Friday, September 14, 2007

The Biggest Game in Town

Editor's Note: This originally appeared on Tao of Poker.

I had hit the wall about a wall about one week into covering the WSOPE. That marked the fifth week on the arduous European adventure (Amsterdam, Stockholm, Barcelona, and London) and I was exhausted and mentally drained. Being in London made me homesick for New York City, more than I had ever been on the road over the last three years following the carnival-like atmosphere of tournament poker. I'm the type of person who lives in the moment, and rarely gets caught up with dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. However, when I woke up on Thursday, the last thing on my mind was being here. All I could think about was the day that I get to fly home to NYC.

When I walked past the Ladbrokes betting parlor on my way to the Empire Casino, my thoughts drifted to sitting on my brother's couch and watching NFL games. When I wandered past the tube station, I longed to be on a downtown #1 train. And when I shuffled into the casino past the bulky Eastern European security guard wearing a black suit, I had become comfortably numb and transformed into chipcounting zombie, right out of Shaun of the Dead.

The first few hours on Day 2b were a struggle for me. I was assigned the featured TV table, something completely different that previous assignments. That held my attention most of the time, but I kept eying the tournament clock. I couldn't wait for Day 2b to end.

That's when I ran out of juice on my laptop and had to return to the makeshift media row. Michael Craig wandered over and asked me if I could take dinner break earlier and join him and some other friends. I looked at the clock. I still had ninety minutes to go and had to decline.

"Too bad," Craig said in his distinct Midwestern accent. "Would you still like to meet Al Alvarez?"

I jumped out of my stool and gave him a look like, "Fuck yeah!"

We fought our way past the crowded rail and walked into the bar. I immediately recognized Tony Holden, author of Big Deal and Bigger Deal. That's when a group of people parted and I caught a glimpse of Al Alvarez, author of the most influential piece of poker, Las Vegas, and gambling literature, The Biggest Game in Town.

Michael Craig said something to the effect, "This is Pauly, one of the premiere poker writers in America."

I shook Alvarez's hand and was certainly pleased to introduce myself.

He said in a whispered tone, "I have heard about you."

Alvarez celebrated his 78th birthday last month and lumbered around with a cane. I was told later that his hearing is not the best these days so he probably said, "I can't hear you." Regardless, I stood in awe and began to sweat. Aside from the first week of the 2005 WSOP, I have not been geeked out about meeting anyone in poker. That initial bombardment of excitement had escaped me years ago. Yet, for the first time in very long time, I stood in the presence of three great writers of my genre... Alvarez, Holden, and Craig.

Their group shuffled off to the Asian restaurant and Tony Holden stayed behind for about five minutes to shoot the breeze with me. Mad Harper initially introduced me to Holden at the 2005 WSOP. We had a brief encounter but finally had a proper chat. Holden sipped a glass of wine with his dinner jacket slung around his shoulder, while I asked him a dozen questions. He was happy to answer each of them, despite the fact his friends were already seated at dinner. I wanted to know how long it took to write both of his books, which occurred twenty years apart. I asked him about the pressure of having to write something that was being anticipated by a flock of hungry vultures. It's not too often you get to chat with a high caliber writer such as Tony Holden, and I soaked up every minute. That's when I wished I had blown off work to join them for dinner instead.

Before we ended our conversation, Holden invited me to play poker with the writers on the Bigger Deal blog. I told him I couldn't wait. Then I excused myself to get back to covering the featured TV table with Daniel Negreanu. That's when he paid me the ultimate compliment. "I love your writing. Don't change a thing."

As I walked away, I did the Kirk Gibson trademarked fist pump, just like he did as he rounded the bases in the 1988 World Series after hitting a pinch-hit game winning homerun against Dennis Eckersley. That's the best way to describe how I felt. I started the day completely homesick and on work tilt. All of that vanished after bumping into Michael Craig.

As I walked over to the final table to get a chip count on Negreanu, I couldn't believe that I didn't have the balls to ask Alvarez if he ever gave Sylvia Plath a good rodgering.

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