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Best of Dan Igo
10. It's cold in the desert
I just said I was prepared for the Las Vegas heat. And that's true for the few times I walked outside during the day. But inside the Rio's Amazon Room and Pavilion, the temperature can suddenly drop depending on where you stand. That was the case on Day 1D, when a table at the Pavilion wore Snuggies because an air-conditioning vent was blowing cold air directly onto the players.
9. The media
This is the biggest event in poker, and you can tell simply by the amount of media both in the poker rooms and in the media center. Everywhere you look there are ESPN cameras and men holding boom mikes. Reporters shuffle from table to table, writing down chips counts, taking notes and shooting pictures. And the two featured TV tables were entire productions by themselves, with producers wearing headsets and overhead cameras moving every second.
8. The information age
The WSOP has a rule stating that you can't receive phone calls at the poker table. You have to get up and move away from play if you wish to talk to someone on the phone. That surprisingly doesn't happen too often, because everyone is texting instead. The amount of iPhones, Blackberrys and Droids at the tables is staggering. Chances are if a player under the age of 30 is out of a hand, he or she is on his or her smart phone.
7. No age restriction
There is a large mix of ages at the Main Event, ranging from the many young twenty-somethings who qualified online to grizzled veterans like Doyle Brunson and Tom McEvoy. And then at the absolute end of the spectrum is Jack Ury. The 97-year-old from Terre Haute, In. is the oldest person to compete in the Main Event, and he survived Day 2A.
6. International flavor
Once a hand is going on, it is only English at the tables. After that, it's fair game, and as you move from table to table you'll hear languages ranging from Dutch to German to Russian. This is truly an international tournament, as players from Switzerland, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Russia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Brazil and Spain, respectively, were all near the top of the leaderboard on each Day 1 and both Day 2s.
5. Fans watch poker
Poker might not seem like a spectator sport, but you should tell that to the hundreds of fans who pack the Amazon Room and the Pavilion to watch both pros and amateurs play. If a major pro like Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan was near the rail, there could be dozens of spectators watching his every move. And when Daniel Negreanu was at the featured TV table, there were nearly 100 fans who watched him go all-in during the first 15 minutes of play on Friday.
4. Hellmuth loves the spotlight
Most players begin Day 1 of the Main Event at noon by heading to their table quietly and stacking their 30,000 in chips. Phil Hellmuth is not most players. His entrances have become the stuff of legend. In the last three years he has dressed as a NASCAR driver, General Patton and Julius Caesar. This year he dressed as an MMA fighter, and the event was so big that even in the media room there was a note announcing he would be arriving at 1:40 p.m. Trailing "the Poker Brat" were 11 beautiful women, each holding a "title belt" that represented one of Hellmuth's 11 WSOP bracelets. Hellmuth kept on his MMA robe and gloves for awhile after finally arriving at the secondary TV table, but exited the tournament seven hours after his grand entrance.
3. Patches patches everywhere
I expected most players at the two featured TV tables to wear patches of the big online poker sites. Naturally, the cameras would be on those players the most so it made sense that they would have logos on hats and shirts. What I didn't expect was the amount of patches on players who were nowhere near the TV cameras. PokerStars and Full Tilt dominated clothing in both poker areas.
2. A well-oiled machine
The World Series of Poker knows what it's doing. The ability to run a poker tournament with more than 7,000 players and have very few incidents is remarkable. Whenever there is a problem at a table, an official is usually there within seconds to deal with it. Dealers shuffle from table to table. When tables are broken up, players are moved with nary a problem. The chips counts provided to the media are constantly updated. Unlike last year, when players were left out of the Main Event because they weren't registered in time, no catastrophes have happened (so far).
1. This is a major event
As soon as you walk into the Rio you know this is a big deal. Blown-up portraits of former WSOP Players of the Year line the hallway. Stands hawk everything from merchandise to massages. Cases with WSOP bracelets won by Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Billy Baxter and Doyle Brunson are centerpieces in the front entrance, sort of like how colleges put their national championships on display in their arenas and stadiums. The WSOP Main Event is poker's Super Bowl, and it certainly feels like it.