It’s thrill of anticipation and the emotional crush of defeat, all wrapped together in a sequence that plays out simultaneously near the end of a major poker event. Remote viewers have a sense of it, but only in bits and pieces. It’s that moment when a poker final is trimmed from three to a final heads-up showdown. In the WSOP Main Event, it’s time for pageantry: the film crews pan the action as WSOP officials and security guards roll a locked cart adjacent to the final table, then begin pulling thick bricks — perhaps of $100 bills — onto the table, soon to be accompanied by the World Champion’s bracelet. It’s all got to be placed just so for the cameras before the duel between eventual winner Espen Jorstad and runner-up Adrian Attenborough can commence.
The two players enjoy, if that’s the right word for it, a last break before the last battle for the $10 million payday and all the glory begins. But they don’t really get a break, not from the circus. Cameras remain trained on Attenborough and Jorstad constantly; there’s no escape from the moment.
As the show prepares for its finale, third-place finisher Michael “Mickey” Duek works through a wave of emotions just a handful of feet away. He’s seen his dream of becoming the 2022 Main Event champion dashed, and that takes a few minutes to work through for anyone. Duek, an Argentinian pro now living in Florida, has to gather himself for the gauntlet of bustout interviewers that the biggest outlets invariably demand. No matter how graciously performed, and the best interviewers are very good at negotiating the raw emotion on display.
Duek’s wrung out. He bounces between moments of despondency and exhilaration as his exuberant rooters wait just outside the rail. That’s what getting so close to grabbing poker’s grandest prize does to you. Above all else, it leaves you exhausted. Yet Duek is game for the interviews; he understands it’s all part of the process. Players who can handle the emotional hit tend to be looked to as possible brand ambassadors down the road, even if the opportunities that await the winner are always far more significant. As for Duek, he handles it, about as well as one could expect.
Then it’s outside the rail, where his raucous supporters await. He’s quickly mobbed and disappears for a bit inside a growing circle of backslaps and hugs and another round of cheers. At the Main Event final table, there’s some version of this for every player who’s eliminated. It’s a big, big moment in any player’s career.
Bit by bit, Duek’s group works outside to a quieter spot in the Bally’s Grand Ballroom. There are family and friends to notify and plans to make. There’ll probably be a celebration somewhere; not exactly the celebration they’d wanted, but of a huge performance nonetheless.
Featured image source: Haley Hintze