WSOP 2016: The weight of wait and hope
I have some buddies who headed to the World Series of Poker this week, and their plans are big. There's a fancy three-bedroom suite with a spiral staircase and a pool table. There is a WSOP tourney schedule. I've even seen one of them flipping through pictures of fancy custom suits. I don't know whether to be happy or sad for them.
We've done these trips before, haven't we? The wait--the antici........pation--can be grueling. It's some warped adult version of puberty, one where literally everything on our minds is possible and just beyond our grasp. The excitement collects like water against a dam, and before too long it's impossible to think about anything else.
By this time Saturday, any of my friends could be sitting at a WSOP final table. They're all talented players, and there's nothing to say they couldn't do it. Regardless, even they confess, the anticipation aside, they know the score. When a group of three buddies goes to Vegas, odds are at least one of them is coming home with less than he brought and maybe nothing at all. Poker may be a zero sum game, but Vegas is not. In the The Count of Monte Cristo (uh, spoiler alert), we're taught "'...all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope'." The same could be said of the World Series of Poker.
That was one of the cavernous Rio convention center rooms during The Colossus, a tournament that drew a massive 21,000+ entries and paid $1,000,000 to the winner. The amount of anticipation leading up to it was enormous. For weeks before the beginning of the tournament, players from all over the world pounded WSOP Twitter Czar Kevin Mathers' account asking for updates on entries, begging to not be shut out of their chance to play in the monster tourney. Once the masses arrived, they sat down with their hope, and when it was done, the vast majority of them left with nothing but the privilege of getting to play for a day or two.
For some of them, that's where the hope died, but for many others, the lingering effects of the poker boom held on. They looked out in that crowd of people--people just like them--and saw other faces that a mere 15 years ago had been simple grinders, too. Those people were now champions, international stars, and legit veterans of the game. Even if The Colossus didn't bear fruit, there was still hope for the people who still had a few bucks in their pockets. Maybe a satellite would do the trick. Maybe they could run it up in a cash game. Maybe. Maybe. Hope. Hope. The wait would continue.
It was just yesterday we were warning the poker world to be careful of Naoya Kihara who led the $1,500 HORSE event at the WSOP with 201 players remaining. He was a man who had every reason to be full of anticipation and hope as he entered Day 2 of the event on Wednesday. By the end of the night, Kihara was a mere memory for those left in the tournament. He busted in 48th place and banked less than $4,000 for his efforts.
For all the lost hope in Kihara's eventual demise, there was--and remains--much more for Team PokerStars Pro Andre Akkari. Yesterday, he was farther down the leader board than Kihara and many others. Today, he is one of the final 20 players remaining in the HORSE event and has a chance to win his second WSOP bracelet.
Akkari first won gold back in 2011 during a raucous Brazilian celebration that closed out the $1,500 NLHE event. He won $675,117 for the effort, but he's been looking for that second bracelet ever since. Today, he has a chance--hope, if you will--to do it again, but it will not happen without some luck. The other 19 players (including the likes of Ben Ponzio, Justin Bonomo, and Svetlana Gromenkova) are ridiculously tough opponents. For now, all Akkari can do is wait until noon Vegas time to get started...and then hope.
While all of that is noteworthy, I can't help but find the biggest well of hope in a guy named John Smith (which we'll just assume isn't a pseudonym). Today, at age 69, he will play among the final four for the $10,000 Heads-Up Championship bracelet. Who is he? You can be forgiven for not knowing.
In a tourney field stacked with some of the toughest heads-up players in the world, Smith is an amateur, a highway contractor, an enthusiast if you will. His only cash in the WSOP was a couple of years ago when he won $26,000 in the same event for an 11th place finish.
This year, Smith beat five people on his way to the final four and is guaranteed $123,000. It's very possible this man could've waited until age 69 to win his first WSOP bracelet.
Or, at least we can hope he will.
Because really, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Whether we waited a year or our entire lives to make it to a WSOP event, we've done so with the hope that someday we could call ourselves a bracelet-winner. No matter whether it's my buddies hitting the town for a long weekend, Akkari hoping for a long day in the HORSE, or John Smith fulfilling a longtime dream, all of it is happening today in Vegas. It's not what Dumas was talking about when he wrote "Wait and Hope," but it's as close as poker is going to get.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging. Follow him on Twitter: @BradWillis. WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com