One of the problems of being a poker player in Las Vegas during the World Series Of Poker is that, if you’re not playing tournaments but sticking to cash games, the waiting lists can get very long. That’s particularly the case over the weekends, when the WSOP runs tournaments that draw over 10,000 players. The long lists aren’t just a problem at the Rio, where the WSOP takes place, but at every other poker room in town. It’s not unusual to check the Bravo Poker app (which all the casinos use) and find that forty, fifty, sixty, seventy or more players are waiting to get into a game — and that’s just at one stakes level. All the others will have similar lists, which can mean waiting two hours or more.
This year, I thought I’d be smart. Instead of fighting the crowds in the afternoon and evening, I’d play first thing in the morning! In fact, if I got there early enough, I could catch some of the exhausted losers who had been there all night and were sticking around in the hopes of getting it all back before finally traipsing off to bed. On my second morning there, I woke up (without an alarm) around 5am, and decided to put my plan into action. I checked Bravo to see if any of the games I wanted to play were running at the Rio, where I was staying, but they weren’t. Next, I checked Bellagio, which showed two tables of 5-10 no-limit-hold-em, with no one on the list. I called to reserve a seat, quickly took a shower, dressed, and trekked over.
The sun was just coming up, so it wasn’t hot yet, and a beautiful sunrise accompanied my 15-minute walk. I walked into the Bellagio poker room at 6am and got a seat immediately. Sure enough, one of the guys had played all night, and another was approaching his 24th consecutive hour at the table. Needless to say, it was a juicy game.
I usually only play 3-4 hour sessions, but I stretched this one past five hours before calling it quits. I went next door to the Cosmopolitan for my obligatory stop at Secret Pizza, home of the best white pizza in the world, then began the walk back. By this time, the sidewalks were packed with people and the temperature had swelled to a hundred degrees, so it took me more than a half hour to reach the Rio. I was wiped out and sweat-covered when I returned to my room, so I took another shower, then plopped on the bed for a couple of hours.
The problem was that, when I woke up, there was nowhere to go. Every poker room I checked on Bravo had dozens of players on every list. I texted a couple of friends who I thought were in town, but they weren’t gonna be there till the following week, so I went off to have dinner, then streamed a couple of episodes of “Deadwood” in my room. Around 10pm, I checked Bravo again, and it looked like I could get into a 5-10-25 PLO game at the Rio. I walked down the long hallway to the WSOP cash games area, got a seat immediately, and ended up playing until 3am.
By this point, I’d thrown my body clock completely out of whack. So much for the early-morning plan, which is hard to implement when you play a late-night session. For the rest of my stay, I stuck to mostly daytime hours, and was able to get into that PLO game at Rio without long waits. I mixed in some no-limit-hold-em at Caesar’s Palace and Aria, too.
When the week was over, though, I came to the conclusion that this was probably my last time at the WSOP. I don’t want to have to work that hard to find an open seat in a decent game, not to mention fighting the crowds of people standing around telling bad beat stories about how they were knocked out of one tournament or another (let me guess: your opponent got you on the river?). I’ve been going year after year for a long time and, as a non-tournament player, the excitement of being there has worn off.
Besides, there was a time when the WSOP attracted a huge amount of bad players. I’m no shark, but it was a lot easier to win when there were so many fish. Now, though, the quality of play — in the cash games — has evened out or perhaps improved on the whole, and who wants to play against so many good players who rarely make mistakes?
While I was there, I heard several people talking about how this might be the last time the Rio hosted the WSOP. The rumor mill says Caesar’s Entertainment is trying to sell it off, perhaps to become the venue for a new major league baseball or soccer team. If that’s the case, I’m not sure which other property in Vegas would become the new home of the WSOP (Planet Hollywood? Caesar’s Palace? The new convention center Caesar’s is building behind The Linq?), but I sure won’t miss the Rio one bit. Whether or not it has the For Sale sign out, the parent company hasn’t been doing much upkeep. In my hotel room, the carpet threads were showing through, the wallpaper was peeling in several places, and the door lock had a mind of its own.
Even if I do go back to the WSOP in a few years, I’ll happily say good riddance to the Rio — even if it’s first thing in the morning.