I’m standing in the middle of the Rio’s Amazon Room, and I’m thinking about dead people. I’m thinking of a dead couple in a pink Cadillac. I’m thinking of a body falling out of the back of a trash truck. I’m thinking of a frozen corpse in a meat truck.
What I’m thinking of, to put a finer point on it, is a cull.
It’s 15 minutes before the beginning of Day 6 of the WSOP Main Event, and the coda to “Layla” is playing over the loud speakers. It’s amazing that the song exists as it does at all (Eric Clapton saw the Allman Brothers while he was recording in Miami, invited Duane Allman to the studio to record some electric slide, and boom, one of the most famous recording sessions ever), but it’s even more amazing that those four minutes of electric slide and piano make me think of dead people.
But here we are.
It’s Martin Scorsese’s fault. If you’ve seen Goodfellas, you know the scene (er…spoiler alert…) where all of the Lufthansa robbers start showing up dead because Jimmy wanted to keep all the money for himself. That scene became one of film’s greatest and most gruesome montages while the “Layla” coda plays dreamily in the background. There’s some cognitive dissonance involved in the almost-stoned pace of the song and the horror playing out on the screen, but on repeated viewings, it’s pretty clear what we can draw from it: if what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing doesn’t seem to fit, it’s because that’s exactly how life is. Nothing really fits. At any point during the time of Goodfella’s “Layla” might have been playing on the radio, and at any point, a bunch of people could’ve ended up culled from the herd because of one man’s greed. It’s the perfect soundtrack because, like most of life, it just doesn’t fit how we feel things should be.
As it’s said of Jimmy during the montage, “He had the cash. It was his…It made him sick to have to turn money over to the guys who stole it. He’d rather whack’em.”
And that’s what I’m thinking about as I stand by the giant television stage where ESPN will film, among others, Daniel Negreanu in the quest to make the final table of poker’s biggest event.
Much like the mafia, we are here for a cull of such epic proportions that people in the square world don’t get it. When this event began more than a week ago, 6,420 people had put up $10,000 apiece for the chance to walk away with millions. Today, only 69 of those people remain, and for each one that’s culled from the herd, the remaining players get richer. The winner will get $7.68 million dollars, which (not accounting for inflation) is more than the mafia boys stole from Lufthansa nearly 40 years ago.
Before we even consider the biggest money, however, we have to re-start this game and play through two more full days, and even then, there will be nine people left.
Pierre Neuville cuts across the carpet with his eyes aimed at his table. ESPN’s Kara Scott trails him, shooting questions that go largely unanswered. For all the talk of this being a young man’s game, Neuville leads them all at age 74.
He grabs my palm with a sweaty hand. “Bonjour!” he says.
I tell him good luck, and he mimes taking my wish in his palms as he walks away.
Outside the room, yellow-shirted security officers are keeping the crowds at bay until the players find their seats. Negreanu cuts through them and darts across the carpet with a dealer and floorman flanking him like consiglieres. Security gives chase.
“Hey!” one of them yells.
“It’s okay,” the floorman says. “We’re good.”
The security guy stops his tracks and looks frustrated. “Fine,” he said. “But how am I supposed to know we’re good?!”
And that’s when I think of Goodfellas’ Jimmy again. As the cops tried in vain to track the robbers, Jimmy went about his business, knocking off his fellow robbers, and getting richer with every one he culled. Negreanu, already rich and famous, gets more rich and more famous every time someone is eliminated.
The real Jimmy Burke never went to prison for the robbery, but his young protege did eventually turn on him, and Burke went to prison for murder. It was the result of leaving too many people alive.
There are a lot of people left here who learned a lot of their game by watching Negreanu play, and any one of them could end up spelling his end. That is, if we’re to believe Goodfellas, leaving any proteges behind is a bad idea in a game where the only objective is to get rid of everybody else.
But hey…what do I know? After all, Negreanu is a fan of the Rocky movies, so he’s not hearing the same song I am, and his coda may fade out in a way Clapton, Allman, or Scorsese could never write.
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