Not an auspicious first 48 hours in Las Vegas. When I arrived at my hotel and went to unpack, I realized I had left my backpack on the plane.
Not only did it contain the keys to my car, which is in a parking lot at the airport, but more importantly it contained several lucky items I always keep on the table when I play tournaments -– photos of my family in a silver frame, and an ancient Tibetan coin which carries hundreds of years of powerful protective magic (if you follow the link, it's the one on the top left).
It took me an hour to get over being upset and angry at myself (and to get through the endless United Airlines computerized phone response system to the point where I could leave a voicemail with the flight and seat number and describing the backpack I had lost.)
Eventually I gathered myself and headed over to the tournament area. I stopped at the registration desk to get my player card and my seat assignments for the five events I am going to play in.
When I walked into the tournament area and scanned the sea of 200 poker tables and the hundreds of players, I saw many of the same faces I have seen at the World Series for years and years. What is different about this year is that for every old face, there are a hundred new ones I have never encountered before, many of them in their twenties.
The other thing that is new is the merchandising. There must be 50 tables of vendors hawking every imaginable poker-related item and service. Competition is strong among the Internet poker sites, with hospitality suites and give-aways galore. And of course each has its own coterie of poker rock stars (past world champions) who are wearing that site's logo wear and available for photos and autographs.
I sat down in a $175 single table satellite. Each of ten players pays $175 to play. Each is issued $1,000 in tournament chips (no cash value). The blinds (an ante which must be posted by two players before the cards are dealt) start at $25, and double every 15 minutes. In short, if you throw away every hand you are dealt, you will be out of chips in less than an hour. As the size of the blinds goes up relative to the number of chips in your stack, satellites become a crap-shoot. You have to win one or two big pots to survive and you don't have time to wait patiently for a strong starting hand.