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Top-10 reasons to attend the World Series of Poker

21 Jul 2008

After returning from 15 days of covering the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, the Casino City editorial team earned a much greater appreciation for just how unique the event is in comparison to anything else we've been asked to cover. And as a poker fan, there's no better way to get a true sense as to what the WSOP is all about than by simply flying to Las Vegas and seeing it up-close and personal.

So, if you've always planned on attending the WSOP, but just never got around to committing yourself (or couldn't get permission from the wife), we present our Top-10 reasons for attending the World Series of Poker. Here's hoping that after you read this list you immediately start booking your trip for next year.

See you at the Rio in 2009!

10. The Hooker Bar
The main floor at the Rio is a seven-minute walk (unless you walk like Chris Ferguson, in which case it's just four minutes) from the Amazon Room in the Rio's convention space, where the World Series of Poker is played. And just where the hall to the convention meets the casino floor, there sits a bar where working girls sit en masse, playing video poker and waiting for the field to finish for the night. As the first players emerge from the long walk up to the bar, the women of the night spring into action, looking for players in a celebratory mood or in need of some hourly comfort. While the women who were lucky enough to secure seats at the bar get to work, the hookers who deposited themselves at the nearby slots -- but didn't play -- are being rousted by Rio security and asked to leave. The ritual replays itself each night at the WSOP, and is something every WSOP spectator needs to see once -- just so you can keep telling stories about it for the next five years.

9. Weird prop bets
Weird things, like human bowling balls knocking down giant Milwaukee's Best Light cans, just spontaneously happen at the WSOP thanks to interesting prop bets.

8. It's free (and there's really cheap beer)

The World Series of Poker is the unquestioned premiere event in all of poker. Yet, after booking your flight and hotel, it won't cost you a penny to actually attend the event. Tickets are not scalped online or outside the ballroom for ludicrous amounts of dollars. In fact, you don't even need a ticket to get in. Simply show up, stand in line and once you enter the room you will be able to stay as long as you would like and you get to see the best poker players in the world ply their trade. Try doing that at baseball's World Series this year. If you're interested in drinking and watching poker, the best place to do it is at the Milwaukee's Best Light No Limit Lounge. A Milwaukee's Best Light costs $2.50, which is easily the best bargain in Vegas -- even if it is Milwaukee's Best Light. And you can keep an eye both featured tables at the lounge, just in case Phil Hellmuth decides to berate someone.

7. Vegas, baby!
One of the best things about the World Series of Poker Main Event is that it's in Las Vegas. So if you get tired of taking in the action on the felt, you can head out and watch boxing and ultimate fighting prize fights, visit the lions at MGM, take in a show or two and eat at some of the best restaurants in the country. Oh yeah, you can gamble too.

6. Poker without hole cams
Most poker fans have grown accustomed to seeing everyone's hole cards on television. That's what lends a sense of drama to every decision that's being made. But when you're watching the game live at the World Series, you can't see the hole cards. You can only see the players. So you find yourself reading the board and guessing what cards they might be playing with. And you're hoping that the players will reveal their hands at the end (some do, even if there isn't a showdown) just to see if you were right. It is a refreshing way to watch poker. And it makes you appreciate just how much seeing the hole cards on TV changes the experience.

5. Meet Norman Chad
When you meet a celebrity in person, there's always the fear that this person will not live up to the expectations that have been set in your mind. For poker fans, Norman Chad does not disappoint. Like ESPN's lead announcer Lon McEachern , Chad, the hysterical color man on the broadcasts, is a looming figure each and every day at the WSOP. He roams the floor for hours, taking notes, looking for storylines and talking to fans. When he does talk to the fans, it's not your general chit-chat. It wasn't unusual to see Chad spend in excess of 10 minutes speaking with the same group of spectators along the rail. And while he's doing it, the fans are more often than not keeled over in laughter. Chad could easily avoid the fans by staying off the rail and remaining deep in the interior of the room where the general public isn't allowed to walk. But Chad, who is as popular and well-recognized with the fans than any of the top players, proved that he's a man of the people and that he's just as funny in person and unscripted as he is while on the air or in his weekly syndicated newspaper column.

4. Bubble bursting
By far, the most dramatic moments of the 2008 WSOP came on Thursday evening, July 10 in the closing moments of Day 4 of the Main Event. This year's field of 6,844 was the second-largest in Main Event history. It also meant that the top 666 players (insert your own Satan joke here) would cash. When Level 4 began that night, it was just after dinner and there were 733 players remaining. When the number got to 675, hand-for-hand play began, meaning each of the 75 tables in action would deal one hand at a time. When that hand was over, the dealer would stop dealing and stand up and wait of instructions. When an "All-in call" was made, ESPN cameras and producers as well as half the room would rush over to the table to see if another player would fall. It took nearly two hours to deal seven pressure-packed hands and when the magic 666 number was reached the remaining players cheered loudly, knowing that at the very least they would be going home with the $21,230 prize that goes to the 666th-place finisher. As far as suspense and theatrics go, this was as about as intense as you can get.

3. Poker banter at the table
ESPN does a pretty thorough job of catching a lot of the back and forth between players at the tables during its coverage, but you can bet that they leave a lot of great stuff on the cutting room floor due to time constraints. Fans are able to literally stand a few feet away from the tables that line the main aisle and getting to hear the players talk to each other (or in Phil Hellmuth's case, berate his tablemates ) is quite entertaining. You also get to see the players' true emotions when you're standing right next to the table. After a bad beat, there's nowhere to hide for these players and, more often than not, you'll see their true colors shine through.

2. A chance to meet and interact with the players
One of the more refreshing attributes that you can tag on nearly every "big name" poker player is that they all seem to realize that they are fortunate to be playing poker in an era where it has earned a cult-following status. Poker is the third most-popular sporting event to watch on TV behind football and NASCAR. And the players all realize that if they play their cards right (apologies for the pun) they can make just as much – if not more – money away from the tables as they can playing poker, via books, videos and other assorted appearances. So, in general, all of the players are more than hospitable with their fans. They'll sign everything and anything, they'll pose for pictures and, of course, talk poker with their fans. The players are also quite accessible since they are required to get up and leave the Amazon Room every two hours for breaks. One day, we saw Gus Hansen making the 15-foot walk across the hallway from the exclusive player's suite to the Amazon Room after a break and get asked to stop and pose for a picture no less than six times. In each instance he did so with a smile on his face, even though he was already a bit late getting back to his table. Another example: When someone asked Jerry Yang for his autograph, last year's Main Event champ didn't simply scribble his name and move on. He asked who the autograph was for and then made it out to that person. Under his autograph, he wrote "Play to Win" and "2007 WSOP Main Event Champ."

1. The Amazon Room
It doesn't matter how many hours of ESPN coverage you have watched from your living room. Until you actually step foot into the Amazon Room at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino and actually see with your own eyes the spectacle that is the World Series of Poker, you have no idea exactly what the atmosphere is like in the room. While other ballrooms at the Rio are used throughout the WSOP, the Amazon is where you'll find most of the action. It's where the "Shuffle Up and Deal" is announced before the start of the Main Event. It's where the ESPN TV tables and Milwaukee's Best Light No-Limit Lounge is located. It's where you'll find the striking banners of each former champion of the Main Event prominently hanging on the walls. It's where you'll find more than 150 tables of tournament poker going on at once, while in a separate corner you'll see a host of cash games being played. Quite simply, this is the WSOP nerve center and when the action is fast and furious – like it tends to be on a regular basis during the six weeks that make up the Series – the chaotic, yet festive, environment is like nothing else you will ever experience in your life.

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