by Craig Cunningham
After players register, they receive a card that indicates their table and seat assignment. The tables have signage hanging overhead, all tables except for one. Table 67 has scaffolding and lighting above it, and it sits on a raised platform surrounded on two sides by bleachers and all sides by cameramen. Table 67, you see, is the ESPN Feature table.
Table selection is based on a random computer program, so some tables as CJ has written may be filled with PokerStars qualifiers while others may have a mix of grinders, satellite winners, and folks willing to put up their own hard earned $10k. This table wasn't one for the faint of heart. Some of the players at the first ESPN Feature Table: Robert Burns (1s), PokerStars qualifier from Los Angeles; Jenny Kang (2s) with two cashes this year ofalmost $70k; James Olson (3s, shown above), PokerStars qualifier and 91st at the 2005 WSOP Main Event for $77,710, as well as won $53,900 as first prize of a Reno tourney; Michael Chow (7s), with a final table this year in the $2k NLHE as well as cashing last year in the Main Event; Randall Hughes (8s), PokerStars qualifier from South Dakota; Beth Shak (9s) earned her second WSOP cash this year; Dean Hamrick (10s) with his first cash earlier this week.
The 4s sat vacant for the first twenty minutes, and for the players who had lived under a poker rock, they could at least figure out that this person was someone they should respect as they saw the bracelets adorning each wrist. Scotty Nguyen (4s, shown above), 1998 WSOP Main Event champion, holds four bracelets and twenty-eight cashes overall. The first smile hit the faces of these focused players as he took his seat, looked around the table, and said, "Good luck, babies." He then pulled his Ralph Lauren shades tightly to his eyes, and got to work.
Sometimes, poker can seem like a made-for-TV reality show. This afternoon, the ESPN Feature Table played even more like that. 217 of the 218 tables in the room started the day with blinds of $25/50. The exception was this table, incredibly playing $25/25 blinds for the first ninety minutes. Much like the Sports Illustrated reporter who sought out an LPGA official about a rules violation on Michell Wie, I asked a tournament official to check on the blinds as I watched small blinds check and single chips thrown into pots checked by big blinds. Indeed, somehow the first dealer started blinds of $25/25, and it was repeated through several other dealers.
Alternates huddled in the bleachers, waiting for their table to be called. One PokerStars qualifier was sitting in the stands, unusual for an alternate. Joel Wertheimer from Boston had qualified several months ago, then wrote Harrah's to request Day 1A as his start. He's starting a new job as an LSAT tutor and must make his first day of work. Harrah's agreed to put him into Day 1A, but after receiving his seating card, he noticed it said Day 1B (Saturday). "I'm a mild mannered guy, never return soup at a restaurant, but I went ballistic," said Joel. He was told he had three options: play Saturday, play as an alternate today, or don't play. He was called to Table 5 today after waiting over an hour, deciding to play today as he'd originally planned.
After two hours, the ESPN Feature Table went on break. Robert Burns was down to $7.5k in chips, a little more than James Olson and less than the $11k stack of Randall Hughes. "I kept getting big hands cracked," said James. "Jacks twice, but it's OK. The break's coming at a good time." He'll need solid patience at this table, as this is hardly a school of fish sitting around him.
WSOP Main Event: Where's Table 67?
by Craig Cunningham