Today is the first of six starting flights of the WSOP Main Event, the largest, most prestigious event in the poker world. For a $10k buy-in, anyone can join thousands of other contestants for a shot at an estimated $8M first place prize, and a place in the poker history books.
I can pick any one of the starting flights to play. I wake up well rested, with time to get a workout in. I decide today's as good a day as any to fire. Might as well get it out of the way, and I suspect today will be the smallest flight with the fewest pros to battle.
The energy is different at the Rio. Vendors in the hallway are shouting, "free seat to the Main Event." Satellite tournaments are running in the Pavilion, players making frantic attempts to secure a $10k entry.
I make my way to my table in the Amazon room, across the aisle from the featured table and makeshift TV studio. The 2021 Main Event champ, Damian Salas, opens up the event by saying a few words, ending with the iconic "shuffle up and deal."
Today's structure is nice and slow — a deep starting stack and two hour levels. My plan is to take it easy. I'll fold hands without robust equity, stab at small pots, and avoid any big confrontations. With this structure, I can practically fold my way to day 2.
As Parker says in The Way of the Gun, "A plan's just a list of things that don't happen."
I'm all-in for my tournament life in the first level.
At 100/200 blinds, a player in early position opens to 600, and the hijack 3-bets to 1.6k. The small blind calls, and from the big blind I look at KcKd. We've seen almost every pot up to this point multi-way, and I really don't want that to happen with this hand, especially out of position. I raise to 6.4k. The early position player folds, but the hijack and small blind call.
The flop is 9h4c3c, a great board for me. The small blind checks, and after thinking for moment I decide to check as well. As I'd hoped, the hijack makes a strong 7k bet. The small blind calls, and now there's 34k in the pot and I only have a little more than that left behind. I jam.
The hijack asks for a count and talks to himself for a couple minutes, in agony about the decision. I'm praying he has pocket queens, not aces. I wonder if his agony is just an act to induce the small blind to call also. But he reluctantly folds his hand, and I can relax a little.
The small blind instantly calls, and turns over pocket nines for top set. Damn.
I stand up, the first time I can remember doing so in an all-in situation before the river is dealt. I'm crushed, but pound the table toward him in congratulations. I hope for another king on the turn or river to jump ahead, but I know the odds are minuscule.
The turn is the 7 of clubs.
The river the queen of clubs. Runner runner clubs to give me a flush.
My opponent and I are stunned. The others at the table and the spectators on the rail erupt in chatter.
I rake in the massive pile of chips feeling grateful for the good luck.
Things continue to go my way for the next few hours. I win another large pot when I flop a set of threes, bringing me close to double a starting stack.
I'm moved to a new table after the dinner break. Players talk constantly, in sharp contrast to my previous table. A former owner of a New York card room tells stories about really went down with Molly Bloom from Molly’s Game. He casually mentions that in the aftermath he spent time inside on a Rico charge. Some pros trade gossip about the controversial Dan Bilzerian, and speculate about which Main Event champions held on to most of their money.
I stay somewhat steady for the first couple hours, but in the last level before we're done for the day, I'm faced with some tough spots.
I have to fold to a massive river bet when my flopped top pair and turned flush draw bricked. The big flop and turn bets took over a third of my stack.
Then I call a massive river bet with AQ on an ace-high dry board, only to be against AK. Now I'm down to half a starting stack.
I make it to the end of the night, and someone points out that John Cynn, the 2018 champion, ended day 1 with a quarter of a starting stack. That helps to put things in perspective. There's a lot of play left in the Main Event. I'll still have 35 big blinds — more than enough to room to maneuver to find some good spots.
And I'm lucky to have survived this far.
People I saw playing the Main Event in Squid Game outfits: 4