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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2009 | The Works

Electric Atmosphere Surrounded WSOP Final Table Playdown

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The media was allowed in to the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas before the fans. We passed throngs of people in the hallway near the entrance, as they sported shirts and hats indicative of who they were supporting at the table. The atmosphere was filled with excitement before the theater itself was even full, all in anticipation of the World Series of Poker 2009 Main Event final table.

Walking through the theater’s entryway and lobby, we were greeted by wall-to-ceiling banners showcasing all of the past WSOP Main Event winners, with Peter Eastgate’s image standing out most prominently as the reigning champion. Staff guided us toward the doors of the theater itself, and we entered with anticipation of witnessing the most exciting day of 2009 poker thus far.

The media section was divided, as some gathered in the orchestra section of the theater and others were located in press boxes overlooking the theater. The stage found the poker table at its center, with ESPN camera crews surrounding it and an elaborate lighting fixture attached to television screens above it. Seats were set up immediately around the table for immediate family and friends of the players, while the rest of the masses comprised the theater full of audience seats. With the entirely packed theater, not to mention a line of hundreds of people hoping for eventual entrance to the festivities as seats open up throughout the day and evening, the atmosphere was nothing but electric.

When seating was nearly complete, Tournament Director Jack Effel took to the stage to welcome the crowd and briefly take the opportunity to wish his wife a happy fourth wedding anniversary, and WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack took to the microphone to express condolences over the recent death of long-time poker player Hans “Tuna” Lund.

Official WSOP hostess Lacey Jones briefly interviewed 2008 WSOP Main Event final tablist Dennis Phillips and champion Peter Eastgate about their experiences, at which point Pollack regained control of the microphone to introduce WSOP Europe Main Event champion Barry Shulman. He officially awarded Shulman the bracelet and paused for a rendition of the United States national anthem to commemorate the victory.

Effel then returned to the spotlight to welcome the audience, deliver a few rules regarding courtesy, such as the request that audience members attempt to stay silent during actual hands, and proceeded to introduce each player, all of whom had vocal and excited fans and supporters in the audience. Each introduction was followed by enthusiastic cheers, some with practiced chants like “Begs! Begs! Begs!” for Begleiter and French songs for Saout. At the end of the introductions, Effel welcomed Peter Eastgate and Doyle Brunson to the stage, and the latter issued the “shuffle up and deal” command after a rousing standing ovation from the theater.

Play got underway slowly, and with predictably slow play for the first few hours, the audience members did what they could to keep themselves entertained. Several groups of fans sporadically broke into chants or songs, though it was clear through overhearing discussions in the Rio hallways during the first break that many friends and fans were somewhat discouraged at how uninteresting it can be to watch a poker tournament without seeing hole cards or consecutive all-in moves as seen on television.

Poker fans got their moments of excitement when some of the most famous poker players showed their faces. Many of them, like Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Howard Lederer, and Greg Raymer, were seated on the stage to watch the action, and Effel would announce their presence from time to time. People also took break-time to follow them down the hallways and ask for autographs, which the players in attendance always seem happy to give.

Autograph sessions were also set up with Doyle Brunson for the release of his new autobiography, which he was selling and signing in the Penn & Teller Theater lobby. Phil Hellmuth took the time earlier in the day to sign his book called “Deal Me In.” Both poker legends allowed pictures as well as autographs, much to the delight of many poker fans.

Many of the audience members also kept themselves entertained with drinks from the bar in the theater lobby. And as the alcohol flowed, some fans got rowdy, especially the younger crowd in the Cada section. Several of the fans became a bit overexcited during the fourth hour of play, and two of them were actually escorted from the theater by security guards. However, it should be said that the majority of the theater stayed positive, in good spirits, and fairly patient as the hours wore on and their chosen players moved ever closer to the $8.5 million first prize.

As the dinner break finally approached and players left with their particular groups of fans, more poker enthusiasts who had been waiting in hallway lines were allowed to take their seats and enjoy the action. Turnover in a crowd of people watching what can sometimes be a slow game was nothing but a good thing.

And on a day the poker community watched and waited to see which two players would make it to heads-up action, the Rio was particularly abuzz with excitement, from the bars to the restaurants to the Penn & Teller Theater.

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