.


50 minutes left: One table over it's heads-up, and the chip leader offers an even chop. Each player would get $5,000 worth of lammers, only half of what it costs to enter the big one.

"I want to play the Main," says his opponent, a man who doesn't have the extra $5,000 to spend to make up the difference.

Seconds tick by. Doubt clouds the reluctant man's face. "Okay," he says.

"We just made $4,000 each!" says the first guy. He offers a fist bump.

The money is settled up, and the reluctant man walks up to me. He looks sad. "I wanted to play the Main," he says. "What do you think I should've done?"

It's as if he wants to feel better but can't find it in his heart. And I'm the only one there who will meet his gaze.

"You have $4,000 more than you had an hour ago," I say. I don't know what else there is to say. It's barely true. He sill has to find someone to buy his lammers. But that's all I've got.

He gives me a look as if I have just imparted some piece of wisdom he could never have figured out. I think he's going to hug me. Instead, he bumps my fist and walks away with his lammers.

45 minutes left: "We're not going to make it!"

People are now literally running across the satellite area. It looks like a hospital emergency room after a mass casualty event. And, really, that's almost what it is. Especially at Table 339, where the players are still waiting for security to sort out the confusion.

"Let's just get our money back!"

"I can't just sit here and wait. I have to buy into the Main Event!"

There's a vote about just taking a refund. It has to be unanimous. Three people dissent.

A woman in sweatpants and a mist of vitriol eyes the table. "Who are the people who don't want to just take their money back? Those are the people I'm going to target. Who are those three assholes?"

40 minutes left: A man is on the phone. He's wandering seemingly without aim around the satellite area. He says to no one in particular, "I played aggressively and tried to beat the clock. I played foolishly."

There are no fewer than five Main Event tournament timers in eyeshot, and every one of them is a doomsday clock. That's when the six seat of Table 339 (allegedly) threatens to punch the seven seat. One of the players rushes to a security officer and snitches. He didn't know what happens to snitches at Table 339. Everyone turns on him as seven security guards appear around the table. Half the people at the table look like they might have spent time in a MMA cage. I'd need odds to bet on the security guards.

"Why do you have to hold us hostage here?" screams the woman in the sweatpants.

Paul Darden's royal flush boots tap on the carpet.

I snap another picture with my phone that's just as blurry as any of the players' hopes of making it into the Main Event.


30 minutes left: It's three-handed at Table 341, and the two native English-speakers are trying to negotiate a deal with a man from South America. More accurately, they are trying to negotiate with a guy who has appeared and declared himself the player's manager. "No," says the manager. "He wants to play the tournament."

A young woman looks miserable and looks at the clock on her phone.

A railbird walks up and looks at the table. "Wow! Mucho dinero!"

He doesn't realize that if they all don't finish in the next 28 minutes, the chips he is looking at are worthless in the Main Event. They'll play in the daily deep stack events or the Carnivale of Poker. That is, for the people sitting at the table...they are worthless.

Like we were all standing in a dream, T.J. Cloutier rolls by on his scooter and growls, "Happy birthday!"

20 minutes left: The Main Event players all stand from their seats and file out of the room for their break. When the break is over, registration will be closed. It leaves the satellite players to sit alone in a pool of their own collective hate.

Meanwhile, the floor has ruled at Table 339. Play has resumed. No one is happy about it. The levels have been cut to five minutes long, but it won't matter. None of these people is playing the Main Event unless they abandon the table and run to the cage.

10 minutes left: The South American man has made a deal with the miserable girl. She has taken $3,000 worth of lammers and given him $7,000. Now neither player has enough to enter the tournament. The girl is on her phone explaining the situation to someone.

"I didn't want to take zero. I had to deal!" she said. "I took 3,000 in chips. They're useless! I don't know what I'm going to do."

A minute passes and she tried to sell the 3,000 in lammers to the South American man's manager.

He looks at her and doesn't pause before saying, "No."

To her credit, she didn't cry.

3 minutes left: "Floor on 344!"

It's heads-up and it's the worst time in the world for confusion, but there it is. Floor woman Danielle is needed to make a ruling on a hand, and if ever there was a woman who could be in a Calgon commercial, it's her. She's beautiful in every way, but her face is awash with the kind of exasperation reserved for heads of state and elementary teachers.

She shows up to make the ruling, but it's slowed everything down too much. By the time it's sorted, there's...

53 seconds left: There is a man in a hat that reads simply, "I'm The Boss," but he knows he's not in control. Even if he had the $10,000, he couldn't even teleport to the registration cage in time.

Out of the ether, a man who can only be described as an oaf appears on the rail.

"When's the deadline for the Main Event buy-in?"

"It's now," The Boss says.

Zero seconds left: The overhead speaker sounds the Main Event "Shuffle up and deal" marking the end of registration. It's over. The Boss sits in his seat. Table 339 is still seven-handed.

Paul Darden's boots won't be in the Main. T.J. Cloutier is gone. There's a rumor registration will stay open a littler longer, but nobody can confirm it.

I think for a moment about Danielle and Calgon, and then turn my thoughts to Bach Vu, the only man I saw win a seat in the last hour. He was literally the only happy person I met during that time.

I'm keeping his picture on my phone. After all, it may be worth something someday. Maybe not as much as Darden's boots...but something.

Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging.