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Main Event gives amateurs chance to brush with fame

9 Jul 2010

By Dan Igo
LAS VEGAS -- When Brian Wilke saw who was sitting to his left at the beginning of Day 1D of the World Series of Poker Main Event, he had a simple, two-word reaction.

"Oh s---."
Brian Wilke had the pleasure of feeling Phil Ivey

Brian Wilke had the pleasure of feeling Phil Ivey's stare during Day 1D. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Seated three chairs over from the Manitowoc, Wis. native was none other than Phil Ivey.

Few weekend duffers will ever have a chance to tee it up against Tiger Woods. Kobe Bryant won't be showing up during a pick-up game at the local YMCA. The average tennis player won't ever be able to trade serves with Roger Federer.

But at the WSOP Main Event, every entrant, for a measly $10,000, has a chance to go heads-up against a poker superstar or a famous celebrity. And that isn't always a good thing. Wilke believed Ivey being at his table and in position affected his play.

"I was just talking to one of my buddies actually and he said that you're probably mixing it up too much," he said. "You're playing way too many hands to try to impress him and make him think you can play or whatever. Which is true. I don't want him to bully me around but I'm just dumping chips at the same time, which is not good."

Wilke might have dumped too many chips because he was short-stacked heading into the second break. He was eliminated (not by Ivey) when his pocket fours couldn't crack pocket kings later in the second level.

Tom Busby of Arlington Heights, Ill. was lucky enough to square off against a famous celebrity who wasn't the best player in poker. The Seinfeld fan competed at the same table with George Costanza, a.k.a. Jason Alexander.

"I thought it was great," he said. "It's cool to play with a celebrity."

Busby said Alexander cracked some jokes at the table, and the banter with all the players was loose. The ESPN cameras were around from time to time, but Busby said the fact they weren't always there was beneficial for the whole table and for Alexander.

"I actually thought there would be a lot more attention," Busby said. "I thought (the cameras) would always be around trying to pick up everything (Alexander) says. But they're not like that. They're making their rounds. So I think that's good. It gives him the chance to be an everyday player and just play the game."
David Haiman (right) said sitting next to Joe Hachem was a "great experience."

David Haiman (right) said sitting next to Joe Hachem was a "great experience." (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Some amateurs, like New York City's David Haiman, cherish the attention that comes with playing with a famous professional. He was seated next to 2005 Main Event champion Joe Hachem.

During afternoon play Haiman stood up and looked for the cameras because he wanted "this to be the TV table." He said he relished playing next to Hachem.

"It was awesome," he said. "Just the attention and the TVs and stuff. I wasn't even going to play this tournament. Now I'm happy I did it. Even if I don't cash it's been a great experience."

And being able to talk shop with a WSOP gold bracelet winner made Haiman's experience even better.

"(Hachem) is an awesome guy," he said. "Everything everyone says about him is true."

Haiman's great experience lasted longer than Hachem's, because he was still alive after the dinner break and Hachem was not.

It's one thing to begin the day and see that you're at a table with a major pro. It's another thing to be moved to that type of table later in the day.

Chicago native Kenny Han began Day 1D at a table with relative unknowns. As the day progressed, his table was broken up and he was moved. He wasn't happy that seated across from him was former Main Event champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.

"I didn't like it. There are two pros sitting across from me and on my last table there were no pros," he said.

Being at the same table as an established pro also brings attention from fans, media and TV cameras.

"(The attention) might have affected my play, but the cameras are on Jesus Ferguson so I'm not going to be on TV, so it's all right," he said.

But when it came to fan, media and TV camera attention, Phil Ivey reigned supreme. The action around his table was busy all day, with fans stacked two and three deep on the rail. And every time Ivey would win a pot, a chant of "Ivey, Ivey, Ivey" broke out.

That didn't seem to affect Kenneth "Chilly" Williams of Jacksonville. Like Wilke, Williams was seated at Ivey's table. Unlike Wilke, Williams didn't bust out. Although he said he played shaky at the beginning of the day and was a little bit nervous, he had his own ace up his sleeve when it came to the fans.

"I got a little cheering section, too," he said. "They copied off when Phil won a hand so they would do the same thing (for me)."

His cheering section worked, because he finished the day with around 26,000 in chips. And one would think his table on Saturday would be a little less daunting than the one he faced Thursday.
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