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I got back last week from my poker vacation, and had a total blast!

I'd never been to the WSOP before. I kinda figured it was for big-time poker experts, of which I am most assuredly not one. I mean, the WSOP attracts the best players in the world, so I figured I would go, enter a couple events, bust out quickly, then have a fun vacation in Vegas. It would be the only time I'd enter the WSOP, I figured, in my life. But that's not what happened.

First off, while the WSOP undeniably attracts the best poker players in the world, it also attracts thousands of mediocre players, because it is the world's largest poker party, and a lot of people are there just to have fun. Secondly, the gap between the "best players in the world" and a merely competent player like me is not nearly as large as it is in, say, tennis or golf. I can compete with them, by just thinking ahead and figuring out what's going on. It's difficult, but it's not impossible. But primarily, it's just that the pros and best-in-the-world only make up about 10% of the field in any given event, and even less in some. By and large, most people you see at your table are not that great; they're just like you!

I don't think I'd nearly understood the extent to which the WSOP is essentially a big party, and the way in which it just takes over large swaths of Vegas. Everyone at the Rio is talking about poker or playing poker all the time. If you sit down at a blackjack table, the other players look at you sympathetically: "Did you just bust out?" they'll ask. "What was your final hand?" Filling up your car at the gas station, the guy at the pump next to you is on his cell phone: "I just knew he had aces, so I folded!". In line at the buffet, the couple ahead of you is saying "Yeah, we still have time to eat before Event 4 starts." You're as likely to run into Humberto Brenes walking to the cafe as you are to see Barry Greenstein in the pool. It's crazy - it's fun - it's poker nirvana.

I'd imagine it gets even crazier and even more poker-party-central as the main event nears. I was there for the first week, and played in events 3 and 4. I also played in one satellite (trying to win a seat in event 4), and three of the daily tournaments they have there that they don't even advertise (small buy in tourneys with shorter levels, like the 11:00 pm nightly $100 donkfest that has 20-minute levels). Every tournament I entered I had a blast in, even though I lost in all but one.

I cashed (my first WSOP cash!) in Event 3 ($1000 NL Hold 'em), making it just past the bubble when I picked up JJ in middle position. The player to my right, who had been a little loose recently and was nearly as shortstacked as I (I had 12 BB, he had 13), raised to 5 times the big blind. I saw JJ and shoved, everyone folded to the raiser, who hemmed and hawed and then called all-in with AQ offsuit. Flop brought a queen, and I was done.

But I was so happy! My first WSOP cash, now immortalized on my official WSOP player results page.

I entered event 4 ($1500 Limit Omaha Hi-Lo) as well, and got fairly deep (outlasting many pros), but didn't realize it would play until 3 am that night and started getting tired. I then played worse until I finally ended up shoving on a hand where I saw an ace. And at 2:45 am on the first day of play, I was eliminated in 335th place of 818 entrants, knocked out by Jeff Madsen. If I'd realized it was a late start tourney, I wouldn't have screwed up that badly I think (I would have gotten a nap!).

But now I am definitely planning on returning next year. The WSOP is so much more fun than I'd ever imagined - I never even got to go do the sightseeing and concerts I'd planned. I may not have time next year, either!

MarkT 22:33, June 20, 2010 (UTC)