The World Series of Poker has been going on since May 28, with a series of bracelet events, satellites and cash games filling the Amazon and Pavilion ballrooms at the Rio hotel-casino, but the action really got under way at noon July 5, with the start of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold ’em Main Event.
For a game that’s all about the money, poker players are surprisingly aware that some things transcend the chips. When they each paid the $10,000 buy-in, 7,319 players anted up for their chance at a $68.7 million prize pool, but they’re also making a run for the record books.
“This is your chance to make poker history,” tournament director Jack Effel reminded the 1,125 waiting players just before 2004 champion Greg Raymer gave the traditional invocation, “Shuffle up and deal,” kicking off the game.
Making history takes time—it will take nearly two weeks to whittle the contestants down to nine players, who will then play the final table in November—and the chances of making it, even for great players, are slim.
So what about those players who don’t have a shot at walking into history this November? The ones who gambled early and gambled big but came up short?
The first player busted out after little more than a half-hour, and didn’t care to share his feelings about his quick exit.
Peter Turmezey, a 24-year-old professional player from Budapest, Hungary, lasted longer, but in the end the results were the same: His $10,000 bought him just 74 minutes of poker action.
Turmezey isn’t a bad player by any stretch of the imagination. He makes his living playing the game, mostly under the screen names “Twirlpro” at pokerstars.com and “Breeth” at fulltiltpoker.com, two popular online poker sites. He cashed in two of the 19 events he entered in this year’s WSOP, no mean feat.
That he was playing in the world’s biggest game, a tournament that has cemented legacies and made stars, didn’t faze the youthful pro.
“I was just playing my game,” Turmezey says. “I didn’t want to be more conservative. … I just played my usual—very aggressive.”
Still, he was aware that there was more than chips on the line.
“It’s really important to me,” he says when asked how he felt about playing in the Main Event. “You can’t just play for the money. This game is about more than that.”
In the end, it all hinged on a judgment call. Dealt a pair of 10s, he and two other players stayed for the flop, when queen/10/seven came down. With three of a kind, Turmezey bet $1,000, while one of the players folded and the other called his raise. Seeing a possible flush draw on the river card, a five, Turmezey played it cautious, checking. If the other player had raised instead of also checking, Turmezey might have folded. Instead, he bet $7,500 after the final card, a five, was dealt. His opponent went all-in, and Turmezey called, also pushing all of his chips in.
When his opponent turned over cards that gave him a king-high flush, it was all over. But such is high-stakes poker on the world’s biggest stage.
This was Turmezey’s second visit to Las Vegas to compete in the WSOP, though last year he didn’t chance the Main Event. Despite his early exit this year, he has no regrets.
“I love this game,” he says. When evaluating his performance in this year’s tournament—two cashes, but a quick exit in the big one—he stressed the positive. “I feel good about it,” he says. “I really liked coming out here to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker. It was a good step for me.”
Turmezey can take some solace in the fact that, just by playing, he’s put himself into an elite class.
“You are already a winner,” Effel told players before the game started, an hour and 15 minutes before Turmezey’s fateful big raise. “Out of 100 million poker players in the world, you’re the best one-hundredth of 1 percent.” It’s an important message at a tournament where only 10 percent of entrants finish in the money.
Turmezey still has plenty of poker left in him, and he’s not discouraged. After all, if the cards go his way, he might be wearing a World Series of Poker bracelet someday soon.
“I’ll be back next year,” he says with a smile. He won’t be the only one.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.