It was the best thing ever. Victor Ramdin, Steve Paul-Ambrose, Joseph Hachem.
That was fine - they're nice people; and fun to interview. Plus there were smoothies and cakes and nachos; but the real fun - the reason we were all there - was to face off against those players in the No-Limit Hold'em tournament to follow.
How often do you get to play three former world champions? Well, it was my first time, Negreanu, so stop bragging. It was great - sixty or so members of the media (and some internet qualifiers) started or alternated through four of the most stacked tables ever, um... stacked.
My starting table was a little light - the only former world champion sitting there was Chris Moneymaker, four spots to my left. He was very nice; and very helpful. My first pot of the day came when I found myself in the big blind - heads-up with Moneymaker.
Staring down the flop, which had missed my A-9 offsuit, I asked Moneymaker what to do. "You should bet," he drawled. "How much should I bet?" I inquired. "All of it." was his reply. "All right - I'm all-in." He looked a little surprised - and maybe a little hurt - and quickly folded.
He really knows his stuff, I thought; and he did. Over the next few rounds, Moneymaker built up a big stack - sometimes advising his opponents on what to do, always correctly. Nobody else seemed to trust him, though.
Even Noah Boeken, who was dealing the cards, couldn't help giving a little advice, or chipping in with "Oh, the minimum raise," or "Come on, you've gotta raise." It wasn't long before Boeken was in the game - and I got my second big win of the day.
Following a little action in the early rounds, I hadn't played much; and my stack was fading. It got bad enough that when Boeken bet from the button - to fold the small blind - I moved my stack in to defend my big blind.
"Okay, Noah - I'm moving in blind," I declared, honestly. "All right, I call." he answered. The dealer called for us to show our cards, but I wanted to prolong it a little. I asked Boeken what he thought - "Let's turn over one each," he decided.
He flipped over a queen. I felt a little rough, but not destroyed - a queen, it could be worse, right? So I flipped one over: the ace of spades. Boeken looked a little sick - "You looked!" he accused me, several times. (Falsely, I swear!)
The board brought a pair of nines and not much else, so my ace was good against what turned out to be Q-6 for Boeken. By that time, Moneymaker had been forced to leave his sizeable stack in the hands of a very pleased internet qualifier.
To keep the table from getting too soft, two other players had joined us. Two to my left (and immediately left of my fellow PokerListings.com reporter) was Bertrand "Elky" Grospellier; and to his left was a well-dressed man with slick hair and an Australian accent, called Hachem.
Now, lest you think these pros and world champs gave us media types a walk, let me tell you - they wanted to win, or at least outlast each other. They had last-longer bets going amongst themselves to keep the action alluring (for them); and frightening (for us).
Before things got too scary, the tables broke into the final three. Elky had busted after playing nearly every hand for all his chips. (And sucking out phenomenally more than once.) Boeken had also hit the rail (Perhaps mortally wounded by a certain genius blind all-in?) and Hachem had built a towering stack.
It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I found myself once again sitting across the table from the wailin' Australian; but I need not have worried. Hachem was lulled by free massages and the dealer's constant calls of "Former world champion Joseph Hachem" does so-and-so on his every move.
When I did get into a hand with Hachem, it was three-way; and he made sure it was for all of my chips. It was also with my best hand of the day - pocket tens - which the board turned into a full house to triple me back into the game.
Hachem was quite different from Moneymaker - I did the opposite of whatever he advised. I told him it was because he was from Australia, where everything was backward; but honestly I didn't trust him. I tried to stay on his good side, though - when I won his money I made sure to tell him with as little sarcasm as possible: "It is with great respect that I stack these chips, sir."
Not long after the tens, I got my new best hand - pocket jacks - and managed to double that, to move to the final table with a dominating stack. Unfortunately, Hachem followed me to that fateful table - where we also joined the force of nature known only as Victor Ramdin.
Even worse, I was in the one seat, where my towers of chips fell to an errant swing of the dealer's arm - showering it into the pile to my right. I was a little concerned to give up my dominance so soon; but when I voiced my concern that our chips had mixed, my tablemate simply replied: "No way."
I tried to express to the international qualifier that clearly some of my suddenly-vanished chips were to be found on the other side of the line he had immediately cut between our stacks with the side of his hand; but he was (oddly) unconvinced, so I took my first hit in a while without seeing a card.
From there, it was all Victor. I should mention that the three PokerListings.com reporters in the room had all started at the same table - and that in spite of that disadvantage, two of us made the final feltdown; but Ramdin owned us there.
Pushing his chip mountain into the middle with an ease that let everyone know each pot would be do-or-die let Ramdin take every pot he played. When any cards did fall, Ramdin's opponents inevitably folded early; or suffered a sensational suck-out.
In fact, when Ramdin was in the big blind, the entire table (including yours truly in the small blind) folded to give him a walk; and inspire Hachem to shake his head and mutter: "Sick. I can't believe I just saw that. That was sick."
What could be sicker? How about Hachem busting out well before a certain fantastically-good-looking tournament reporter? (No, no - I mean me.) How about when that same reporter finished third, just inside the money bubble, to the sweet tune of $100 large?
Hachem? Zero dollars. Raymer? Long busted. Brenes, Chen, Paul-Ambrose, Elizabeth (Oh, all right, you're not too surprised by the last one) - long-gone. World-famous poker professionals and world champions, all bested by a blushing blogger with the math of a monkey and the memory of a moth. Mom must be so proud.