The Legend of the Main Event

The Legend of the Main Event

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Nick Wealthall on WSOP magic.

“They should have sent a poet.”

This is what Jodie Foster said in the celluloid dumpster fire that is Contact when she went through a wormhole and gazed up the celestial carpet laid out before her.

The problem is, she stole it off me. I used the exact same words the first time I played the World Series of Poker!

In case you didn't know, the Main Event is kind of a big deal. It always was and it still is, and if anyone tells you differently they’re just trying to look cool and frankly you should tell them to stop boring everyone. The Main Event is the nuts; it’s where the word ‘nuts’ come from. If you look up a in a poker glossary of terms the word ‘nuts’ it says ‘the Main Event. Duh.’*

(*Okay, it doesn’t. It says some bollocks about nuts on a wagon being bet, which is clearly made up.)

As I write this, I’m a few weeks away from playing it for the third time. As you read it, I’ll be in the process of recruiting the world’s best coaches to help me manage my middle-sized stack in the November Nine. (This is tactical; being the chip leader comes with too much pressure. You have to be smart, people!)

The Main Event is very special to me. Years ago, I was more captivated by the Main Event than anything else I’d ever encountered on this planet. The idea of the very best players in the world coming together, paying an unfathomable amount of money, and then staring into each other’s souls to determine who owned poker was the single coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

I aspired to play in it for years, following it from afar, always completely enthralled. This had a very practical impact. Including one year telling my girlfriend at the time I couldn’t help her move flat because the Main Event was on the night before, and I’d be following it until sunrise. She challenged my choice and I may have uttered the words, ‘Sorry, but it’s more important to me.’ I meant more important than moving her flat but she heard than you… I can’t imagine how I’ve struggled to hold down a relationship.

You have to understand that when I was in my early twenties, poker was my escape from a corporate job I hated. The Main Event was the ultimate expression of that. Some people dream of desert islands; I dreamt of dark green felt in Las Vegas, and the Main Event. The funny thing is I didn’t even dream of winning it – just playing in it would have meant everything.

The irony is, when I got into poker full time I didn’t play it. For years, I didn’t even try to play it. The superficial reasons were my somewhat lacking bankroll (it was harder to sell action way back when), and mainly that I played cash, not tournaments. I suspect that if you went deeper into my psyche – and God help you if you did – it had become too big of a thing for me. Like you never actually try the career you’d love in case it lets you down, or you hate it or suck at it. What if the Main Event was just another tournament? What if I played horribly? Or both!

Getting way too deep into poker as a player and a broadcaster has slowly de-mystified it for me, and the Main Event was the only piece of magic left.

Eventually I played it of course; twice. The first year I made Day 2, but don’t think I played very well. There were a ton of spots I could have taken if glittery hand grenades weren’t going off in my head every 15 minutes, exploding in the letters ‘IT’S THE MAIN EVENT’ on my frontal lobe. The second time I went out in ridiculously painful fashion. I had a set, which is a pretty good hand in the ol' No Limit Hold'ems. But the other fella, well... he had a bigger set. The bit we’ll all look back and laugh about when I finally get over it (perhaps in another 30–40 years) was that I set him all in on the river, and he thought about it for roughly 38 minutes (okay, it was about three, but still).

At the time, I sat there eyeballing him, using all the old school techniques to get him to call with his, what had to be, two pair. He announced the magic words, ‘I call,’ I checked with him that he’d finally signed his own suicide note, and then far-too-triumphantly turned over my set. Before he turned over his bigger one.

I think I might have asked him what in the name of shitting pigeons he was thinking about for all that time, but mostly I was just in shock.

That stumble out of the Rio poker room after a Main Event bust out is not something you ever want to experience. It's like someone took all your dreams and flushed them down Teddy K.G.B’s drain before stomping on them and pointing and laughing. It’s as though the whole poker world has turned its back on you and carried on playing; you no longer exist. The Main Event has changed a lot over the years. For a start, it isn’t the world championship of anything, and the winner shouldn’t be called world champ. Main Event winner is cooler anyway – everyone knows what that is. When I first started watching it, $10k was a ridiculous amount of money. It still is a ridiculous amount of money in the real world, but our government's tendency to print more money when they feel like it has made it a lot less insane. It’s a bit like my Grandma, who used to give me a £5 gift voucher for my birthday. When I was 5 it was really generous – nowadays, the thought’s still there, but if it wasn’t for HMV bankruptcy sales I would barely be able to get a DVD.

But despite the changes, the increased field size, and the awarding of 429 bracelets a year and so on... it’s still pure magic.

If you don’t believe me, go and stand in the Amazon room at the start of a Day 1 and just feel the atmosphere. Up to 3,000 adults all wanting the same thing, all desperate with excitement, each one feeling like they did the night before Christmas. I promise you the magic gets so thick you could collect it and sell it on in bottles (and if you charge the Rio’s normal markup on its beverages then you’ll make millions).

I’m excited to say I’m playing the Main Event at the World Series of Poker this year, and when I sit down for Day 1 I can honestly say there’s not a single place in the world I’d rather be.

Tags: Nick Wealthall, WSOP Main Event, WSOP 2014, World Series of Poker Main Event