All of the links in this are dead, for starters. Some updates: I never did play in a satellite that year because I chickened out. And, according to one of my poker buddies I was momentarily on national television.
16 June 2005
After playing for eleven hours at the Excalibur, I decided to head over to the Rio, where the World Series of Poker is being held this year. It used to be held at Binion’s, but they got bought out. It was pretty late, and I parked in completely the wrong parking structure. It turns out that the World Series wasn’t being held in the casino proper, but in the convention center attached to the Rio through a long-ass hallway that took over ten minutes to make my way through. It was around midnight, and the first place I stopped at was the Official World Series of Poker Store, where I bought a few T-shirts for me and my big bro; official programs for me and the entire poker crew, and a roll of souvenir chips. Then I walked down the hall in front of the room where the WSOP was being played. It was what you would expect: people selling various poker-related stuff, and a very tired and depressed-looking girl in a yellow bikini peddling cigars. Then I went through the double doors into where the games were being played. The room was much bigger than I thought it would be. In fact the place was huge, though, because it was so late, it was pretty empty.
I wasn’t sure if I could walk around freely and I didn’t want to get kicked out, which would have made me feel like a complete loser, and that’s what trying to write literature is for. Finally, I got up the courage to walk around a little bit, and the place I headed for was in the back, where a TV set-up was located.
There was an empty table, though much nicer than the ones being used everywhere else in the room. What I was looking at was the Final Table, the one used when the game has been reduced to the final ten players, or it used to be ten (the number of players that can be held by a casino-style poker table), but now, for the sake of television, it only holds eight players. There was a million dollars in $100 bills stacked on the table, though I later found out that only the outside bills were real; the rest was just paper, which wasn’t the case when the WSOP was run by the Binions. Mini-bleachers had been set up and there were people sitting in them, but nothing was going on. What was happening? It turned out that the game was on a break. When the break ended, I saw T.J. Cloutier come out from somewhere in the room and sit at one end of the table, to the left of the dealer. Another guy, Steve Zoine sat down at the other end, and that was it. There were no other players. I was witnessing the heads-up action of the $5,000 buy-in No Limit Hold ‘Em event.
Wow, goddamn, wow. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was Cloutier, a man who, along with Tom McEvoy, wrote a book I carry around with me in my computer case so that I can work on my game whenever I have a spare moment. Zoine, I had never heard of, though it turns out that he has an interesting story. He’s an East Coaster, and this was his first serious poker tournament and he had made it to the final table at the WSOP, which is an amazing feat. Not only that, but he had also studied the Cloutier and McEvoy book.
I’m kind of standing around like a smiling idiot, holding my souvenir bags. I’m totally in the shot, by the way; look for me on ESPN in the fall, 10 October 2005, when the final table of the $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold ‘Em event will be televised; I’m the one wearing all black who looks completely out of place and completely happy.
So, I’m there no more than a few minutes when the game starts back up. The dealer deals out what I later found out was hand 169 and there’s immediate action. Cloutier who’s holding A-5, studies Zoine and thinks long and hard. He sees something that I don’t because he goes all in with his roughly 1.2 million in chips. Cloutier has Zoine covered because Zoine has about $800,000 in chips. Now it’s Zoine’s turn to think because if he calls and loses, that’s it, he’s done. Zoine, however, takes no time to think. He calls and turns over unsuited A-K, Big Slick, the best non-paired starter hand that you can get dealt to you.
Cloutier looks as if somebody just stabbed his momma. If Cloutier loses the hand, he’ll be down to $400,000 in chips to battle against Zoine’s 1.6 million. Now Cloutier is an amazing player, but this Zoine guy is also pretty good and, with his potentially having a 4-to-1 chip advantage, Cloutier understands that he’s pretty much screwed. At this point his only realistic chance is to catch a “5” while Zoine doesn’t catch anything. Cloutier’s odds? There are three cards in the deck at this point that can help him, and forty-five that don’t. You do the math and realize that Cloutier has a one-in-sixteen chance of catching to his five.
Cloutier looks now like he’s trying to get mentally and spiritually prepared to lose, and you can feel the energy radiating off of Zoine, who’s pretty confident that he’s about to pull off something pretty amazing.
Still, you never know what’s going to come on the flop. Maybe a five comes down and Cloutier gets lucky and wins. The flop, though, is 9-8-6, and, all of a sudden, Cloutier has more than doubled his outs. Instead of only being helped by a “5,” a “7” would now give him a straight. With seven outs now, he has a little worse than a one-in-six chance of winning the hand. Fourth street, a jack doesn’t help Cloutier, which means that it helps Zoine. Still, Cloutier isn’t drawing dead, but Zoine is almost assured of winning the hand and the WSOP $5,000 buy-in No-Limit Championship. So, what comes down on the river? A “7.” Cloutier makes his straight and wins it all.
Cloutier hit a nearly miracle flop for a gut shot straight draw and then, when he was almost dead, he got the gut shot straight on the river. Zoine looks like he wants to vomit, wet himself, cry, have a heart attack followed by a stroke, all at the same time. He has suffered a hell of a bad beat, and at the worst time, on the last hand of a WSOP event. He played it correctly and had Cloutier dead as soon as Cloutier went all in. He can take some comfort in that, which he’ll probably be able to do one day, far, far in the future, but probably only if he actually wins a WSOP event of his own. Also, the $330,000 will be of some comfort, though Cloutier comes away with $660,000.
Did Cloutier make a mistake going all-in with A-5? I’ve thought and thought about this for nearly a week, and, unless there was something there that I didn’t see or understand, it seems that Cloutier did made a mistake, a mistake that, if not for an incredible amount of luck, almost cost him a WSOP championship and an extra $330,000. He must have thought that Zoine was also holding two singles, and neither of them an ace. He bet a lot on a hunch. Then, as we’re all snapping pictures of Cloutier behind the stacks of fake money, who comes by to give him some props? Tom McEvoy, Cloutier's co-author of the book I have back in my hotel room. I took a picture of him, though he didn’t look too happy about it. He was even unhappier a few minutes later when I saw him get knocked out of the $1,500 Shoot Out No-Limit event. Then, I saw Kathy Liebert win her table when her pocket 4’s turned into a set on the flop and the guy she was playing heads-up made top pair to his jack and, also holding a king, went all in. She called, and he got no help on the turn or the river. She ended up placing seventh.
I had so much fun at the WSOP that I went back the next day to see if I could run across any more famous poker players. I did see this lovely Chinese Canadian poker player that I’d once seen on TV. She was in the hallway outside, where I saw her walk toward a bench and then sit down with a bottled drink and some pre-packaged burrito- or pita-type thing. Weird.
Then, as I was walking around, there came an announcement that they were looking for one last player to fill out a $125 buy-in satellite. There are two ways to get into the main WSOP events: pay the $10,000 entry fee with money you had with you, or try to earn the money at the satellite tables. This is how it works: you play at a satellite, and, if you win, you get most of your buy-in back ($120 out of $125), plus $500 in buy-in chips. Buy-in chips aren’t actual money in the sense that you can’t spend it on a T-shirt or a tattoo, but you can use it to buy into other satellites, either at $125 or at a higher buy-in ($325, $525, $725), until you accumulate enough cash to play at the main events. Now, there was no way that I could stick around even if I won at a satellite. I was checked out of my hotel and my laptop was in the trunk of my ride, slowly baking in the Las Vegas heat. Still, I really wanted to play, even if I lost all my chips in five minutes, just so that I could say that I played at the World Series of Poker. What stopped me? I could not figure out where the hell the announcement was coming from. Inside the actual tournament area were two places that looked like staging areas, but I couldn’t find anybody holding a microphone. Then the announcement stopped coming over the P.A. system, which meant that they’d already found a player. Damn. However, some of my poker homies are going back in about three weeks, and I’m going to try to play in a satellite then.