The excitement around the World Series of Poker Main Event has been building over the past few weeks, not only for myself, but for seemingly everyone in the poker world. I've spent many of the last few days and nights more or less talking Main Event buzz with a coworker of mine, Matt Clark, and while neither of us have ever experienced the biggest tournament of the year, the Main Event is why each of us are here.
When I was first offered to be part of the WSOP Live Updates team, my boss asked if I "wanted to stay for the Main, or end my summer the first week of July?" The second I read his email, I thought to myself, "If I'm going to Vegas for the summer, I'm working the fucking Main Event." It was a no brainer and I'd imagine Clark feels the same way, as he extended his stay in Vegas and contract with the WSOP team to cover the Main after originally having plans to head home to New York this week.
As it's nearly impossible for someone from my generation to avoid the Moneymaker topic when talking about the Main Event, Clark and I spent a few hours one night this weekend talking about the 2003 Main. It was the first time either of us were exposed to poker. I was 12. I was probably searching for baseball or something on ESPN but I found poker. I didn't understand anything I saw, what these bets were, what those percentages next to each players cards were, who any of these people were? I think Clark put it perfectly when he said, "None of that mattered. What mattered was Phil Ivey in a fucking Steve Francis jersey."
We then went into a slight debate about what really mattered from that year's tournament. That Moneymaker won, ESPN was there to cover it, poker boom, blah, blah, blah, everyone knows that story inside and out. But, the more we talked, the more I started to agree and realize that Phil Ivey in that jersey was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.
Sure, Moneymaker winning got all our dads thinking they could take on the world and win the Main Event and judging by the demographic of yesterday's Day 1A field, they all still think they can. Ivey though, and he wasn't even PHIL FREAKING IVEY yet, just had something about him. A relatively young, black kid, rocking a basketball jersey of a guy who they used to call "The Franchise", sitting next to a bunch of those "dads" dressed in oversized polos and suits. Who was this kid and why did I think he was other worldly cool?
I imagine that every 20-something millennial generation poker player or fan agrees with that point but I also imagine that those same 20-somethings likely would have found poker or began playing without seeing Ivey. The younger crowd was always going to be drawn to, first, online poker and then live poker, but Phil Ivey's presence at that table made a believer out of me more than Moneymaker or Sammy Farha ever could.
As yesterday's Day 1A field played through the smallest Main Event starting flight since that 2003 Main, my mind began to wonder and I thought of where poker goes if Ivey wins that year instead of Moneymaker. Does poker blow up as big as it did? I think yes, with a different demographic maybe but yes, it explodes. ESPN still films the next year, online sites still qualify a couple thousand players, the Main Event continues to be the Main Event. But, if I don't see Ivey, with what I'd later come to describe as swagger, in 2003, I likely don't tune in the next year with as much excitement or passion.
I don't watch Greg Raymer pull another Moneymaker-esq run in 2004. I don't watch Jamie Gold Jamie Gold everyone in 2006. I don't watch Billy Kopp go bonkers with a five high flush near the final table bubble in 2009. I don't watch Jonathan Duhamel and one of the dirtiest rivers ever send Matt Affleck to the rail in tears in 2010.
I don't watch every memorable moment that has gotten me to this point in my poker life, where I'm covering the World Series of Poker Main Event and watching the 2015 version of it play out in front of me.
Now, I'm not saying that Phil Ivey and that Steve Francis jersey got me here. Not at all. What I am saying, is that Phil Ivey being the coolest mother fucker inside Binion's that day in 2003 was all I needed to see to know, that at some point in my life, in one capacity or another, I needed to see the Main Event for myself.