Haley's Poker Blog

No bad beats, but still a poker blog... hence the anguish.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back on the H.O.R.S.E.

(Author's note: My opinions as expressed here are mine alone and -- just in case y'all were wondering -- should never be construed as being those of my employer.)

I'm back in the saddle, metaphorically speaking, having returned from five days in the southern Missouri Ozarks where I did not very damn much. Physical exertion on the one day of the trip my party went for a hike consisted of the two-foot climb up to the highest point in Missouri from the adjacent parking lot, followed by a fairly rugged 3.5-mile hike down to the nearby Mina Sauk Falls, which was more of a trickle in the summer heat. The falls was deserted except for us, as one might expect, proof that most people really don't want to work to view scenic attractions.

But this is a poker blog, most of the time, and so that topic comes up now. I was more or less beginning my vacation a week ago Tuesday night, and since NBC was in the midst of showing Olympic coverage which they'd already aired twice previously, I decided to channel surf, and stumbled upon ESPN's coverage of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event from the 2008 WSOP. I was usually working quite diligently during the overnight hours, and so watched very little of any final tables. In fact, I snuck back there into the ESPN feature area only once -- during the final stages of this event.

There was a small area behind the two tiers of "live reporting" seats where a handful of people with appropriate passes came and went, even during the wee hours. While Gene and Change and Logan and Pauly and a couple of other folks you'd recognize typed away up in front, I was just happy for an odd break in the schedule that let me wander in to watch for a bit. Gene was 100% correct in that the way it was shown on TV was somewhat different than the way it was viewed by the writers there, because the players' conversation does not carry even that few feet over to the reporting area. It's a dead zone for sound, likely designed that way.

As it was, it was a fine place to have a quiet chat with others who wandered by -- the usual suspects such as Gary Wise and Lance Bradley, off-duty tournament directors and WSOP officials and among the others, a WSOP dealer named Rich who may or may not have worked the start of the final table here. He didn't work the late stages, I know that much. The reason Rich warrants a mention is that the guy plays in the same home games in NW suburban Chicago that I frequent, a fact which I found hilarious and mentioned to TD Steve Frezer, then standing on my opposite side... who then promptly signed Rich up for his budding dealers list for WSOP-C Hammond in October. I travel 1,800 miles, sneak into a semi-private area to watch a bit of the H.O.R.S.E. final, and I'm standing next to a guy I play cards with. It's all about connections, dinja know?

What Gene said about "negative energy," though, was evident even to me. I walked in just before the scene where Scotty Nguyen waves his duck-taped beer bottle in the air, begging for service, the sight of which had me braying most loudly. I wondered why, knowing Scotty, that they didn't have a raft of his favored Coronas (or Michelob Ultras, I guess, per Mean Gene) already pre-taped for the occasion. Something else that struck me early on was the raw beauty of the Chip Reese Memorial trophy, positioned up on the presentation platform between and behind Nguyen and DeMichele. Photos don't do it justice.

The play, though, was odd, and that's seen plenty of coverage elsewhere. The aces-being-folded thing I saw and stared at and just wondered "What the hell?" One thing not commented on generally is that the blinds had moved up to the point that the seven-card games were "immediate danger" spots for both Lindgren and DeMichele; were they to mix it up in one of these in a hand that turned serious with multiple reraised streets, the hands would be, essentially, for their tournament lives. That doesn't change the play but adds context to what you might have read elsewhere.

Then there was the trophy presentation. Unless you were there, you've seen or heard nothing of this, but it took me back as much as anything else that I saw. There are only one or two brief glimpses of it edited in behind ESPN's closing credits, and so none of you were aware of Scotty's rambling, drunken acceptance speech. (Sorry, I saw it and I won't mince words.) I was far enough away to not be able to see if Scotty was crying or not, but he was doing things such as pointing to the sky while crying out, "Chip, I love you, man!" while weaving a bit, and such stuff that clearly wasn't suitable for airing. I concur with the general consensus that ESPN had its hands full with this one. I also think that Scotty was more blotto than most of us realized at the time. Most of that stuff seldom makes it into public sight. In this case, in retrospect, it was bound to.

The outcry over the episode and Scotty's subsequent public apology was something of a firestorm that I didn't foresee, not having really witnessed or grokked all of the buildup at the time. What I do remember hearing about the next night was Scotty touring the Amazon Room and handing out tips (or at least attempting to) to dealers at $20 a head, tournament officials, writers... hell, maybe even some of the hookers at the rail for all I know. Not me -- either accepting a tip or being a hooker at the rail, har-har-har. My first impression was that Scotty had blown off or forgotten to leave a tip in his excitement and/or drunken exhaustion from the long previous night, but I also have to wonder now if there wasn't some immediate image-repair work being attempted. I do not know... I merely wonder.

I also can't help but wonder about the accused lack of rules enforcement by tournament directors as seen on TV during that final. That's a topic for a future time, I think. Oddly enough, though I mentioned Steve Frezer (one of the overnight TDs) as being present there, he wasn't working that final. He'd been on some of that night's other events that concluded early, which is why both of us were in there watching in the first place. Same with TD Dennis Jones, if I remember right. But in a weird coincidence, Frezer would be involved in the situation with Phil Hellmuth some three weeks later, wherein Frezer assessed Hellmuth a one-lap penalty for continued berating of an opponent and was later overruled by WSOP higher-ups. I happened to walk by the feature area just as that Hellmuth blowup was taking place, though I only caught the tail end of the set-to. I can't offer any insight as to what was justified and what wasn't.

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