Aloha from the World Series of Poker

Sitting at a table with complete strangers can be awkward in many social situations. Being elbow to elbow with nine other individuals you’ve never before held a conversation with isn’t typically the most comfortable of circumstances. However, something about a pile of chips and little cardboard rectangles flying around makes it like an ohana dinner.

Yes, it’s the 2014 World Series of Poker, live from Vegas. This is my second year attending at least a portion of the WSOP, so I have a little bit better understanding of how things operate and what to expect. Walking into the Rio this time around felt like I had never left. My navigation was easy, darting across the highway from the Gold Coast next door, entering the Rio’s side entrance and through the casino to see the “Welcome to the World Series of Poker” banner hanging in the Pavilion hallway.

I arrived Wednesday just before midnight and decided that it was probably my best opportunity to get a full night’s sleep before my schedule changed from typical sun up, sun down into “is today Monday or Friday?” Thursday was my first day at the tables and many of the familiar characters I ran into last year were again moving around the convention concourse. But it’s funny how all the new people I meet have the exact same reaction when they find out where I live.

“Oh, you live in Hawaii?”

“Yup.”

“No poker out there.”

“You’d be surprised…”

Oh, the mind of a poker player. Forget the otherworldly vistas or the year-round outdoor opportunities. The first thing they know and mention is that there isn’t a brick and mortar casino in the entire state.

I played a few different games my first day, starting with some single-table satellites and a couple “deep stack” multi-table tournaments. I did well in the satellites and had a pair of gut-punch eliminations in the deep stack events, which I won’t bore you with. Walking around the WSOP is basically just eavesdropping on endless bad-beat stories. Everyone thinks their story is somehow unique and that only their ridiculous misfortune could derail how great a player they are. For this reason, I make it a point to never tell a bad-beat story unless asked, so I won’t be writing about any here unprovoked.

But seriously, the case ace on the river?

Anyway, I then sat at a cash game for what I thought would be just a few hours, which is a little lie I always tell myself and always believe. A few hours turned into about 14, which combined with the tournaments made this particular poker session run about 26 hours straight. Rather than think of this as absurd, I was more annoyed that I was paying for a hotel room I wasn’t using.

As with the instant casino responses, the Hawaii conversations I’ve had with people have been very similar. “Oh, I’ve been to Honolulu and I’ve done the Road to Hana,” most people like to tell me, “but I’ve never been to Kauai. I hear it’s beautiful, though.”

Overall, I’ll say that I’ve been happy with my play and I have a small early profit to show for it. But any of the jitters I may have had last year were nowhere to be found this time around. Knowing the lay of the land was a huge plus and understanding how this living, breathing event functions makes things much more comfortable. There’s still an eclectic mix of young poker prodigies with their evolving vernacular and the older guard of Vegas veterans who have never turned on an iPad, let alone sit with one at a poker table.

Some of my Kauai poker brothers and sisters will be trickling out here in the next few days, many of them playing in the Seniors Championship, which starts Friday. Only players 50 years old and up are eligible and the event has become the second-biggest of the Series, next to the Main Event. As one person I play with told me recently, “The Seniors is the only event where everyone wears their baseball caps the right way.”

I intend to provide some updates on their progress and exploits. Hopefully they’ll grant me an interview. I do have a media credential this year, so if all else fails, I can flash that and maybe gain some clout. Until then, I’ll be painstakingly holding in all my bad-beat stories. A hui hou from Vegas.

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