The world's largest poker room starts in a cavernous open space that previously held a multitude of trade shows or conventions. As you walk from the casino to the convention ballrooms, a Rio ballroom is holding the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry and Watch Show.
At 4:00PM Thursday, the Rio was still a long way from being ready to hold the $5k LHE/NLHE Mixed Event #1. Harrah's executives, ESPN cameramen, random dealers, Rio officials, and contractors criss-crossed the floor like a disturbed fire ant bed, each drone with a little piece of the big plan to get things ready. 50" Panasonic Plasma Screens sat in boxes waiting to be hung. Signage was frantically being prepared to direct the anticipated masses. Tables were in place with their new felt marked with PartyPoker.net and Milwaukee's Best Light welcoming Planters as a new logo on the felt.
A few notables snuck in to take it in before Friday's kickoff. Johnny Chan wondered through the construction zone then chatted in the hall with WSOP Director of Communication and Operations Gary Thompson. Earlier, David Sklansky and Brandi Hawbaker walked down the long corridor out of the Rio, headed back to more work in preparation of the upcoming events.
The Wall of Champions was lifted from Binion's, with massive graphics of each Main Event Champion lining the top of the walls. Any player needing a dose of motivation need only to gaze at the champions staring down from above: Doyle Brunson, Stu Ungar, Johnny Chan, and Chris Moneymaker joined by their fellow legends of poker.
A new stage for the Final Tables was being completed, a swank set befitting this elite event. Quickly walk outside and the Poker Kitchen has been replaced with a high-performance tent. Tables 81-141 were waiting inside for the big field events, expanding the capacity of the Rio as well as beefing up the satellite and cash game areas inside the main room. A special four-table high-stakes section will host the biggest games at the Rio; not exactly Bobby's Room at the Bellagio, but massive pots will be pushed around.
The 2007 World Series of Poker begins at noon on Friday, whether the room is ready or not. The paint may not be dry, but the players will be ready to settle into their chairs in what will be an unpredictable seven weeks of poker.
Photos from Gene Blomberg.