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at The Rio at noon on Thursday
It was a rare cloudy day in the desert sands of Southeast Nevada.
As expected, they jacked us around on our room, but I can't tell you
about every dumb thing The Rio did because the Internet isn't
Remember that legal battle I had with them - when was that, early
Once we got our room and once we ...got relaxed, we decided we were
All casinoes* have a variety of restaurants but I wanted something simple
We agreed to try the All American Grill, which is a different
place than it was in 2002.
I remember sitting there with Marc Perkel and The Brew and some other
people in 2002
when it was just a burgers and sports bar, but now it's like a Gallaghers
They had tons of meat (not really) aging in their special aging room
You can pick your steak if you want, but I had a burger, Mrs. Bart
had a sandwich.
You can't really see (When will iPhone make a better camera?) but those
on the back wall are actually giant gas burners that gave the place
a fireplace effect.
Oddly, all that light in the room and it was so dark I couldn't even
read the menu.
After lunch, I remembered reading something about the World Series of
Poker was currently underway.
They started with some casino employee's tournament, but they also
had some other thing going on.
Oh yeah, it was the anniversary of Jack Binion's first ever World Series
of Poker (It started in 1970) so they
held a Special Commemorative 40th Anniversary $40,000 buy-in
No Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament. I thought I'd check that out and see if I could see any of the great
poker players you see on TV.
I walked to The Rio's Poker Room, and it's a tiny little thing - maybe
ten tables or so.
Shiiiiiiiit, in Tulsa we have at least two poker rooms wiith
many more tables than that.
How long it would take to play a tournament with 2000+ people with
just ten tables?
Then I found out the big poker action was going on in The Rio's Convention
No problem - it's only about a two-mile walk to the convention area,
but I wanted
to see some big-time poker players so I convinced my knees to attempt
Twenty minutes later I used my powers of deduction to conclude I was
I peeked in one of the giant rooms and I almost fainted.
There were about a lot of poker tables in this room and there might've
been 200 poker tables
in this other hueueueueuege convention room. Ain't nothing that
big in Tulsa :)
So I asked some questions and found out that, since every serious poker
player in the world was in town this week,
The Rio set up all these extra tables to be sure everyone got to play
all the poker they wanted.
I wanted to play some, but I wanted to try to track down some poker
Then, in another room, the pros that were playing in that $40K tourney
went on break.
It was one of the most exciting things ever - there were big-time poker
First I ran into one of my favorites, Antonio 'The Magician' Esfariandi
- standing right in front of me.
He was a nice guy, talking his time to sign autographs and talk to everyone.
Soon, everyone was gone but me, so I struck up an intelligent conversation.
I asked if he'd sign an autograph for me.
He signed it "Bart, Don't Gamble," which
is funny because if you've ever seen Antonio's TV show I Bet You, you know he'll bet his buddy Phil Laak on whether the next girl to
enter the room is panty-or-thong.
Then, like an idiot, I asked him, "Where's your partner in crime?"
meaning Phil 'The Unabomber' Laak. He replied, "I don't know and I don't care
- he's around here somewhere."
I felt like such a dork. I didn't really expect to meet any of
my poker "heroes" so I didn't have anything more
intelligent to say, but I remember Ed McMahon once said he'd been asked,
"So, where's Johhny?" about
200,000 times in his life so Antonio must get that a lot, too.
I gave Antonio a Bartcop business card so he
could check out The Tequila Treehouse and I let him go because he only
had 20 minutes for his break.
Sure enough, a few minutes later Phil 'The Unabomber' Laak walked
by so I grabbed him.
We talked for a few minutes and I gave Phil a Bartcop card, too.
Oddity: Phil Laak sounds a lot like Rodney Dangerfield when he talks.
Damn, I'd been here maybe five minutes and I've already met and talked
to two of my favorite players
and that was much more than anything I had expected - and we were just
Just then, here comes my good friend Mike 'The Mouth' Matasou
who I'd met last year,
in all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma. He flew to Tulsa on the
same Southwest flight as us.
He was raging about some bad beat he'd suffered - Mike mostly has just
Then I saw Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliott talking to former WSOP Main
Event winner Greg Raymer.
I think Devbilfish might've been on the very first episode of World
Poker Tour that I ever watched.
When they finished their conversation, I asked Devilfish for an autograph.
Raymer looked at me as if
to say, "He's nobody and I'm a WSOP champion
and you want his autograph ?" Sorry Greg.
I told Devilfish I'd seen him on WPT years and years ago and I asked
he didn't play on more shows like High Stakes Poker. Not missing a
beat, he replied,
"They won't let me on that show - I'm too
good for 'em!"
Poker players - you gotta have an ego to bet the price of a house on
each turn of a card.
Then I called Mrs. Bart and asked her if she wanted to come down and
catch all this.
When she got there, she pointed out that Annie Duke was right
You know Annie Duke, fresh off being called "Hitler" by Joan Rivers
on Trump's The Apprentice.
Sidebar: Talk in Vegas was that Annie really won the Apprentice,
but Trump changed the rules at
the last minute so "some lowly scum-of-the-Earth poker player" wouldn't
win the precious Trump contest.
Annie was posing for pictures with her brother Howard 'The Professor'
I remembered something about her being an Obama fan, so I asked her
When she said she was, I gave her a Bartcop card and told her to check
She signed an autograph for me that said,
"Bart, play good!"
Sidebar: Annie Duke, up close, looks great. She has a very nice
I saw Ming the Master (also known as Men the Master) signing autographs
for a big group of women.
(not my pic)
He didn't seem like much of a ladies' man,
but you know how the babes swoon over a card player :)
Then I saw Umberto 'The Shark' Brenes posing with a fan.
When she left, Unberto and I had a brief conversation. Umberto comes
off as a really nice guy.
When he plays poker with you, he warns you not to go all in
on him because he carries a little
plastic shark that he "threatens" you with while making the Jaws shark
sound and that breaks the tension.
Then I saw High Stakes Poker player (and Kobe Bryant's boss) Jerry Buss
with a young girl.
Maybe he was "mentoring" her on the fine points of poker?
Then again, I've seen Jerry play and it's a good thing he's super rich.
Remember what Chris Rock said?
"Kobe Bryant is rich - the man who
signs his check is wealthy."
Wait - I see she has a Lakers shirt on.
Maybe she's his personal traveling assistant?
Still on break, I saw a crowd garthering around this one door.
I inched my way closer because I found this this was just like Yellowstone.
We went to Yellowstone in 1992, and when driving around, if you ever
see a group
of cars stopped along the road, that means something is going on and
more often than not,
it means someone spotted a Grizzly bear and everyone pulls over to
This was better than that - the top two WSOP bracelet winners in
the world were off in a private room, waiting for the buzzer, trying to avoid
Here's Phil 'Poker Brat' Hellmuth and Doyle 'Big Papa' Brunson
just wasting time.
Between them they have an unbelieveable 21 WSOP bracelets.
Phil has 11, and everybody hates him for that.
Doyle has ten and Johnny Chan has ten.
Eventually, the break was over.
Just then, faster than lighning, Doyle Brunson whooshes past
me so fast it made the camera blur.
There I was, just inches from the Les Paul of poker players.
You wouldn't think an old man with a crutch could move that fast.
Sidebar: Imagine being a big race car fan, and then going to Indianapolis on
and being invited inside the oval to meet all the drivers that were
racing in the Indy 500.
Imagine being a big fan of The Sopranos and finding youself at
where you got to meet Tony, Carm, Pauli and Big Pussy.
Imagine being backstage at Live Aid, meeting Zeppelin, The Who,
Clapton and The Mick.
That's what this was like for me and I felt like a little kid opening
presents on Christmas.
I caught Antonio and Phil fleeing some fans, hurrying back to the action.
So all the pro players filed back into the big room.
Oh, did I mention is was a big room?
They had maybe 200 poker tables set up in this one hueueueuege
The pros were playing in a roped-off section there, with regular nobodies
like me playing just a few feet away.
I knew before the day was over I'd be playing poker in the same room
as the ultra-elite players of the world.
Damn, that was fun just thinking about it.
Once they let us in, I put the hawkeye on the pros to see who I could
I saw Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen, Tony G, previously described
here as "that prick from Europe"
because I saw him on TV a few times and when he beats an opponent,
he belittles them, calls them "girliemen"
and says, "you don't have enough courage to play this game."
I wrote at the time that if he tried that shit in America,
mocking someone who just lost all their money to him, he'd be lucky
to get away with just a severe beating.
But, some people I talked to said he's the nicest guy ever away from
Here's Greg Raymer and Freddy Deeb (blowing his nose)
who is one of my favorites.
Freddy saw me taking his picture and smiled and waved to me instead
of being pissed off.
This is Vanessa Russo, a pretty card player (not many of those :)
Here's what she looks like from the front :)
If you watch poker on TV, she does that commercial where she bungie
jumps off a tall bridge
and then says, "Once you've done that, there's
not much pressure in a game of poker."
Speaking of poker babes, I also met and talked to Lacey
Not sure what I said to her, but it surely was clever and smart.
Note: If you sign up,
you'll get a Twitter message when
that day's page is fresh and hot.
Now it was time to use my eagle eyes and see which poker superstars
I could locate in their natural habitat.
Boom, there goes the dynamite!
Doyle Brunson risking his $40K against Daniel Alai (to
Doyle's right) and
Huck Seed (best poker name ever) in the grey sweatshirt
next to the dealer.
For me, this was some of the most fun ever - watching them play
poker from just a few feet away.
I saw Greg Raymer push $40,000 worth of chips in one pot.
And you can tell I'm close because the iPhone has no zoom.
A few feet away I saw Eric 'E-Dog' Lindgren, (grey cap)
with Antonio, still dressed in virgin white.
Talking to Antonio is Steve Zolotow, who tells the most
boring stories in all of poker.
His voice will put you to sleep long before his story does.
Oh, and I wanted you to see this:
This is the lighting rack they'll use for the final table..
OK, moving on to try and spot more poker superstars.
Wow, at this one table, you can see Joe Hachem at the very left.
Looking right at the camera (chin on hand) is Brad 'SB Rugby' Townsend with Kenny Tran standing up in the checked shirt.
Walking between the tables, I smelled the unmistakeable sweetness of
That surprised me, but there's no mistaking that wonderful sensation.
At each of these tables you can see the best players in the world.
There's Phill Hellmuth again, the John McEnroe of poker,
the Dennis Rodman of poker, you get the idea.
He'll tell you at the drop of a hat that he's the best player in the
world, and how can you argue with him
when he has more bracelets than anybody - even Doyle who's been playing
since before Phil was born.
Before the night was over, this one table had Hellmuth, Phil
Ivey, Scotty Nguyen and Freddy Deeb.
That's a lot of fire power - they need to put THIS tournament on TV.
There's Mike Matasou again (red on his back) working thru another bad
The lady on the left is giving one player a during-the-game massage.
I wish this picture was clearer (Apple, get to work on that) but on
the left, that cowboy hat
belongs to Hoyt Corkins, my pick for second wackiest name after
Blocking the cowboy hat from our view is Phil the Unabomber. To Phil's right blocking our view of the dealer is Ted Forrest! At the very right Eric Lindgren in the white shirt with blue
Another table jam-packed with top-tier players.
You know that expression...
If a bomb went off in this room,
they'd have to start poker all over again.
They have pinball machines from the 50's, 60's, 70's, etc.
Before I was old enough to loiter around pool halls, I loitered around
If you could somehow get a replay on the pinball, and your friends
would hear that
bolt-action snap sound when you win, you are cool.beans for a week!
They have about 100 machines, all in working order.
Remember when pinballs looked like this?
Or even older, like this?
Not only that, they also have Defender, Asteroids, Missle Command
and Donkey Kong.
I have a potentially amusing Donkey Kong story - have I ever told you
Around 1980, I was the comptroller (never even knew what that
was) for Tulsa's
only and biggest video game dealer and back then the video game business
was on fire.
I suppose, to save on shipping, the boss ordered a whole truckload of
mostly Donkey Kong arcade games.
I'm wild guessing about 50 Donkey Kongs would fit on a semi, and he
ran out of storage space so I told him
he could store the games in my garage if we could put
two of the video games in our house.
He said yes so for a couple of months, we had an arcade in our house
and $50K worth of Donkey Kong in my garage.
Lotsa people have owned video arcades, but how many of them ever had
$50K worth of Donkey Kong in their garage?
OK, the poker pros are about to take another break so we headed back
to The Rio
OK, so we're back at The Rio waiting for my great friendPerry
(seen here with my good friend Les Paul)
to join this WSOP event with me, this first-time-ever Stimulus WSOP
After the supper break, I was hurrying back towards the action when
I heard the unmistakable sounds
of Phil Laak and Antonio Esfariandi walking right behind me.
I knew it was them - we've watched every
episode of their TV show and they have very distinctive voices.
I slowed my pace so they could pass me,
hoping to get a picture of them together when some guy yelled, “Hey,
turn around so he can get a picture” and they did but I missed the shot.
Continuing to walk, I noticed that Chris Moneymaker was walking
right next to me so we talked as we walked.
He was very nice – as was everyone I talked to. I didn't get
a "Fuck off, old man," once all weekend.
I asked him if he was going to stay and play every event until July
15. He said he was staying for some kind
of Legends of Poker tourney (former WSOP winners, I suppose) and then
going home until the main event.
Just then Chris and I came to a fork in the road. Everyone was
going right but Phil & Antonio went left,
so Moneymaker calls out, “You guys know a
shortcut?” and Antonio, thinking it was me trying to horn in,
yelled back, “No, private meeting,”
then he saw Chris and said, “Oh, Moneymaker, yeah,
come with us.” So I let them go - I know they need their privacy
By now our good friend Perry had just arrived at The Rio and he was
ready to start the action.
Perry brought his friend Jim the Nawlins Crocodile Cook from
last November's Soorie. (Can't find that link)
As always, the second we got there Perry became the focus of the attention
of the staff.
They gave us a great table and Perry asked for a wine list and a menu
and Perry ordered some of this and
some of that and a bottle of this and a bottle of that. He's
fun to watch when he's hitting all cylinders.
I was luckly enough to locate a steak on their menu, so I had that.
Perry and Jim were diving in to all these samplers they'd ordered.
There were all kinds of creatures I didn't recognize in those bowls.
As we were eating, Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson walked by, as did Annie
Duke. That reminded us that we were there to play poker, so before long we
headed that way.
The dinner and champagne were great - thanks to Perry.
This was maybe the fourth or fifth time I'd walked the two miles to
Yoe know why they have so many buffets is Vegas? So people don't lose too much weight from all the damn walking. .
So we hit the massive poker room and it was jam-packed full
of poker players.
Sidebar: It was the weirdest thing to stand near the center of that massive
room and listen to
thousands of people riffling their chips from all 360 degrees
in total surround sound.
Then we approached the chalkboard to register to sit down and play.
Perry said something to the dude in charge and,
I don't know how he does this, the dude's focus was all about Perry
and even tho the poker board was full, within minutes
Perry was seated at a high-dollar table and playing poker. I
wish I could tell what he was doing to get people to focus on him.
He doesn't seem to say anything in particular - he certainly didn'tt
hand the dude any money - they just instinctively know he's
someone they need to make happy.
After he got seated, I signed up for the $2-$5 table to get some poker
Because I'm an idiot, I left all my money in the room. I had
to go ask Perry for a $200 loan so I could play.
Soon, I saw my first Mississippi Straddle. Usually, a straddle is when the first person with the option
of betting doubles the big blind without seeing his cards.
In a Mississippi Straddle, the dealer makes that double bet
out of turn, forcing the small and big blind to act first
instead of last.
Apparently that's legal in Vegas.
Then it happened - the situation you kinda hate when you just sat down
with very little money:
I got Aces on the second hand and this guy bets $50 - so I had to call
him - then another guy raises to $100.
I hate when this happens - it's much more fun if you've been playing
for hours and you're getting hungry
when you get your pocket Aces because you're going to leave anyway
and you could leave a big winner.
But when you get them right after sitting down, you can't help but
think about Oliver Hudson.
So I'm trying to slow down the action, but they're going crazy and they
eventually put me all in.
The flop wasn't dangerous, something like 2-7-J, the turn was no help,
but another seven came on the river.
So if either of them had a seven in his hands, then my name is Oliver
but I got lucky. Right after I pushed the
remainder of my chips in, the other guy said, "Dammit,
you got me." He was bluffing the whole time.
Whew! And even better than whew, I was sitting
there with over $600
in front of me.
As fun as it is to play poker, it's even more fun when you're playing
with someone else's money.
Just then a cocktail waitress asked if I needed anything, and it's so
hard to get them to remember
the names of fine tequilas, but they know what "Jack" is, so
I ordered a double shot of that.
As fun as it is to play poker, it's even more fun when you're playing
with someone else's money,
but playing with a slight whiskey buzz is even funner. She came
back with my double shot, I wolfed it down
in front of the others to intimidate them - not sure why but that works
- and I tipped the waitress a dollar,
the customary Vegas tip from the non-rich.
Hey, double shots of Jack for a dollar?
Delivered to you by a pretty girl while you gamble with the money of
I could get used to this.
No wonder Las Vegas gets 40 million visitors a year.
So I continued with my evil gambling, occasionally ordering another
double shot of Jack and watching
my stack dwindle down slowly. I was having a lot of fun
playing poker when I see this guy walk by...
He's an actor named Jason Dohring.
He played the 400 year-old vampire on CBS's Moonlight, which
we liked but CBS killed it
because they couldn't find an audience that likes watching beautiful
and wealthy vampires partying.
but the vampire movie Twilight was the biggest hit at Sunday's
MTV Awards - way to go, CBS.
Oh, and he also spent three years kissing this woman on Veronica
Dohring was the only non-poker celebrity I saw all weekend, besides
So I kept playing and I kept watching the size of my shrinking stack.
I was determined to leave a winner because I was going to sit sown
other poker players the next day and I wanted to build up a little
Oddly, some dude next to me said, "We have
to losen up that big stack," so he gave
a few dollars to the waitress and told her, "Bring
him (meaning me)
a triple shot of Jack."
In Las Vegas, if you hand somebody the right amount of money they'll
do anything you ask, and soon
that waitress was back - with TWO plastic cups. One cup had -
seriously - about six ounces of Jack
and the other cup was Jack on the rocks, full to the top. She
asked me which one I wanted. I knew I
was about done playing, so I grabbed the cup that didn't have all that
distracting ice in it and my friend
took the other so we toasted to free Jack Daniels and Bart's big stack.
I knew I'd have fun at the WSOP.
When my stack got to about half its size, I grabbed and loaded a rack
with chips and headed out.
I left with $307 and a good buzz from those shots and cups of Jack
- not too shabby.
So I start the two-mile journey back to the elevators and I see a man
walking in front of me.
Remember back in New York, I was inside the Ed Sullivan theater and
I noticed the man walking
in front of me was Biff Henderson? I could tell by the shape
of the back of his head it was him
and this time I knew I was looking at the back of the head of poker
Sidebar: That link says Ted has a current rank of 457.
Horseshit! I seriously doubt there are 456 poker players better than Ted
I doubt there are 56 players better than Ted Forrest.
Ted had just kissed his wife-girlfriend goodbye and he and I were walking
direction so I had him cornered and he really had no choice but to
speak to me :)
I gave him my card and as we walked he said he was an Obama fan and
I told him he might like bartcop.com Then I asked him if any of the big boys were playing in that piddlin'
$1000 entry tournament the next day and
Ted said he was sure some big players would be there, but he was still
alive in that Special Commemorative 40th Anniversary $40,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold 'Em Tournament
so he wouldn't be there.
I figured I'd tortured him enough, so I let him go.
In one day, I saw or met dozens of the top poker players in the
world. It's easier to name those
I didn't see - including Daniel Negreanu, Sammy Farha and the
great Gabe Kaplan. I would've
enjoyed telling Gabe that I think he's the best poker announcer and
analyst I've ever seen.
But now it was time to get some sleep so I'd be sharp at noon the next
but I had some of the most fun ever thanks to you generous readers.
Look for the World Series of Poker 2009 Trip Report Part 2 tomorrow.
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