WSOP 2015: Players from a different league


It was easy to think, as the crowds rolled into the Rio this morning, that what we were seeing was a convention centre filled to the brim with professional players, complete with a lifetime of achievements, and a pocket full of aggression. But that wouldn't really tell the full story.

Sure, you'll see the pros in there somewhere, the likes of Negreanu, Ivey and the rest. But the bulk of the Day 1C field, just like in their two previous incarnations, is made up of the amateurs, the hopefuls on a mission to convert that status into World Champion. It's a tough ask, and most will leave this town with their egos dented, or at least brought back down to earth. But it's also the place where those dreams can take off and fly.

It's what tournaments like this are all about. In much the same way that the European Poker Tour brings new players to high stakes poker, the WSOP Main Event is the same kind of melting pot, the final destination of players from around the world, who represent every town and place and share the same dream.

We got a glimpse of this yesterday when we met a couple of players who fit that mould.

Take Pete Arnold for example. From the Bay Area, despite his Red Sox cap, he loves his poker, but is not here to play anything more than a little $1-3 cash when he can. Instead he's here for his friend Albert Gutierrez.

Arnold talks about Gutierrez like a brother, and jokingly warns others to be wary of what his pal could do to them at the tables. But he's not family, he's just a good friend, the winner his local poker league the Green Valley Dads. It's the type of league made up of the type of friends who don't think twice about travelling all this way to support a buddy embarking on the biggest poker moment of his life.

He's not the only one.

Dan Saltana is in town for the same reason. His man is Dwayne Justice, the brilliantly named winner of the "24 Aces" poker league who happens to be afraid of flying. In that sense Justice has already overcome the week's biggest challenge, even before taking a seat on Day 1C. But just as he was there for him at take-off, Saltana will be there for him on the rail as well.

It paints a different picture to the one you normally see, of hundreds or thousands of individuals seeking riches purely for themselves, and brushes aside those negative connotations our game sometimes has to ignore. Poker might be an individual pursuit, but in an event like this it can transform itself into something more. Something like friendship and family, and having someone with whom you can share there inevitable bad beat when you get back to real life.

So in a few days, give or take a level, the Main Event will return to being the same scene of high stakes poker filled with all the familiar names and faces. But for now it's about guys like Albert Gutierrez and Dwayne Justice, and guys like Pete Arnold and Dan Santana. Sure, it will probably come to nothing. But as play starts on the last of the opening flights, that's something they'll worry about tomorrow.

Stephen Bartley is a staff writer for the PokerStars Blog.