In recent years, the World Series of Poker has broadened the scope of its bracelet-event offerings, both in formats and price points. While the championship events and the high rollers draw the elite names, the fan interest and the coverage, the WSOP’s largest turnouts occur in the weekend events. Turnouts for some of these events easily surpass that of the Main Event. This year’s ongoing $400 NLH “Colossus” event, for example, drew 13,573 entries, and it could have been quite a bit more.
The Colossus, as with some of the WSOP’s other multi-flight weekend events, serves both as an entry-level offering and as a chance for bracelet glory and a huge payday on the cheap. Being such a huge event also creates administrative issues that the WSOP, even as fits more comfortably in its expanded home at Bally’s and Paris casinos, struggles to address. These huge events strain both the available space and manpower, with unscheduled delays and other curious happenings often the result. An opening-day flight can start early and stretch well into the night.
What’s it like to play in one of these events? A fortunate twist afforded me the chance to hop into Day 1A of the Colossus. I’ve covered hundreds and hundreds of WSOP events for various outlets over the years, including the WSOP itself. I’ve rarely played in bracelet events myself, usually just playing a few of the WSOP’s non-bracelet daily tourneys and a satellite or two each year. I don’t want to lock myself into a long multiple-day run when work awaits, but the split starting days and the extreme unlikelihood I’d run days deep in the Colossus make this an unusual opportunity. This feature isn’t about my play; if you want those details, there’s a bit of that at the bottom. Instead, this is about the Colossus experience. It’s fun, exhausting (but not too intense), and just a little bit crazy. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Delays, Part 1
Ah, the Friday morning mob scene. I’ve spent my summers at the WSOP more often than not over the past 20 years. I know what happens when the massive multi-flight events begin. It’s almost never smooth. The Covid pandemic has made things even worse by causing manpower shortages across the entire range of WSOP functions — dealers, floor staff, cashiers, payout workers, and more.
There’s an extra factor in play this morning as well. It’s also Day 2 of the Seniors event, where another 1,439 players remain, and they’re still well outside the money. Several other events are also continuing and must have table space reserved. Adding even more complexity is that both the Seniors restart and the Colossus Day 1A flight are scheduled to get underway at 10 a.m.
Planning to register that same morning? Forget about it. If you’re a WSOP newbie, one of the skills you must acquire quickly is learning when the longest registration lines occur, so as to avoid them. I know Friday morning is no good at all, so I register on Wednesday night. It’s still a 25-minute wait to live-register, which is about as short as it gets for the general registration line during prime hours, but it’s the right gamble.
The 25-minute wait turns out to be the least of it. If only the Colossus itself ran that smoothly. I’m in my seat at about 9:55, have checked in with the dealer and received my 40,000 starting stack, and then the TD is on the intercom, announcing that the Colossus start time is being delayed for, well, they’re not quite sure. So they ask all the Colossus entrants to leave the playing area, while the Seniors event does restart as scheduled.
That the Colossus will be a fight for space is already evident. I’m fortunate in having registered in advance and have a hard seat assignment in the Bally’s Grand Ballroom. Most of that room’s tables, however, are reserved for the Seniors, perhaps 80% of the room’s tables, all told. The largest share of the Colossus entrants that get to start at the start, so to speak, are a few hundred yards away, over in the elegant Paris ballroom. The non-bracelet dailies on the Paris side have also been canceled, as expected.
It’s still not enough space, not even close. The overflow-of-the-overflow area is the Bally’s Event Center, adjacent to the Bally’s Grand Ballroom. It’s where the Mothership and the other feature tables are located. It also has more than 100 general-use tables. Half of those are pressed into use for the Colossus as well; the other half are already dedicated to other re-starting events.
I wander in there, coffee in hand, and check my phone for messages. I wander some more. The Colossus dealers remain in the box, and one of the WSOP’s head TDs, Charlie Ciresi, is giving them a brief heads-up. “It’s going to be a long day,” he tells them. Pep talk or warning, I’m not quite sure.
Meanwhile, many of the Colossus’s early-arriving players discover that even though they’ve arrived on time and registered before the start of play, they still don’t have seats. Instead, their seat tickets are marked “Late”, and they’ll have to wait until other players bust out from either the Seniors or Colossus. It’s probably a few hundred players who get that news. Mind that the late-registration period hasn’t even really begun, and as for rebuys? Anyone who busts out can re-enter once in either opening flight. It’s clear it’ll be a long wait for that, however. The crush is on.
Underway at last
The start of Colossus Day 1A is pushed back twice before we finally get underway around 11:15, 75 minutes later than originally scheduled. But I haven’t played a bracelet event in 13 years, so what’s another 75 minutes?
My table in Bally’s ends up to be a light-hearted, fun table, just what you’d want in an event like this. I catch a 6 seat, a good draw. Five of the 10 of us — yes, we were 10-handed — were old enough to play in the Seniors. We don’t have much big action early on. Our table remains intact when we reach the first break a couple of hours later. Both inside and outside the Bally’s ballroom, the late-reg line grows longer.
Once we’ve resumed play in the Colossus, the adjacent Seniors event reaches its money bubble and quickly bursts through. The players celebrate, like in any large live tourney. As with the the WSOP’s other special “closed” events, there’s always a little extra pomp and circumstance going on. In the Seniors, that’s a special count-up, by age, to see who the oldest senior is who’s made the money.
The TDs ask players over a certain age to stand up, then call out ever-higher ages. 58, 63, 65, and on and on, and if you’re still older, you stay standing. We’re not watching this, as we’re playing our own game, but the PA system is loud and one can’t help but hear.
The age count-up gets to 80 and eight Seniors players are still standing. At age 88, only one player remains, and he gets a nice round of applause from the entire room.
“Are you Rampage?”
Our second dealer is more talkative than most, and not too long into her down, she looks at the player on my immediate left and asks, “Are you Rampage? I love Rampage.” It’s not Rampage, though, a/k/a Ethan Yau. It’s a younger Asian-American semipro from California who’s wearing a mask, plus a black baseball cap backwards the way I guess Rampage often does. Therein, the mistaken identity.
But it leads to a running joke at the table, led by another of our table’s four Asian-American players. My neighbor is thus duly dubbed Rampage, as are each of the three other Asian-American players, including both the 70-something man across from me in seat 10 and the jokester himself. A little while later, we lose our first two players, and one of the two new arrivals is our first logoed player of the day, GGPoker Team China member Ren Le Lin, known as “li_xiaolong” online. That doesn’t matter. Here, he’s Rampage, too.
Lin is quickly added to PokerNews’ chip counts, as he’s one of the few identifiable players in the room. Humberto Brenes is a few tables away, and I recognize a few others at nearby tables, but the Colossus is at its heart an inexpensive shot at poker glory largely populated by anonymous, everyday players. PN is in need of names to toss in, perhaps, as I can tell they add me in to their counts, too, and as a poker player, I’m an utter nobody. PN misses Patrick Miller, who’s on my immediate right and who finished seventh in this event in 2019.
Delays, Part 2
Color-ups are a problem, because the WSOP staff is stretched so thin that it takes time to go table to table and do the run-offs and color-ups. What was originally announced as a 15-minute break goes much longer. The tourney clock is stopped, restarted, stopped again, reset to 10 minutes, stopped a third time, and the actual break extends to perhaps 45 minutes. This would contribute to a third delay later on. As happens sometimes, it would be a long, long day. Charlie Ciresi never had a doubt, nor did I.
It’s time for another wander. The late-seating line, where one gets a table assignment and a starting stack, continues growing and is becoming, well, it’s own thing. It would grow even longer during the next few levels. At its peak, the line runs from the late-seating table near the Bally’s room’s south wall, back to the north about for about 30 yards. It turns to the east at the point and runs another 35 or 40 yards toward the cashier’s cage in that room. The line then doubles back on itself for the same distance, then turns to the north again for another 10 or 15 yards where it heads out the main entrance doorway into the main hallway.
Think that was long enough? Oh, no. From the doorway, the line then turns west in the main hallway, where it stretches for nearly another 100 yards, all the way down to the very edge of the casino floor itself, and to where a security guard monitors the elevators that access the upper floors and Bally’s hotel guest rooms.
We get a couple of players later on who waded through the very worst of it, and they report the line itself took a little over two hours to traverse. Later on, as the end of late registration nears, the wait significantly shortens as most of the waiting players are processed into the field. The line’s maximum length, though, curtails many players’ plans on registering late or of re-entering once busted. For a lot of players, including me, it’s effectively a freezeout.
The thumbnailed ace
Marked or damaged cards? Sure, they’re around. Most of the time the damage to cards is done accidentally, but a marked card is still marked, however it occurs. In my seat almost directly across from the dealer, I realize I’ve got an angle on cards coming to me as they play directly under a ceiling light above us that shows just a brief flicker of surface sheet.
I’m not really watching that closely, but in one hand with our table’s blue deck in play, I happen to look down just as a card dealt to me flashes that sheen, and I notice a rather large and deep thumbnail mark right across the center of the design. And, auggh, it’s the ace of diamonds. I show it to the dealer and a couple of other players, and we all agree to put the other deck, the red one, in play.
The room is still a zoo. We’re on to another level and another dealer before one of the WSOP’s most personable TDs, Bryan, walks by. I motion to him, he comes over, and I say, “I know you’re swamped, but if you happen to wander by the spare decks, could you grab a blue ace of diamonds? Ours has a bad thumbnail mark.” Bryan says he will.
It’s not a high priority, we can use the other deck, and there are probably other marked cards in play as well. Still, I don’t want an ace this visibly marked to be in play. True to his word, Bryan stops back about 20 minutes later with a replacement ace, sorts through the blue deck, and finds the bad one. He holds it up, gives a little nod, and rips it up on the spot. We’re all good.
A visit from Rolando
Late in the afternoon, I get a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turn around and it’s Rolando Coro, the big boss at Professional Massage, Inc. Rolando is a quiet, good-natured man. I lean back and give him a little greeting hug, and he then slips a gift into my hand, a gift card for a massage from the PMI team. Rolando does that quite a bit during most series for his friends and for many of the WSOP’s various workers. Thank you, Rolando!
Another player at our table is also a fortunate recipient of one of Rolando’s gifts, and it turns out Rolando is pulling double duty. He’s accompanying a photographer he’s hired to take on-the-job photographs of what are likely some of his company’s newer massage therapists. Our table has lost our original not-Rampage, and his replacement is a quieter player whose first priority is getting a massage. His head is down and he’s wearing a fishing cap anyway, so he can’t be ID’d, and it’s a great chance for Rolando’s photographer to get the shots PMI needs.
Hi, Steve, bye, Steve
Sometimes the random table encounters are extreme. Back in 2017 and 2018, during the time I worked for the WSOP, my work partner was Steve Schult. We worked independently, and our jobs were to divide up all the bracelet-event final tables and do brief recaps and interviews with the bracelet winners. Together we’d split about 90 percent of all the final tables, and our supervisor would do about the other 10 percent to give us an occasional off day or extra help if we had five finals on a single day.
We’re around Level 10 or thereabouts, each level being 40 minutes long, and with all the delays, it’s already early evening. We’ve also lost our 70-something not-Rampage, who was picked off on a failed bluff. The 10 seat is empty for a short while, and then Schult appears. He sits down right across from me and gets his starting chips. “Hi, Haley,” he says.
“Hi, Steve,” I reply. We chat a bit. Schult still plays some, but he no longer works on the industry side of the poker world. He tells me he’s moved on to a company that’s raided several talented writer/reporters from poker, including Eric Ramsay and Mo Nuwarrah.
Schult starts with 20 big blinds and it’s soon less than that, after the blinds take another jump. His day doesn’t last long. He moves all in with A-Q but runs into A-K and doesn’t get any help. “Bye, Steve,” I say. “Good to have seen you.” There’s just not much you can say to a busto player, even an old co-worker.
A late dinner break and a field trip to Paris
For a tourney with a 10 a.m. official start time, it’s been a long ride to the dinner break. It’s a 75-minute break that lasts to nearly 10 p.m. When we return to Level 13 play, our 50 or so tables are being broken a few tables at a time, and the players are being moved over to the Paris ballroom.
If you play one of these big-field events and you survive long enough, you may end up with a hike. It’s akin from starting in the Brasilia or Miranda Room at the Rio and eventually getting moved over to the Amazon Room. In this year’s new digs, however, there’s no series-wide plan for moving players from the Bally’s side to the Paris side or vice versa. Instead it depends on how the seating is taken up by the other events that are running simultaneously. It’s played by ear.
For the Colossus Day 1A, the field is being broken into the Paris Ballroom. The tables up in the Bally’s Event Center have long since been emptied, and our cluster of tables is last. Kevin Mathers had told me on the dinner break we’d be moving soon, and sure enough, the zip-lock baggies arrive by the end of that first post-dinner level. We’re in the next-to-last smaller handful of tables to make the hike. Ren Le Lin and another player named Mary have accumulated decent stacks. My baggie has lots of air in it.
If you’ve done the move, you know the routine. One TD leads the parade, another brings up the rear, and in the middle is a loose gaggle of poker players, each carrying a baggie full of poker chips. The new bonus at the 2022 WSOP is getting to wander right through the middle of the Bally’s casino floor and then through half of the Grand Bazaar hallway of retail shops. No stops at the Oxygen Bar allowed. Then it’s into Paris, where each moved player receives a new table and seat assignment.
Delays, Part 3
The unscheduled delays due to two long color-ups have had another unexpected consequence: The clocks on the Paris and Bally’s sides of the Colossus are no longer in sync. The two casinos’ portions of Colossus 1A were run on separate tourney clocks and each side proceeded with play once their own color-ups had finished.
That leads to an issue that’s addressed almost as soon as I take my seat. In order to make sure both sides of the event play a full Level 13, an extra 10 minutes is added onto the clock in Paris. There are a few quiet groans from the tables. Meanwhile, we’re still 300 players from the money.
My new table is perhaps not quite as “fun” as my original table in Bally’s. It’s all guys other than me, and it’s got more of a braggadocio feel, though still in a good-natured way. One guy shows us all an x-ray from his shoulder surgery, displaying the titanium brace and pins now permanently holding the joint in place.
Meanwhile, players are busting out at a rapid pace. I arrived at the Paris Ballroom with just 54,000 in chips after starting with 40,000. With blinds at 2,500/5,000, I’ve got to have good fortune soon, and in the nick of time, I receive exactly that. I’m even shorter when I move all in with A-7 off, and I run right into pocket queens. The flop is dry, the turn also, but my three-out ace arrives on the river. A lap or so later, I find the pocket queens, and I’m all in pre-flop against A-J. I fade the ace and double up again.
Maury the Good Samaritan, and the bubble bursts
We reach our final break of the night after Level 15, with two more levels yet to go. Coming back from the break, I notice Mauricio Solano one table over. I only met Maury in March, at a poker event in Texas, but we’ve become quick friends.
Solano was involved in one of this year’s WSOP feel-good stories just a few days ago. I read about his finding a wallet in one of the men’s restrooms at the WSOP a few days ago. He went to considerable length to get the wallet back to its owner.
I was in the WSOP media room when I read the story via a Twitter link. I retweeted the link, then headed out to the Bally’s hallway, and I literally ran right into Solano. He told me a little more about the story. He was in one of the stalls, and after he stood up, he turned around, and his gaze just happened to catch the corner of something jutting out from behind and underneath the toilet. It was indeed a wallet, and it could’ve been there for hours.
He then went to casino security with the wallet, and they tried contacting the owner, but the phone number attached to the Caesars Rewards card in the wallet was no longer the correct number. Solano then went the extra step and tracked down the owner on Twitter, who was then reunited with his wallet.
Solano and I exchange waves, but there’s still poker to be played. I don’t see much more for playable hands, there are the EV considerations, and the couple of times I do open, I don’t get any action. The money bubble looms, and after five hands of hand-for-hand action, it bursts. The room cheers, of course.
Most of our table has ordered drinks, and when the waiter arrives, there are extra beers available, so I have one, too. What the hell, why not? It’s been a fun, eventful, and very long poker day. Level 17 ends and it’s past 2 a.m. when we bag and tag. From our originally scheduled 10 a.m. start time, it’s been over 16 hours between the play, the breaks, and the unscheduled delays.
Epilogue: Day 2 — Bad beat, great beat
I made it to Day 2 with 135,000 in chips and returned to Sunday’s 10 a.m. restart, and I was eliminated on the day’s very first hand. I found a very shove-worthy hand, was called, and suffered my own three-out beat. However, given that I’d already given out my own bad beats, not once but twice, just to make the money, I was freerolling everything at that point.
Besides, even the beat had a great benefit. I’d been seated right near the payout processing desk, and as one of the first players busted on the day, I walked right up and had my payout processed in two minutes. Soon thereafter, the wave of bustouts began in earnest, happening so rapidly and building such a huge line of busted players to be processed that the tourney was temporarily halted. I’d have had to double up multiple times just to make the next tiny pay jump, with the likeliest result then being multiple long waits both at the payout desk and the cashier’s cage in Paris. Overall, I again got the best of it.
Featured image source: Haley Hintze