Monday, November 22, 2004

WPPA, the Final Insult

Man, am I getting old or what? I turn 36, and suddenly I'm losing my mind. Jeez, I am writing about Arizona, when I haven't even really started the Foxwoods posts yet, nor have I ever finished the WPPA main event. Blah!

Okay, I'll go back in time. Later, I'm going to have to put all of these in chronological order, so I don't look like the dunce that I am.

When I left off, I'd just decided to leave the Orleans and go home to decompress for a couple of days.

I got back to the Orleans on Monday, which ended up being day three of the main event, since they cancelled Sunday's play thinking that the event would end quicker than they'd expected.

I figured something was wrong right away when I was stopped by security at the Arena. Security? What about the audience? I found out there WAS no audience, that GSN had pulled a last minute switcheroo and decided to make the main event a closed set, with no observers allowed.

Oddly, I was given access. I'm still not quite sure why I was allowed in, since they considered me "press" at this point, and not a player. For whatever reason, I was there to witness the GSN fiasco, and to document the WPPA demise.

They had three tables set up in the recording area. One table was huge, it was the "main" table. Originally, they were going to switch the players, en masse, every level, in order to have them all at the main table, but they changed their minds after the first switch, due to the hassle, most likely.

The main table was gigantic. It made the Late Night Poker table look puny, by comparison, lol. It was a monstrosity.

There was a color commentator that I didn't recognize. I asked where Katrina Jett was. Everyone kind of looked at his shoes and shuffled around a bit, nervously. They'd hired Katrina! She came in with several clothing changes, only to be told that instead of being the star, they were going to put her in the hole card cam room, looking at everyone's hole cards for 18-20 hours per day, and relaying to the floor people that so-and-so was not showing their cards every hand. Ugh. What a disgrace.

Instead, they had a girl working who had no idea what poker was. She had never played, and didn't have a clue. I begged her not to ask eliminated players "how they felt." I was asked to provide a list of suitable questions for her. Later, I found out that Katrina and Louis were both asked to provide a list of questions, also, but were found unacceptable, for whatever reason. Why mine were treated any differently was beyond me, but she did use them, although it came off as completely stiff and unnatural for her, since she had no real idea what she was asking, what those questions actually meant. To give her some credit, though, she was a nice girl, who always stayed very pleasant no matter the circumstances. Poor Karina was the one given the shaft.

Louis and I talked in the hallway about what was going on with the taping. Why was there no audience? Why was the set closed? Why wasn't Katrina doing the commentating, as expected? Why was I being asked not to report the final two days, not even just the bare facts?

Louis said that GSN calls all the shots. That is really funny, being that the WPPA is supposed to be all about the players. He said that at the last minute, GSN had decided they wanted to keep it all a secret, to have some big drama on their station. I was supposed to keep the results under wraps until December! I told him that the results would never be kept a secret. He agreed, but didn't want me to be the one to spill it. He kept saying over and over again, "I know you are with me on this one, Felicia. I know we are a team here." I assured him over and over again that I most definitely was NOT with him, and disagreed totally. He seemed not to hear me, or he didn't want to hear, and we never discussed it again. I never agreed to keep the results under wraps, nor was I asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, although the executive producer, the assistant EP and Louis all talked to me about it, and I vehemently disagreed with all three of them. Why they allowed me to stay for two full days is beyond me.

The biggest mistake that most people make when they have any kind of relationship with me is assuming that I am a nice person. Just because I'm a happy person, does not mean I'm a nice person. People tend to ignore me, thinking that I'm not actually overhearing what they are saying. People think they can trust me, after all, I'm just sitting there, smiling and innocent looking. Don't trust me! If you want to keep something private, I'm not the person to tell your deepest secrets to, unless you tell me that you want to keep this between us, in which case I'm a vault. If you tell me "news," I'm going to report it as such.

So my point is, don't trust me with something you don't want repeated to the world, unless you ask me to keep it between us. I will never, ever keep it off of this website if it is relevant to poker. My life is an open book, and I just assume others are as candid as I am. I don't give them the benefit of the doubt that they don't want things published, unless they specifically tell me something private.

Anyway, I sat and took notes on Monday. The players played extremely late. Thor Hansen was crippled when he flopped two small pair in the blind. Since there were ten players remaining, and Thor had no chips, the group made a $500 save from each player, so that 10th would at least get his money back. Naturally Thor was 10th. The generosity of the top players continues to astound me.

I was cracking up during most of the day by the behavior of GSN. For whatever reason, they decided they wanted to make the WPPA into the Brady Bunch. They were telling players what to wear, how to sit, not to stand up and walk around during and between hands. They were trying to "control" Minneapolis Jim. Anyone who knows Jim knows that trying to make him into Greg Brady is only going to cause more anxiety and problems. I told the GSN guys over and over again that this was poker, not the Brady Bunch, but they had their own agenda.

The funny thing about them trying to make poker players into actors, is that Louis told me that when they first approached him about a TV contract, they had wanted to stake certain players, then seed them in the tournament, to make trouble, to cause fights. They wanted players like Arieh, Matusow and Hellmuth. They wanted to seed the players, the ones who would be most likely to start fights and controversy. Ironically, after finding out that they would not be allowed to seed real poker tournaments, they went the complete opposite direction and decided to make the set closed and silent, and turn the players into actors.

On Tuesday, play didn't start until about 3pm, but the players had to arrive early for interviews. Everyone was tired and grumpy. I know that Jesse probably took the worst of it, with his fragile health, but he was a trooper and never complained.

As the tournament stretched on and on, GSN got more nervous. I was thinking, "Well, if you wouldn't have cancelled Sunday in the first place, you wouldn't be under such a crunch!" The technical crew seemed very nervous. I found out that most of them were contractors, and were scheduled to be at other jobs the next day, or traveling to another, at any rate. They constantly complained about how bored they were, how boring poker was. I just shook my head. Heck, at least they were getting paid. When they decide to do these days for free, then they can whine about their jobs, in my opinion.

As dinner came, Paul Wolfe kind of gave an open invitation to the steak house at the Orleans. I asked if it was for players only, or if I was allowed to crash. He kindly told me anyone was invited. By this time, only Jesse had been eliminated, I believe. We had a nice gathering at the restaurant. Matt Savage showed up, as well as Scott Fischman and a few other players. Karina Jett came, and I told her she had been completely screwed, stuck back there in the closed camera room for 18-20 hours every day. Paul Wolfe cracked us all up at dinner. Kathy Liebert and David Troung also joined us. In the end, since some of us didn't have cash and were going to use our credit cards, Scott Fischman picked up our portion of the bill, and wouldn't be denied. What a nice gesture. Once again, I am constantly shocked and awed by the generosity of some of the top players in poker.

Right after the dinner break, David and Yohannes got knocked out.

The final six were still playing when I got kicked out of the arena.

The way it happened was that Bryan, the angry tournament director, was getting meaner by the hour. He was snapping at everyone. Naturally, I was no exception, as he always had felt I was an easy mark. Rather than make things rough, I tried to blow it off, joke around with him and calm him down. Instead, he took it even worse, and started yelling at me, rudely, along with everyone else.

James VanAlstyne stopped me on my way back off the set, and apologized for Bryan's behavior. He said many times that Bryan was out of line, but nothing ever changed.

I was out of the set, in an open area, talking to the guys from Las Vegas Vegas about it. Joe Sr. and Joe Jr. were there taking pics and notes, excited about the access they'd been granted.

Although all press had been denied access, Joe Sr. had been on the set both days taking pics unchallenged. I was amazed that they were allowing him such freedom, but then I found out that most of the people on the set were contractors, and had no idea that Joe wasn't one of them. After two days of taking pics, he was finally approached by someone asking to see his GSN pass. Naturally he didn't have one, so they decided to handle the situation with kid gloves. A representative from GSN along with Asmo talked to Joe about his pictures, and if they could be made available for the WPPA website. Joe was very amiable and promised to help out, free of charge. He was told that he could return to the set after dinner, and set off to get his son and some grub.

I was talking to both Joe's when we were approached a GSN employee, the assistant EP. He asked about GSN passes, and Joe Sr. started explaining what had happened earlier in the day. I tried to back it up by telling one very hostile employee that Joe had been on the set for the past two days, given unlimited access, so it was a little late to start with the high and mighty routine. She accused me of lying. I was cracking up. I told her to ask anyone, like I would make up that someone was taking pics on the set. What good is that going to do me? Anyway, the AEP went ape, and started yelling at both Joe's. Joe Sr. said that he had already talked to an employee and Louis about the pics. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Louis started denying his conversation with Joe, and saying things like he'd never seen or talked to Joe in his life. What the heck? I'd seen the two in deep conversation not six hours previously.

You may think that Louis' selling out came as a surprise to me, but it really hadn't. Like I've said, I got to know Louis pretty well during those two full weeks at the Orleans, and I saw him do it over and over again. He was constantly compromising the player's rights for the casino, for the TV station, etc. At one point he promised everyone they would be allowed to wear logos, but then GSN overruled that promise, and went around taping up everyone.

So Joe & Joe are both in the process of getting kicked out, when I finally just went off. I told them that they were unreasonable, etc. I told them that the whole thing was a huge failure, and had been sabotaged from the first. I told them how Bryan had done everything in his power to put players down and dissuade them from buying in. Someone asked, "Is that true?" and looked at Louis. Louis was standing behind me and I turned around to see him, behind my back, making the "no, no" sign with his hands and shaking his head vehemently. I said, "You and I have talked of little else since this started!" He kept shaking his head, selling me out along with everyone else.

The AEP said that if I really felt that way, to leave. I agreed readily. I went and gathered my things. On my way out, Joe and Joe were ahead of me, I said something about the using the pics on the website, and to feel free to use anything I wrote on their site.

The angry employee yelled out, "YOU CAN'T POST ANYTHING! THIS IS A SECRET, YOU SIGNED A NON-DISCLOSURE!" I laughed in her face, saying I never signed a thing, and that is where they went completely wrong. I said I could and would write whatever I wanted, and expose them for the creeps they were. She screamed, "WE'RE GOING TO SUE YOU! HOW DOES A QUARTER MILLION DOLLAR LAWSUIT SOUND TO YOU?" When I didn't answer, she kept yelling, "HUH? HUH?"

Joe, Joe, Glenn and I met outside. We were laughing our butt's off. The one great thing I got out of this debacle was getting to know those neat guys.

So we drove home. It was after midnight, but we made the two-hour trip anyway. When we arrived back at our house, I immediately sent an e-mail letter of resignation from the WPPA to Louis and to the website.

Right before I got kicked out, GSN had been trying to talk the players into making a deal, or speeding up the levels. The players weren't going for it. Later, I found out they ended up buying the players off, with $21,000 added to the prize pool. I'm sure they didn't contact the Nevada Gaming Commission before they did this, and I've heard rumors about lawsuits and fines, but who knows!

The rest of the drama you know. The letter I got from Louis four days later, which had my personal e-mail copied in with several employees of GSN. Jesse Jones' subsequent letter of resignation, the dismal failure of the WPPA at their next event and the many friends I made during this experience.

Was it all worth it, in the end? Yeah, I guess it was. It taught me quite a bit. It taught me that tournament writing is hard, with long, tough hours. It taught me that there are certain top players whose kindness and generosity extends beyond all boundaries I'd ever imagined.

I met a lot of good-hearted people. I will never forget the experience, nor do I really regret it. Although I wasn't paid for my work, I was paid in kindness and generosity, plus I was able to sneak in a couple of cashes in the poorly attended tournament.

Not only were some players extremely kind to me, but some of the dealers and floormen were outstanding. Jack and Adam did a superb job. I meant every word I said on Poker Pages about the floormen and dealers being top notch. It wasn't something I expected from the Orleans, and I got a pleasant surprise. Marlin always had a great attitude and kept his chin up during the worst of circumstances. Tracy, the girl who took the entries, was of very high moral fiber, and did a fantastic job. She always kept a smile on her face. One time, I remember that she found a lammer on the floor. This lammer was worth $1500. She could have used it, sold it. Instead, she thought she remembered a player dropping it, and kept it, asking him if he was missing a lammer. He was, and she gave it back to him.

These are the kind of things I was speaking about when I said that the staff at the Orleans did such a great job. Sure, Bryan was very grumpy and negative, but even his floor decisions were usually good, and he ran a tight ship.

So for good or evil, I lived through it. I learned some valuable poker lessons, and I met some wonderful people.

This time, it really is The End.