Living the vicarious WSOP dream

Watching people play poker can be a thankless task. But when your friend goes deep in the Main Event, it can be a different proposition

So apparently I’m back in the real world. One month of total bliss in Vegas was nice, but the come-down is a little tricky. Apparently, I no longer have a phone in my bedroom with someone on the end of it that will bring me anything I want at any time of day or night… I’m also having to try and beat a 22-year-old college kid’s vocabulary out of me – this includes not saying to supermarket cashiers ‘What’s up?’ (they never understand) and not calling people ‘dude’ all the time.

Anyway, the WSOP was still its insane, incomparable, magnificent self, and as ever, it bitch-slapped me into submission. My attempts to qualify for the Main Event were brutal. Once again I was able to enjoy the dealer rifling through the deck to find the perfect cards to beat me, and the always popular ‘Nick moves in and the big blind wakes up with two Aces’ nonsense. Anyway, I can’t complain, my life in poker has been one long suckout, so if the Main Event wants to balance that out, so be it.

At least this year’s World Series introduced me to a genuinely amazing poker experience – watching it! You see, over the course of the numerous day ones and twos of the Main Event, I had at least seven or eight good friends playing while I stood on the rail holding the coats. I should make it clear that watching people play poker is not my idea of fun – I’ve always been more of a doer. And watching people I care about is even worse – you never want them to put a chip in the pot, and when they do you have no idea if you want them to be called or not. Which makes what actually happened over the next five days all the more unexpected and unique.

Living the dream

Everyone that enters the Main Event dreams of a monster Day 1, but for half of the field the opposite will happen and they’ll hit the rail. For my friend Kara Scott the dream came true. At the end of the first day she was among the top 50 overall and had a great chance at a deep run. This was incredibly exciting for me because not only is she a very close friend, but it was myself that actually taught her to play a couple of years ago and followed her progress, helping where I could. Her run in the Main Event, which would eventually extend to Day 5 and a pretty awesome finish of 104th out of 6,844 runners also saw my personal descent into neurotic obsession.

It started normally. I watched bits and pieces of Kara and my other friends playing the first day. But then on the second day I started railing her and never actually stopped – for four long days! I’d meant to do other things but all of it got relegated to supporting her effort. I’m not sure how much help I was, given that I was reduced to just wishing really hard she would win, and then babbling advice at her incessantly and probably incoherently in the breaks; but that wasn’t the point – I was in too deep.

With the help of my media pass I was able to watch almost every hand she played and die a little inside each time she put chips in the middle. She developed a pre-betting routine that involved looking at her cards, thinking, then touching her cap to pull it down over her eyes. I swear by the third day every time she touched her cap my heart rate went up 40 beats per minute. It was like a Pavlovian dog response… If she actually got to a flop it would be accompanied by pacing around, breathlessness and sweaty palms, too.

You could say I was being really empathetic, but she was having the time of her life while I was having kittens, so I’m not sure that follows. By the middle of the third day I could barely miss a hand, sprinting to the restroom when I needed a ‘comfort break’, or the shop when I needed a drink. In short I had become obsessed and consumed by it.

Mixed emotions

When she finally bust I was delighted for her but also gutted that her great run had come to an end. But more than anything I was relieved that I didn’t have to do this thing anymore. I mean, when it all started I was a proud, confident man; by the end I was a feckless shell that stared on helpless through bloodshot eyes.

Poker is such a selfish game and selfish pursuit – one where you spend all your time trying to take the other players’ chips and you stand or fall on your own efforts. Having a few days where poker was about supporting, trying to help or just rooting for someone else, was really amazing.

Having said all that I am categorically not doing it again. In fact, I’ve sworn to do the same to her at some point. The problem is that going deep in Day 5 of the Main Event is a tough one to beat. Perhaps I’ll get her to sweat me at the money bubble of a sit-and-go; yeah, that’ll learn her…

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