Friday, August 11, 2006

Kleenex Girl

"If you can't pick out the fish at the table, it's you." --- classic poker saying

And here's the flip side of how a newbie writer rates, out on the floor of the WSOP.

I'd been at the Rio for no more than a couple of hours, basically long enough to register for my press credentials and start the process that writers and fans alike do on their first trip to the WSOP: a search for familiar faces. The hallways are busy. It's the afternoon of the 25th, three days before the Main Event starts. A couple of other tournaments are in progress, the satellites and cash-game areas have good traffic, and the hallways are busy. The first face I recognize is Robert Williamson III, posing for a photo.

The second face is Amy Calistri's, though it's her ever-present black hat I recognize first. Third is Pauly.

Soon enough, though, I'm back out on the floor, imagining that the security guards are wondering whose badge I've stolen, so lost and wayward I must appear. So I dig out my memo pad and my cheapie camera, take some notes and a photo or two. Amazon Room lap completed, I wander back over to where one of the tournaments is winding down to about 18 tables, but I'm out of practice and I'm new to recognizing these players' faces in real life. (I'm a bit out of practice as a live reporter, too, but that's another story.) I'm happy, though, because I see that they're still outside the 15-tables rule, and I verify with a guard that I can enter the area.

Surely there's someone in there I'll recognize, so I search and search, and right in front of me, it's Phil Laak! Photo time! So I sneak around to the far entrance, too new and nervous to do the rail-climbing one gets used to later on, make tripledamnsure my camera is set for "no flash," and slide in on the opposite side of Laak's table to grab a photo... or two.

I don't get the chance. He looks up at me and gets up from his seat, walks around to me.

Have I violated some unwritten rule on my very first steps inside the rail? Laak approaches; I move to the side to let him pass, but he stops in front of me. Shit. Busted. "Hey, could you do me a favor?" he asks, more quietly than I expect.

"What, Phil?"

"I'm all plugged up in here," he says, looking up at where the hall's fans hum away. "Can you find me some Kleenex?"

I chuckle just a bit, knowing he sized me up as a newbie on the spot, and tell him that I will, though I end up chugging down to the vending store down by the casino (I forget that the souvenir store is closer) and buy one of those little tissue vending packs. Cost: $1.37, with tax. I'll write it off. By the time I get back, the word has just been passed that the 15-table level has been reached. The security guard lets me inside anyway, long enough to drop off the damn tissues.

No more photos, however, at least in that tourney. Later on, during the Main Event, Laak lets me shoot a couple of great, close-up "Unabomber" poses and lets me have his all-in chip --- he doesn't want the thing. For me, I sort of like it: it's a funny reminder of my pathetic, newbie, first moments on the floor.

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