2007 World Series: Seventeen steps with Barry Greenstein

June 19, 2007

Barry Greenstein is wearing a comfortable pair of rubber-soled black slip-ons. In a juking running back-style gait, it is 17 of his steps from Table 34 to Table 58. Like Ladanian Tomlinson, his eyes are never set short. He’s looking 30 feet away at his next move.

Greenstein is the only member of Team PokerStars who is currently enjoying a literal translation of the phrase “on the move.” Isabelle Mercier had exited at 2:48pm, mid-way through Level 3. Joe Hachem is having the hell beat out of him by a male masseuse. Joe’s arms are bright red against his tattered t-shirt. The masseuse is sweating and looks like he’s in Round 4 of a prize fight. Greg Raymer is chatting at the other end of the table. Vanessa Rousso is in the middle of a heated argument with a youngster at her table. If they still have chips, all of them–except Barry–are stuck to their seats.

Barry is on the move and wearing a seventeen-step path in the Amazon Room carpet.


Last night, he’d really figured to be busto. At the end of the night, he had 2,200 chips in the $1,500 Razz event. “They wouldn’t let me bust out,” he said over a hand of high stakes Chinese poker at 3am.

Now, as is his wont, he is in the middle of the 12pm $2,500 NL Short-Handed event. He has more than doubled his stack and sits on 11,600 in chips.

Greenstein in the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em Short-Handed event

And now, he has a decision to make. With only 2,200 chips in the Razz event, he is shorter than short. The ante is 100, the bring-in is 100, and the betting levels are 400/800.

“I only have enough for one hand,” he said.

It’s only the first or second hand after the Razz cards go in the air and Barry has xx/73. His bet takes the pot, and before I can ask him what he had in the hole, he’s juking his way through the seventeen-step trip back to Table 34 where his NL Short-handed stack waits. He has just missed his big blind but makes it into his seat in time to play his small blind. The button raises to 1,600 and Barry, with nary a thought, puts his entire stack in the middle. He has the guy covered, but losing the hand would not be good for his stack’s survivability.

A man at the next table stands up. His name is Raymond. “Barry, did you even look?!!” he yells. It is, maybe, a little inappropriate, but Barry handles it well. And, it turns out to be irrelevant. The button folded after a moment of thought.

I’m not even sure Barry stacked his chips before running–no, now sprinting–back to Table 54’s Razz game. And then he’s back to Table 34 to play his button. And then back to Razz. This all happens in the span of 30 seconds and I am, despite an early morning regimen of exercise, am winded.

Barry is smiling. It’s a wide, genuine smile of someone who is legitimately having fun. He looks down at the Razz table and says, “Let’s see how good a job I can do of not missing a hand here.” And then he turns to his tablemates and says, “You know why I’m playing two tournaments? Because they didn’t have three going on.”

The laughter at his table is more than polite. It, too, is genuine. This is, I assume, as much fun to do as it is to watch.


I notice that Barry has copies of “Ace on the River” under both chairs. He does more than sign the copies for the people who bust him out. He actually records the winner’s hand and his own hand for posterity. It’s a gesture that is more than marketing for his book. When people get the book, it’s a symbol that they broke one of the best.

For now, though, Barry is intent on not signing either book for a while. In fact, now back at his short-handed table, he yells across to the next table.

“Raymond, next time I don’t look at my hand, don’t say anything okay?” he says.

This, I think, is maybe the most interesting move he’s made yet. Not only is Barry running back and forth every 20 seconds, he’s taking the time to play the meta game against the guy who tried to steal his blinds a few minutes before. Now, the button must be left wondering if Barry had a hand when he re-raised all-in, or whether he was re-stealing with junk. His jawing at Raymond could mean either. I know what he held, but I’m not telling, because heaven knows, the last thing I need to be doing today is mucking up Barry’s meta game. He’s in the middle of a biathlon and I’m just doing my best to not get run over.

Even ESPN’s Norman Chad has stepped in to note this action. Coming from the Worldwide Leader in sports, Chad has taken out his notebook and is recording Barry’s trips back and forth. Barry quips during one of his passes, “You’ve got to be in good shape to play poker.” It will prove, in just a few minutes, to be more prescient than even Barry realizes.

But for now, he’s picked up an ace in the Razz game. His hole cards must be junk, though, because he’s waited until it’s his turn to act, mucked, and ran off to Table 34, calling behind him, “Notice, I’ve never folded out of turn.”


Barry has been anted down to 1,700 when he picks up a king and has to bring it in for 100. He knows that he can’t take too much more. The only comfort he can take is that he doesn’t have a lot of decisions to make. “I know on third street whether I’m going all the way or not.”

For now, though, he’s not going anywhere. Tournament Director Chris Spears has mysteriously and unexpectedly called for an unscheduled break. “Complete the hand you’re on. We have to take a break.”

This gives Barry time to play a few hands of hold’em and wonder, like the rest of us, why Spears called the action to a halt. Barry is still smiling. “There’s been a bomb scare in the Razz event.” He thinks for a second, and then adds, “Which is not surprising because Razz does lead to mental instability.”

We learn within a few minutes that the break was forced by a possible medical emergency. A few of us raise our eyebrows, because it’s only been a few days since a medical emergency forced the stoppage of a stud hi-lo event. Our eyebrows raise even higher when we learn that today’s medical emergency is brought to us by…the very same player. Apparently undaunted by his first ambulance trip, the player–well-known in poker circles, but I’m not going to use his name here–is back in action…well, perhaps on his way to being out of commission.

Someone, and I’m not going to say who, mused, “X walked out of the hospital when he couldn’t find anyone to play cards with him.”

I laugh, because it’s probably true. But I also can’t help but wonder if we aren’t actually going to see somebody die at this World Series. The concern seems evident in the eyes of the TDs as well. They are huddled together in an impromptu meeting–one that has, to Barry’s chagrin–blocked his egress from Table 58.

With a few minor adjustments in his strategy, Barry forms a new path to Table 34 and worries whether he might bowl over one of the cocktail servers who have appeared in the new path.

That’s when I notice that Barry, while having fun, is caught up in mass of calculations that has nothing to do with cards. He’s working on the timing of his seventeen steps, plotting the time it takes the dealers to scramble the cards, and taking advantage of dealer change delays. When the dealers at both of his tables push in at the exact same time, Barry mutters, “That’s a bad beat.”

The medical emergency now apparently resolved–the afflicted player is back in the one seat and requesting a blanket–the Razz event is back underway and Barry is now picking up raising hands. Showing a 7, he comes in for a raise and gets called by Annie Duke’s 3. He checks when he pulls an ace on fourth street. Annie bets out and Barry, flashing me an ace in the hole, mucks.

Razz is maddening sometimes.


For a moment, I can’t tell if it is stress or adrenaline that’s tightening up Barry’s face and loosening up his game. Before I have time to ponder it further, Barry is joking again, laughing out loud, and seeming to enjoy every second of his seventeen step program.

Back at the Razz table, somebody comes in for a raise with a three and Barry pops him back with a seven showing. Annie calls with a four, and the original raiser calls as well. It’s clear, regardless of what Barry’s holding, the rest of his chips are going in the middle. The inevitability plays itself out. When the guy pairs one of his cards on fifth street, it looks like Barry’s hand has a chance. However, by the river, the guy has made a 65432 and Barry’s two-tabling is done.

It is at this moment that Barry slows down for the first time in an hour. Seeming for a moment to completely forget the other event, Barry reaches beneath his chair, grabs “Ace on the River” and autographs the book for a man named Jeff Campbell. Barry prints out the 65432 in the inside cover and hands it to the man who broke him. The gratitude on Campbell’s face is genuine.

Barry now casually walks back to the no-limit event. He has only lost 1,300 chips in the time he’s been running back and forth–no worse, and maybe even better than having sat there and endured a cold run of cards.

There are people who might look on Barry’s two-tabling as unconcerned silliness. One look at Barry’s face as he resumes his game would prove otherwise. He seems truly disappointed he couldn’t make it happen in the Razz event.

“That was too bad,” he says and sits back down at Table 34.

Too bad, yes, Barry. But, it was the most fun I’ve had watching someone play poker in years.


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