WSOP 2016: Last call for glory, y'all
The two yellow-uniformed security officers stood over the woman on the bench. They were kind at first, whispering for the woman to wake up like one might speak to a child in the latter stages of a night's repose. The woman didn't budge.
This time it was louder and a little more insistent, like you might speak to someone who will not get out of the way.
The woman was laid out, face-down on the padded leather bench in the hallway outside the Amazon room, the cavernous hall where the biggest poker event in the world was about to happen. If her lack of movement was any indication, she was really tired, really drunk, or really dead. It's Vegas, so anything was possible.
From my vantage point, I couldn't tell if they poked the lady or not. Regardless, her tangled hair rose up off the bench. The high domed ceilings around the rotunda made her explanation echo through the hall.
"I'm with a player. He's playing right now."
It was 8:45am.
Welcome to the World Series of Poker Main Event.
I can only imagine the man she was waiting for, but I don't need a big imagination to do it. I've seen his ilk more times than I can count.
It's a tawdry and trite analogy, that story of last call, the one about some lonely and sodden soul working an expanse of sticky mahogany, firing pick-up lines at disinterested and eye-rolling women like they were targets instead of humans.
In a vacuum, that story may seem apt for the World Series of Poker. At a distance, it could appear as those left without a WSOP gold bracelet are stumbling through the halls of the Rio, shooting money at a target they can barely see let alone grasp. But that's not it. This isn't a depressing 1am tale from a chain restaurant bar. This is the WSOP Main Event.
It's something bigger. For all the grinders who have been here firing bullet after bullet at event after event, this is the last chance of the summer to win a major bracelet. It's less like a bar at last call than a graying, middle-aged man at the tenuous end of his relevance grasping for one last chance to achieve something big.
Or, you know, maybe I'm projecting.
However you want to look at it, this is it for the WSOP. It's the biggest day of the year for most poker players. One last chance at the Super Bowl. One final opportunity before summer camp is over for the year.
For the uninitiated, this last call is a long one. It begins at 11am local time when the 2015 Player of the Year Mike Gorodinsky will call into a microphone, "Shuffle up and deal!" It's the "Racers, start your engines" of poker, and it will fire up the next two weeks of action. There will be three opening flights running between today and Monday. During that time, thousands of hopefuls will take their shot for $10,000 apiece. Most of them will fail before next weekend. Over the next week and half, the entire field of players will be winnowed to one table of nine. Those folks will take a break and come back at the end of October to play down to the Main Event champion.
From the outside, it may see mundane, the kind of thing that would send a woman to sleep on a bench. In the middle of the maelstrom, however, it a freakshow of the best possible kind. It's ten-day period where players find out just how polarized their emotions can be. Inside of just an hour, fortune and fame can burn up and spread like ash. It's not life and death, but it's as close as poker can come.
We are, as we have been every year since 2005, on the ground here and embedding ourselves for the duration. Veteran reporter Howard Swains is at my side. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be covering as much as we can, from the Team PokerStars Pros in the field, to EPT stars who are making it big in America, to every other ridiculous thing we find along the way. The last of those usually takes up most of our time.
If not for us, then for the masses assembling in the hallway, this is Las Vegas where the idea of last call is a joke, but this is also the last chance for a gold championship bracelet.
Or, as they say on TV: This is the Main Event.
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Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.