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by Wil Wheaton

A couple of days ago, Michael Craig brought Annie Duke by to say hello.

“Hi, Annie,” I said. “I’m Wil Wheaton.”

“Actually,” she said, “we’ve met. We played together at Bellagio and I sucked out on you.”

I was shocked that she remembered, and said so. While it was a brutal three-outer beat against me that hit on the river, I’m just one of hundreds of people who have been busted by her over the years.

“I didn’t want to assume that you’d remember me, because I know you meet a lot of people,” I said, “and I didn’t want to feel like an ass if you didn’t.”

“Oh,” she said, “I still feel bad about it!”

We laughed about that. One thing that’s certain about professional players: they never feel bad when they knock someone out. That would be like me feeling bad about beating someone out for a prized acting role.

“Have you cashed, yet?” She said.

“Uh, no.” I said.

“Neither have I!” She said, and it was the first time her smile faltered.

“Well, at least we have something in common,” I said, “which isn’t intended to make you feel bad, but probably does.”

“Well, I still have a week left,” she said.

I changed the subject, and we talked about a few other things, like how hot it’s been here and how much we miss our kids, before she and Mike had to head out of our suite and get back to work.

Our conversation raised a sneaking suspicion in my brains, and after they left, I grabbed my notebook and wandered around the hallways and alcoves of the Rio, to see if I could confirm it.

Just a few steps into the main walkway, I saw it everywhere: young players hoping to make it on television and scoop up an endorsement deal and seasoned professionals alike walked with their heads down and their shoulders slumped, as the reality of the Main Event loomed ever-closer. While it represents poker’s crown jewel, everyone knows that the field will be huge, and the odds of a top-name professional player winning it all — or even making the final table — are incredibly slim. Phil Ivey, who is inarguably the best player in the world, is a 150 to 1 shot to win it, and those odds are actually good.

It reminded me of the feeling I used to get in the acting world during pilot season, when the networks were casting for their fall series. It could be compared to the World Series, with one glaring exception: each event only paid one place. Near the beginning, everyone was relaxed and excited, because this could be The Big Year. As we neared the middle, the haves and the have-nots separated. Friendly handshakes weren’t so friendly, and smiles were forced, if they came at all. When the end drew close, though, the pressure was unbearable, and though you’d think veteran actors would be able to rely on their experience to relax and do their best work, for them the pressure was the worst: would this be yet another pilot season that was essentially a failure?

And so it is here at the Rio. We are a few days away from the beginning of the Main Event, and the bracelet and cashing opportunities are nearly all gone. For the pros who haven’t realized their personal goals, the pressure is immense, and when I walk the hallways and the tournament floor, I can feel it. Will this be yet another World Series that will essentially be a failure?

I’m glad that I don’t have to answer that question, especially when I see the people who do.

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