The Final Table

As poker playing goes, I’ve had better stretches. I still enjoy the game. Still play all the time. I’m just not playing as well as I have.

This time of year card playing gets increased attention because of the World Series of Poker. The WSOP is a series of 55 poker tournaments, all played in Las Vegas. There are different games played at different stakes, but the big daddy is the “$10,000 No Limit Texas Hold’em Tournament.”

It’s called the World Poker Championship. No dispute there.

In Hold’em, each player gets two cards. He tries to make the best five card poker hand using a combination of those two and five common cards, shared by everyone at the table.

No limit means any player, at any time, can push in all his chips. That’s a gutsy, risky move, that’s sometimes worthwhile.

This isn’t like a bad Western. No one has to put up the deed to the ranch to stay in the game. You are only on the hook for what you’ve got on the table.

Hold’em is interesting because it’s a betting game more than a card game. Yes, luck enters into it, but the really good players consistently show up at final tables. There is more than a little skill at work.

My friend Rick, probably more poker obsessed than I am, invited me to stop by his place after work. He was buying the pay-per-view broadcast of the final table and planned to watch until there was only one man standing.

The fact that there’s a pay-per-view broadcast (cable, satellite and online) of this event is testament to how hot poker has become. It’s also moved from a game played by old guys to one played by loads of twenty somethings.

I showed up around 11:50 pm and was ushered down to the basement. The ‘game’ was on one computer monitor while Rick played cards on the other. This was poker player Nirvanna.

What had started as a 6,358 players was down to four. Over $40 million in prize money had already been handed out, but the big payouts were still to come. No one left would win less than $1.8 million and one of them would head home with over $8 million!

Unlike ESPN’s after-the-fact edited coverage, the live broadcast didn’t reveal all. There were no hole card cameras to show the player’s secrets. I found it difficult to follow the live action with the same enthusiasm I’ll have watching later.

Rick cashed a small win in a 45 player tournament and signed off his account as I took over, losing two nine person tournaments. Grrrrrr.

By 3:00 AM I was ready to call it a night.

In the three hours I spent in the basement, no players were knocked out. In fact, as I write this (with even less compelling audio coverage on in the background) the same four players are at the table!

There are no time limits in effect. They could be done in a few minutes or play on into Wednesday. The forced bets, or blinds, keep going up. That guarantees the game can’t last forever, but nothing’s being forced right now.

I think I’d like to go in Vegas to play in the World Series. $10,000 is too rich for me (especially since I’m likely to be ‘dead money’ against this competition), but there are other cheaper games played in the weeks leading up to the big show.

It seems a little decadent. It seems very exciting.