Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Welcome to the Psychedelic Circus

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

I love a spectacle.

"This is the day of the freak show," muttered my French colleague, Benjo, as he angrily pecked away at his keyboard. "We have the crazy Indian, the Devil who scares the fuck out of Otis, and Phil Hellmuth."

The circus descended upon Las Vegas on a Sunday. Dreamers. Entrepreneurs. Politicians. Disaster capitalists. Brainwashed masses. Even a couple of animals or two filed into the Rio for the greatest show on Earth. The only thing missing was a glint of lysergic acid diethylamide to transform the surreal into the real.

It's hard to explain my specific role to my friends outside of poker who ask me about the daily grind as a poker writer. I mean, my life seems very normal to everyone in the poker industry... I travel the world watching people gamble large sums of money and write about it. That's pretty much it.

But outside of poker, my friends think we live in this glamorous universe with rainbows and strippers where everyone is richer than God. How do I explain to my friends what happened on Sunday? That I waited for thirty minutes with a rabid menagerie of fans and international media for a performance of epic proportions as a grown man, a professional at the top of his field, carried into a convention center by four other half-naked men, while a cavalcade of eleven women in body paint trailed behind while the hallway was adorned with one hundred scantily clad women who clapped at the one and only Phil Hellmuth's stately entrance.

Phil Hellmuth as Julius Caesar? That was the crux of the gauche publicity stunt by the heart of Hellmuth's UB machine. But let's not forget history... the almighty Caesar was stabbed to death by his colleagues.

Photo by Benjo

In the last few years, I've seen Hellmuth enter the Amazon Ballroom in many diverse forms, which demonstrated the gigantic size of his ego along with his showmanship ability. After all, poker is not a sport, rather it is sports entertainment.

Hellmuth was once flanked by bodyguards upon his arrival inside the Amazon Ballroom. To out do that gimmick, he arrived in a stretch limo and greeted by ESPN cameras.

The next year? He crashed a UB race car. That PR gaffe sorta fell apart the day before when Hellmuth rammed a race car into a pole in the parking lot, but Hellmuth arrived the next day very stiff and looking like a Nascar driver with eleven models (representing all 11 bracelets that he had won).

And last year? Hellmuth arrived in a military convoy as he went for the General Patton look with models decked out in camouflage. The Caesar spectacle was his latest attempt to signal out his greatest (while subtly drawing attention to UB) as his entrances to the Main Event grew more and more theatrical, so much so that it became the story of the day in what has been a lackluster WSOP.

What's going to happen next year? Maybe Hellmuth's entrance will be coordinated by Michael Bay and he'll skydive onto the roof and crash through one of the ceiling panels... with eleven models following behind and lots of explosions, of course.

I wandered out into the densely packed hallway and watched almost one hundred leggy models line up. I actually counted seventy-two. Anyway, they wore tight white dresses with UB patches. Even the skanks were logo'd up. The models each stood arms length and awaited the arrival of God's Greatest Gift to Poker.

Security guards pushed back the surging media, ogling spectators, and citizen paparazzi trying to capture a digital image or video of Hellmuth dressed like an extra from the porno version of Ben-Hur called... Bend-Hur Over.

Most of the crowd was comprised of Hellmuth haters and people wanted to see how high on Douchebag Meter would Hellmuth's stunt would register. While conversely, eager fans camped out for hours for a perfect viewing spot as they anticipated the first glimpse of Hellmuth.

One lady was so confused that she thought the grand entrance was set up for Phil Ivey. I politely corrected her and told her that a low profile guy like Ivey usually snuck in the back door.

"This extravaganza was all set up to promote the greatest living hold'em player of all time... Phil Hellmuth," I assured her.

"Oh? That asshole?" she snickered and walked off elbowing one of the models.

Hellmuth made his way down the hallway and the area plunged into mayhem. One guy played a trumpet and another banged on a drum to signal Hellmuth's grandiose arrival just in case the flurry of cameras and cannibals in the media didn't tip you off. I snagged a few photos and listened to the chatter among the jaded fans and disgruntled members of the press. Some of the models had no idea who Phil Hellmuth was, let alone what a poker tournament was. They're just on an assignment and turning a trick like the rest of us.

Hellmuth eventually took the secondary stage amidst an avalanche of flashes from fans' cameras. An ESPN film crew captured his every move as he took he seat. Someone in the crowd screamed, "Idiot!"

All of that happened inside of an hour. So when my friends ask me what I do for work, how do I explain that spectacle?

"I work in the circus. You know the guy who stands behind the elephants and cleans up all the shit? Well, I'm the guy who glistens up the turd and helps pass it off as entertainment."

* * * * *

Here's the RawVegas video of Hellmuth being Hellmuth...

Thanks to the hombres at Wicked Chops Poker.

This post originally appeared on Tao of Poker.

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