If there were no fans sitting on the sidelines and cheering the players on, would poker even be shown on television? The viewers are what make the WSOP what it is today. I get a huge smile on my face when I see a supportive fan cheering on their favorite player. When I see a chair pulled up as close to the rope as the floor will allow, I know that this is a person in it for the long haul.
When I got off work and trekked over to the Rio, I was a little confused when I saw an almost empty tournament area. The Ladies Event was behind the iron curtain, the shootout event was on break, and the satellite area wasn't even crowded. I walked through the aisles freely and was immediately drawn to two beautiful ladies sitting behind the ropes, chairs pulled up close as each watched someone they'd traveled along way to be with.
The final table of the $5k LH (Event 18) was going strong with only three players left. Jennifer O'Donnell was watching intently as William Thorson raked in a huge pot, and she had an excited smile on her face. She flew in from Scottsdale, Arizona just to watch William play in this event. Maybe her presence is just what he needs to win his first bracelet. Thorson placed 13th last year in the Main Event. "He really wants to win this!" she said. She's a little nervous yet very excited. When this event is over, she's going back home. What a great friend! Jennifer's no stranger to poker and enjoys playing herself. Her father, Kevin O'Donnell, has been playing for years. He's not quite as good as William as he only finished 21st in last year's Main Event!
Jennifer flies back to Scottsdale tomorrow morning, but today she gets to watch history being made in the Amazon Room from behind the ropes.
A few tables over, I spied another beauty watching on the sidelines as her boyfriend was playing in the $2.5k NLH (Event 19). They were down to three tables, and a large crowd was forming to watch Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, John Phan, and Humberto Brenes. When the ten minute break was announced, I scooted my way in to talk to one of the railbirds.
Kelli Tonkin (right) was there not to see "The Mouth", but instead to support her boyfriend, John Roveto. She was glowing and it was easy for me to see why John would want her there to cheer him on. They both came out from Atlanta and although she doesn't play, she loves being in Vegas. "What's not to love?" she says. With the shopping at Planet Hollywood and The Fashion Show mall and of course the blackjack, she finds plenty of ways to keep busy during the downtime.
Back in Atlanta, she's in the casino business, she works as a casino host and is involved with player development and marketing for Casino Junket Club . She loves her job organizing excursions to casinos for her customers, and this is her second year traveling with John to Las Vegas for the duration of the WSOP. If things keep going this way, I think we'll be seeing a lot of Kelli here at the Rio because she's definitely in it for the long haul!