WSOP 2014: The desperate hours

No one hears the shot. It's like a sniper's bullet from half a mile away. It hits the big man as he stands. He yelps like he's been stuck with something hot. He reels in slow-motion like something out of a Michael Bay film. There is no blood, but everybody knows he's a goner. He stumbles once toward the table, places a hand on the felt, and then struggles toward the door. His eyes never leave the place in the middle of the table where the three of spades hit the river. If he falls, no one sees it. No one cares.

"I don't know why he was so shocked to be beaten by a flush," said one barely-interested observer.

"I think he was he was more upset he lost," says another man. That man is wearing a rainbow-colored umbrella on his head.

All of that happened.

In a matter of seconds, the big man is forgotten. We're nearing the dinner break on Day 3 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. These are desperate hours.

The people left in their chairs here have been playing for nearly 30 hours over three days. There is a very real chance they will get hit by the sniper before their next repast, and their faces are full of the hollow-eyed resignation that they could be next. Anyone who goes today will walk out without getting paid anything for three days of work and a $10,000 entry fee.

It's been a bloody mess under the flag of the Red Spade brigade. In the first four hours of the day, PokerStars has lost Humberto Brenes, Daniel Negreanu, Theo Jorgensen, Gabriel Nassif, Randy Lew, Jake Cody, and Fatima Moreira de Melo.

"Give me a couple of hours and I'll be okay," De Melo said as she made her way for the exit.

It was a kind gesture on her part, a sort of "go on without me" that left everyone else in the room to watch her go and worry about their own fate. It's a lonely thing for those leaving and for those who stay.

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Fatima in the time before her exit

Leo Fernandez has grown a beard. It might have come in the past few days. He might have grown the whole thing at the table today. No matter. It now looks like a permanent fixture on his face. He's wearing sunglasses, and that's a good thing, because when he takes them off his eyes look...well, the only way to say it is that his eyes look sad. Tired. Spent. Even though he recently had somewhere around 70,000 in chips, they don't last long. He wanders off and finds a friend in Paul Magriel. He looks happier now than at any point during the day. At least it's over.

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Paul Magriel and Leo Fernandez

Barry Greenstein is next to go. Always reserved, there are no histrionics or fanfare. He takes his beating like a pro (A♦8♦ versus pocket aces), calls it a "disappointing" World Series, and leaves the room for another year.

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Barry Greenstein

It leaves only three people under the PokerStars flag. They are dealing with the desperate hours in their own way. Bryan Huang sits quietly, almost zen-like over more than 300,000 in chips. Matthias de Meulder, meanwhile, has his head in his hand as he leans over his phone. His face twists into a half-hidden grimace. He looks like a college student studying for a test at four o'clock in the morning--a test he feels nearly certain isn't going to go well. He has barely more than the chips he got when he started three days ago.

Across the room, Chris Moneymaker is holding court at his table. Of all the people left playing, he seems the most optimistic. He's talking to an opponent and running through their history.

"I learned my lesson the first time," Moneymaker says. It's unclear what he's talking about, but he's raking a pot into a stack that is measurably smaller than the one he started with at the beginning of the day.

One table away sits Ryan Riess, last year's Main Event champion. Of all the former champions who played this year's Main Event, only three are left. Huck Seed is somewhere in the building, but no where near Moneymaker. The 2003 champ is still talking to his opponent, but he realizes no one is listening.

"I'm talking to myself," he says aloud.

He finishes the level and takes a break. He's down 80,000 from where he started the day. It's been worse. It's certainly been better.

"No easy pots today," he says.

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Chris Moneymaker

So, what then of all this? What does it matter who goes and who stays? It's just a game, after all.

That's true, but this is a game these men and women wait a year to play, a game that--if they win--will change their lives. They've not only put in 30 hours of play, they've put in a career of training. They've suffered this same desperation over and over again. By now, it's not just a professional loss. For some of them, it starts to feel personal.

I'm searching the room, looking for someone who looks less desperate, less attached to what today means. I find him in the Amazon Room tearing into a sandwich. I know his face.

At the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure this year, there was a young man who spent an entire day drinking Bloody Marys. There was a scene. There was a penalty. There were more drinks. It was a desperate scene no one wanted to watch. The only one who didn't seem to care was Bloody Mary Man.

Today, in the middle of the Amazon Room, in the middle of these desperate hours, you will find that man seated among the remaining players.

You have one guess what's sitting in his drink holder.

is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Photos by Jayne Furman/Poker Photo Archive.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker