Tales from the Gladiators arena

Jeff McMillan
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Posted on: June 11, 2023 4:40 am EDT

The $300 Gladiators of Poker event has been talked about and anticipated since the 2023 WSOP schedule was announced months ago. There was wide speculation that the lowest buy in price ever for a bracelet event would come close to or even surpass the largest live tournament ever which was the 2019 Big 50 which got 28,371 players.

The Gladiators of Poker did not reach that mark but it did gather 23,102 entries to make for the second largest live field ever and also included the second largest single flight ever on Saturday with 8,467 entries jumping in (which the WSOP staff handled quite well and efficiently).

The $300 price point made for a more easy going type of feel in the rooms which was evident once you started to listen in, overhear conversations and talk with players. For those of us who are used to big field events through playing, covering or staffing, it can be easy to take the excitement for granted. But for many “Gladiators” on Day 1D it was something special and I went around the rooms today to capture of few of those “tales from the gladiators arena”

Timeline of tales from the arena itself

12:45 p.m. – Not long after the first break of the day, the lines in the Paris ballroom are massive. Snaking around in a square surrounding the tables. I can hear much chatter about it the closer to the lines I got.

“Which bullet are you on? This is my first today. I used up three yesterday.” Asks one line-stander to the man in front of him. “Just my second. My wife agreed to let me come play if I only used $600 max!” the man replies.

Turns out the man’s name is Hank Marsh from Houston, TX and for him getting to play the WSOP is a special treat for him.

“I retired five years ago and started to come play poker here just last year. This is only my second year playing. My wife does not really like me playing, but I made a deal with her to let me play one event this year and I wanted to play this one because I knew it would be the most fun!” Marsh explains shortly before getting to the front of the late registration line where he disappears into the tables amongst the thousands of other hopefuls.

2:07 p.m. – The line feels a bit more tense than before as there is less chatter and more focus as players start to realize they are running of time for bullets and chance at Day 2. More angry bad beat stories can be heard from players on their phones

2:29 p.m. – A man in a New York Yankees hat is seen throwing an unfinished bottle of Corona hard into the trash can before sweeping out of the room fast. One can imagine the people in his life were in for a wild bad beat story.

2:32 p.m. – A woman sits near the door of the Paris ballroom with a book in hand while also scoping out the room. She is overheard saying that she enjoys people watching while waiting for her boyfriend while he plays. “The line merging is fun to watch. It’s like cattle being sent to their assigned pastures.” (Or perhaps slaughterhouses to be made into the meat of the prizepool as the case may happen to be).

5:16 p.m. – Registration closes. The players are now officially participating in the second largest live poker tournament of all time. A slight ripple of excitement can be felt by those still holding chips.

7:11 p.m. – It is time for dinner. I stand behind the wall between the two doorways from the Paris ballroom so as to avoid being trampled by the frantic stampede to the various eating establishments. As the worst of the stampede subsides, one player is seen on FaceTime with his wife, beaming and showing her the empty Paris room. “Look how huge this room is! Every single table was taken up earlier today” he says excitedly to her as he soaks up and shares the special moment for him of playing in the WSOP.

8:37 p.m. – A man walks slowly out of the room away from his table with a thousand yard stare that could only be caused by the pain of soft bubbling. He stares up and one can imagine the words of Dr. Manhattan in “Watchman” echoing in his head. “I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.” Obviously, dramatic but yes it does suck to go away empty handed after 10 hours of play with nothing to show for it.

8:51 p.m. – The most beautiful words in poker are announced to the masses. “Congratulations you are now in the money”. The bubble is burst without hand for hand play! The mood of the room noticeably changes as players start to flood to payouts.

9:01 p.m. – “yeah it’s a min cash, but I beat Brett in our bet! He didn’t cash on three bullets and I cashed on only two! Haha he’s gonna be ****ing pissed” says an excited min-casher on his phone.

10:35 p.m. – PokerOrg’s own content creator Edwin “PokerLlama” Guzman is seen heading to payouts as he was able to capture a decent cash for $626. He got it in with pocket fives with only three big blinds which would be the end of the road for Llama.

12:47 a.m. – A weary live reporter paces in anticipation of the bagging process with four more hands announced as he readies to collect chip counts off of the bags. The aforementioned words from “Watchmen” perhaps also going through his head.

12:55 a.m. – The bags are out! Excitement courses through the entire room as players toss their chips into bags. In some cases just small amounts,

“I only have 95,00!” exclaims an excited women to her friend as she leaves. “I was down to 15,000 and had to put it in from the big blind and won that hand!”

Another player with a Jaka coaching patch has a much more formidable stack “let’s ****ing go man! I have 1.1 million baby!” He says to his buddies on the rail while giving them fist bumps. “We gotta start at 10 am tomorrow but no way I’m sleeping. Here’s let’s get some beers” as he grabs a few from a nearby waitress.

Dennis the TD gently reminds players about the early turnaround tomorrow “Remember folks. 10 am restart in the Horseshoe. The Belmont Stakes was today and tomorrow will be in the Horseshoe” he announces to give the players an easy way to recall.

And so the historic Day 1D of the Gladiators of poker came to a close. However, I have a feeling the stories from this tournament are just beginning.