Two policeman stand at the door of the Amazon Room as more and more people arrive to witness the most exciting part of an event like this. For strangers in town it’s easy to sot the difference between the strong arm of the law and the strong arm of casino security as the law’s strong arm has a gun at the end of it. Security relies instead on athletic ability and mace to catch robbers.

The Amazon Room is alive with the sound of chips. Players stand up when not in a hand, their nervous energy strong enough to keep legs bouncing if they sit. With roughly two tables to go before the bubble there’s still enough time to bust with an excuse – better to go out now than to endure the agony later – but everyone would rather not.

At the heart of this humming beast is the tournament staff. They flit from one corner of the room to the other, each carrying radios which occasionally buzz.

“Seat open,” says a voice on the radio, quiet and calm, like an air force pilot reporting a target destroyed.

Oblivious to the pressure on officials, players occupy themselves in a number of ways. Some talk (usually from behind a mountain of chips), while others bounce in their chair, unable to keep still (some chips but not enough to survive too long). Then there are the completely quiet. They are either too well chipped to worry or too old to care. It’s possible they’re foreign, and don’t understand what’s going on.

There’s another “all-in, call”, then another. Someone shouts “Jerry!”

A hand plays out close by a player has kings against aces and catches a king on the river. He can’t quite believe it, says “wow” half a dozen times and then tries to stand up, knocking over his own chair. Whoever had the aces has nothing now, except for a legitimate bad beat story. If only he could find someone with an attention span to listen right now.

At another table a woman with a lot of chips earnestly tells a man with hardly any chips that she “always roots for the underdog”. The man seems unmoved.

From across the gangway comes a blast of swearing and a few “oh-my-gods”. Tournament Director Jack Effel, whose show this is, positions himself in a clearing between the two main sections of play. He uses a microphone to beg dealers to announce when a seat is open. He paces slowly up and down his little retreat. He can’t afford to get any of this wrong.

“Where’s Troy?” asks one staff member in a hurry.

“Spears, I need you here,” says another into a radio, which talks back at him: “I’m heading for the door right now.”

Someone asks Effel when play will go hand-for-hand. He says he’ll gauge how fast things go before making a decision. “If they start to pop real fast, I’ll hold them up.” Then he explains that if players bust at different tables and on the same hand they will divide the money, unless they depart from the same table.

Just then a player, Rob Perelman, tells Effel he’s out. “I’m sick for ya, I’m sick for ya,” says Effel, doing his best to sympathise at the busiest time of his working year.

“I came up short,” says Perelmen, seeming admirably pragmatic. “That’s poker.”

With the media forced to watch from the rail – the infield -the main event becomes a blur of lights with just a voice on a microphone for guidance.

The rail is a mixture of loved ones and poker tourists. If they’re lucky their loved ones are seated close to the rail. If not they face an uncertain wait to see whether their husband, son, wife or daughter is eliminated, almost certainly ruining the mood at dinner.


The secondary feature table and “infield”

Only one clock with the player number is visible from the rail. The other screens show seniors golf on ESPN. The screen that can be seen shows 674 players meaning eight to go, or less than a table.

More than one person in the infield talks of the 666 figure which will determine the bubble. Someone thinks organisers should have put it up to 667 (the next-door neighbour of the Beast). Later someone else raised the same issue and laughs, hard, until his horns catch fire.

It’s next to the clock that a rather macabre scene awaits. This is where the soon to be eliminated will be processed on their way to picking up their money and leaving the Rio for the last time this summer. It’s nice to finish in the money but nobody wants to stand in a back-and-forth rope line clutching a pay-out ticket. It’s hoped animals never realise how badly the trip they’re taking in the big lorry is going to turn out. Poker players are only too aware.

More all-ins, shouted by dealers from all directions. Two young guys carrying drinks rush forward, trying to see their friend at his table.

“Someone asked if I’m going to clap when he reaches the money,” says one to the other.

“Sure,” replies his friend. “I’m going to lick his behind!”

The clock reaches 670.

Effel asks the dealers to hold up. Then he explains to the field that the dealers will stand up when each hand is complete and that should they do the same and then wander off, they’ll be excluded for the duration of the bubble.


Dealers during hand for hand play

From a distant corner a dealer shouts “all in and call” as if his life depended on it. Maybe not his life but his job for sure. The plan is to play all hands and then go back to the all-ins one by one. Some players take the opportunity to run to the bathroom and back. There are more all-ins. Three, four, no five.

A loud murmur fills the Amazon Room with lots of harrumphing. “It’s on,” says an elderly woman with an over developed sense of the dramatic, pushing her way through the crowds.

Then confusion. Did that first all-in hold up? It’s impossible to tell form the rail. Then another all in. How did that go? Players wait, just as the railbirds do, waiting for instructions on whether to celebrate or not from Effel, relaying information by microphone.

“6-6-7,” says Effel. More murmuring.

Another hand is relayed. “Who are we rooting for?” shouts one player without answer. The hand ends without a bust out, causing boos and disappointment, which Effel says isn’t right.

“How about ace-ace versus king-ace?” he then asks, trying to placate the braying public. “Flop king-king-seven.”

No, that wouldn’t do. But as the moaning about that hand dissipated, excitement of another reached its peak with news spreading of another elimination. Then the confirmation and applause. Relief certainly, but not the big cheer of previous years, owing largely to the bureaucratic complications organisers found they had on their hands.

The four eliminations on the same hand presented several complications. First, 667th was supposed to receive free entry into the 2013 Main Event. Now they had that, and the $19,000 for 666th to divvy up, which they were finding hard to chop into four. After several minutes of impromptu conference, a decision was made and, with the camera watching, Effel presented these four players to the press.


Dylan Schwartz, Desmond Portano, Dane Lomas and Steve Rosen, shaking hands with Jack Effel

None of them looked happy, in fact, in front of a bank of TV lights they looked more like hostages being paraded in front of state television. They learned that would be entered into a special satellite for next years’ seat. But under the circumstances there was little else to be done. In the end one player bought out the others to dodge the satellite.

So no one hand burst the bubble but we’re into the money in the Main Event.


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