If there was ever a time to use quotes from the Gladiator before the start of a poker tournament, it was today.
Executive Director of the World Series of Poker, Ty Stewart, stated "What we do in life, echoes in eternity," from the stage on the Brasilia room, flanked by patrons dressed up as Roman warriors. Other quotes were used in rapid succession, and the only thing that was kind of a letdown was the fact that Stewart wasn't holding a sword of his own.
After both Stewart and Jack Effel said what needed to be said, one of the warriors stepped forward and bawled, "Shuffle up and kill ...I mean deal!" off the top of his lungs just moments after the clock showed 10 a.m PT.
Chills ran wild across the Rio on the arms of thousands upon thousands of poker players, as they started firing off their figurative arrows of fire in the form of poker chips. The battle for poker immortality had commenced.
While the tables were jam-packed across all possible areas inside the Rio, the hallways cleared out rapidly. Players found their seats quickly, and if you weren't aware that everyone played in the same event, there might as well have been a $1,500 event in Brasilia and a Daily Deep Stack in the Pavillion room.
Smooth, that is the best word for how things were running right from the start, and that is worth a compliment of its own. Table talk could be overheard at almost every table, as predictions about the total field size were the hot topic during the first level.
Even the high-stakes cash-game area in the Pavillion room, blocked off by thick black barriers, was in use from the start. This compact group of tables, which usually sees final-table payout-like pots exchange hands, accommodated people from all walks of life who usually stand on the rail watching while some of the greats battle for the big money.
As we made our way through the Pavillion room some familiar faces were spotted including 2009 WSOP Main Event finalist Dennis Philips, Jimmy Fricke, and Joe Kuether. While the amateurs seemed talkative, nervous and perhaps a little too antsy to play, the pros looked all business, focused and determined to not have to fire four bullets into this event.
The hallway leading us to Buzios was busy, the line at Hash House a Go-Go was long and winding, and some players were still waiting for their coffee at Starbucks before taking their seat in the tournament.
In the area in front of Buzios, which is only in use during extremely busy situations, we spotted a great poker champion in 2004 WSOP Main Event winner Greg Raymer, who's arguably seen it all.
"Even though this place is jammed full, Binion's was way more cramped back in 2004," Raymer said about the feeling inside the Rio today.
Raymer, arguably still one of the most recognizable faces for poker fans, was kind enough to give us his take on the atmosphere between hands.
"The excitement is always there for the World Series, and I think the big difference today is that there are so many first timers," he said. "Back in 2004 there were also a lot of first-timers, even though that was for the Main Event. There is always extra excitement when it's your first time."
"This is going to be a strange day," Raymer smiled, as he folded pocket jacks when his raise created a stir of action that resulted in two all-in players. "I had jacks," he admitted to the table, as a player with ace-king was all in for his tournament life against another's pocket queens.
"I was a better opponent for your hand," Raymer said to the anxious gentleman holding the two ladies after he saw an ace appear on the flop.
But then, the players at the table let out a collective "Aaaah!" when a queen appeared on the river, and with that one player snapped out of his dream of winning a million dollars.
"Good game, man," a gentleman wearing a cowboy hat consoled, as others were still in shock over the rivered set that had just turned things around.
After things settled down from the hand, Raymer carried on.
"The atmosphere and amount of poker fans are quite similar now, compared to the Main Event," he said. "The big difference is that during the Main Event most of the fans are on the rail, right now they are all playing."
Giving the biggest poker fans in the world their moment in the spotlight once a year in an event with this buy-in and payout is one of the best ideas the World Series has ever come up with, as the fans are a big part of what has made poker into the game it is today. The road to the Colosseum of poker, the ESPN main stage, is long and treacherous, but in this poker game at least we're guaranteed that nine gladiators will make it there. They'll have battled long and hard to get there, fending off fierce competition along the way, and we're excited to see which warrior will be left standing victorious when the fighting stops.
*This article was written while listening to the soundtrack of Gladiator.