Day 6 of the WSOP Main Event shows a shift in the meaning of 'social'

14 July 2015

LAS VEGAS -- Poker is always called a "social game." In home games, where most poker (in the U.S.) is played, that statement is true. But once you leave the friendly confines of the home game, it rings hollow. In competitive poker -- and especially in tournament poker -- the poker player is truly alone.

That's not true in other individual sports and games. Golfers lean on the advice and support of caddies. Tennis players can look to their coaches for emotional support and surreptitious coaching. Gymnasts can talk to their coaches in between events.

But poker players? They're on their own. They have no help on the felt. Each decision a poker player makes is his decision and his decision alone. Poker players have to own their mistakes. They have to shake off bad luck. They have to temper their successes. And they have to do all of that on their own.

When the stakes are high, as they are right now at the World Series of Poker Main Event, a single decision can be the difference between winning $137,000 and $7.6 million.

Every table was a TV table on Day 6 of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Every table was a TV table on Day 6 of the World Series of Poker Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

In that context, the paucity of social interaction in today's game is understandable. Between the online poker roots of many of the players, the high stakes of the moment and the fact that most of these players just don't know each other (this isn't 1998 where the same 300 people played in every tournament), it's no wonder that the actual game of poker is a solitary experience.

But as social interaction has fled the table, it has grown away from the felt.

In the virtual world, the social side of poker can be seen on Twitter and in various forums, where players share anything and everything about poker. In real life, it takes on a different form.

Some players share a house during the WSOP. Other players work together to improve their games. And in the biggest moments, they provide morale and good cheer. Nowhere was that more evident than on Day 6 of the Main Event.

Mark Kroon busted out of the Main Event Monday in 43th place. And watching him play for a good part of the day was Phil Hellmuth. Kroon, who calls Madison, Wisconsin, home and Hellmuth, who is originally from Wisconsin, are longtime friends. The two are so close that Kroon was sporting a "What Would Phil Do?" t-shirt.

Jason Rosenberg, who became friends with Kroon during his days in Madison, made a point of coming over to watch his friend during breaks in the Daily Deepstack tournament he was playing in.

Other people in the Kroon camp enjoyed watching him from the rail as well. The camaraderie they showed was remarkable. If you were looking for the social side of poker, it was sitting right there on the rail.

Brian Hastings, who won two bracelets earlier this summer, busted out of the Main Event in spectacular fashion Monday when he pushed all in pre-flop for around 5.5 million in chips with pocket kings after a series of raises. John Hinds had Hastings covered (though not by much) and called with pocket aces. The aces held up, and Hastings exited the tournament in 49th place.

After Hastings' elimination was announced, some players made a special trip to the Rio to either give him a hug or commiserate.

We need to rethink what it means when we call poker a social game. The poker scene is definitely social. The poker game -- not so much. And maybe that's OK.

There are 27 players remaining in the Main Event. Thomas Kearney leads the field with 14.4 million in chips. Matt Guan (14.23 million), Erasmus Morfe (12.085 million), Joseph McKeehen (11.975 million) and Mario Sequeira (11.865 million) round out the top five. Daniel Negreanu is ninth in chips with 8.495 million. The Main Event champion wins $7.68 million.

Notes
The last woman in the tournament, Kelly Minkin, finished in 29th place. She won $211,821 for her efforts.

James Magner folded pocket queens in the big blind to an early-position bet of 300,000 from Thomas Cannuli late in the night with 31 players still remaining. Magner had about 3.6 million in chips and 31 big blinds when he folded. The reaction from press row was not charitable.

The most raucous hand of the day came on a three-way all in. Randall Clinger was the first to push all in for 1.45 million with pocket queens. Hans Joaquim Hein moved all in next for about 3.8 million with ace-king suited. And Kearney called with pocket aces. Kearney's aces held up, giving him a double elimination. Clinger finished in 33rd. Hein finished in 32nd. Both won $211,821.

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