For the last month, the Amazon room has been the largest tournament poker room in the world, and today, it’s been transformed into the most important television studio in poker.
With a few platforms, some bleachers, lots of indirect lighting and creative use of their signature black drapes, ESPN has built a small sound stage, complete with studio audience, in one quadrant of the Amazon room. Where there were a twenty-five tables filled with players as recently as five days ago, there are now platforms filled with spectators and enough security goons and velvet ropes to meet the needs of any Las Vegas night club. Plasma TVs broadcast ESPNs feed — sans audio — for the assembled spectators outside the ropes, while friends, family and pro players alike cheer on their favorite players from within.
Oh, and if you look carefully, you can even see some poker being played: there are four tables — one of them short-handed and all of them low-limit — in the cash area where just three weeks ago the biggest names in the poker world sat behind enough chips to pay off my mortgage several times over.
There’s also the final table, which, despite the numerous inflatable Milwaukee’s Best Light cans and other media sponsorships, is the reason we’re all here. There were nine millionaires sitting around that table when play began today, and while the money won’t change at least two of their lives, the bracelet and the fame it brings certainly will.
I asked 2004 Main Event Champion Greg Raymer, who has been here once before, and nearly made it here last year, what advice he had for the final table players.
“Once you make it to the final table, enjoy it while it lasts,” he said, “because it only lasts for one of you past today.”