May 21, 2003

Out of seven saloons which ran poker games, Monty's Place was the only clean one. The poker room itself was at the rear of the saloon and was about twenty feet square with two barred windows high above the ground and an iron wood stove at the end kept polished by the town idiot, called Dummy. The widnows had dark, drawn curtains. The walls were unplastered brick, the woodwork painted white, and the floor scrubbed. In the center was a large round table covered with green billiard cloth and surrounded by seven cane chairs. Others, for loafers, and kibitzers, were scattered here and there or were grouped by the stove when the weather was cold. The table was lighted by a single bulb, extended to the center by a cord from the ceiling and shaded against the eyes of the players. At the side of each chair was a spittoon; others were at convenient spots. — the opening paragraph of Herbert O. Yardley's "Education of a Poker Player"
I thought that might set the stage for this midway report on the World Series of Poker's Championship Event: the $10,000 Buy-In No-Limit Hold `Em. After two days of play in this five-day event, only 111 players remain out of the 839 (an incredible 208 more than last year's — take that stupid recession!) who started Monday at noon. 63 of these players will be taking home at least $15,000, and one very lucky, very skilled player will walk away with $2.5 million.

In top position is Amir Vahedi with over $300,000; the proverbial "chip and a chair" position is held by Jon Hoellein, who came to the table today trying to build up his meager $2600 stack, not even enough for the blinds. Still remaining in the tournament are former champions Scotty Nguyen (#3 with $214,000), Phil Hellmuth (#12), and all-time WSOP money-winner Johnny Chan, plus rising New Jersey star Phil Ivey (#6).

The last two champs, Robert Varkonyi and Carlos Mortensen, bowed out on the first day, with the 2000 winner, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (who won the event in the WSOP chroncled in James McManus's new Positively Fifth Street, expanded from the classic Harper's article) going broke on the second. I imagine they and a host of other poker legends will all be thrilled to read that they were outlasted by British shipping magnate Achilleas Kallakis, who has never played poker before, but was in town on business and thought he'd give it a shot. (If you're betting thousands a hand at the baccarat table, a $10,000 buy-in simply isn't that big a deal.) I'm sure you'll all be sad to hear that Gabe Kaplan is out, not to mention the too-busy-to-answer-my-interview-request Ken Goldstein, and the perfectly named Sam Grizzle.

For what it's worth, I'm predicting that Atlantic City's own Phil Ivey wins the coveted bracelet. Imagine: the NBA, NHL, and poker championships, all in a matter of weeks.

Update: Okay, at the end of Day 3 it ain't looking good for Phil Ivey.
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