Nolan Dalla: Poker's Historian, Part 1

Nolan Dalla
Nolan Dalla on Day 1 of the 2008 WSOP

More than anyone in the poker business whose job doesn't involve a check-raise or all-in move, World Series of Poker media director (and frequent PokerListings.com contributor) Nolan Dalla is in the best position to comment on how much the event has changed over the years.

I spoke with him this afternoon about the history of the WSOP, what Stu Ungar might have thought of the modern WSOP, and the direction the WSOP has taken. Here's the first part of our conversation.

So Nolan, tell me about your own personal history here at the WSOP. How long exactly have you been coming out here, and in what capacities?

I'm very privileged to have worked at the World Series, to have played at the World Series, to have been a spectator, a reporter - I've done it from almost every angle. And each angle I've had has given me a different perspective on the event.

Initially in the 1980s I would come out with $1,500 in my pocket, if I even had that, then try to get in one of the tournaments or play live action. And for a poker player, seeing all the famous players, it was really exciting. That was 20 years ago, when there wasn't as much media intensity.

Then I started writing for some of the magazines and later some of the websites, and I started coming out and covering the WSOP 10-12 years ago. It was really nice because when you're covering the Series, as you know, it's really sort of an elevated status. Now you can see things, people will actually talk to you and spend time with you, especially back then when it was a smaller media pool.

What was the turning point, the moment when the character of the WSOP really changed for you?

Well, I joined Binion's Horseshoe in 2002 and became the media director, and that gave me a whole other perspective on the game. And then I just happened to be in what I call the catbird's seat of poker, being the media director for the World Series the year Chris Moneymaker won.

There was a fellow named George Fisher who was the head of poker operations at the Horseshoe, and he called me in 2003 and said, "Nolan, we're going to something different this year. You're not just going to do the tournament reporting this year."

This was back before all the TV or anything else, there used to be a tournament reporter, and that was the record of the WSOP. If you go back to events before 2003, the only thing that exists are those tournament reports written by Max Shapiro, Mike Paulle, myself, Dan Larrymore - ghosts from the past, almost, going back to the 1970s. That's it, that's the only record of those events and pinoeers. And then TV changed everything.

But, I was called into the office by George Fisher, and he says, "Nolan, we need you to handle the media this year." My reaction was, "Oh man, what is this? They're not paying any more money, they're throwing all this extra stuff on my plate." I was a writer - I loved the writing, and hanging out with poker players.

Like all the rest of us.

Yeah, everybody likes this lifestyle. I thought, "This is really a drag."

And then boom, lightning strikes when Chris Moneymaker wins. And I guess my role and the role of all of us essentially changed that day. I was really struck by lightning, as was everyone in the poker business.

Nolan Dalla
Nolan Dalla: struck by Moneymaker lightning in 2003.

From the non-media side of your WSOP experience, what's one of your more memorable moments, something that struck you that said, "I'm in a special place and time here"?

I guess for me, since I can't play in the events and I've never been much of a tournament player, I consider myself someone who lives vicariously through the achievements of others. I get my joy from seeing somebody I really like win, or someone I know through poker and then learned that that person went through incredible trials and tribulations and then win a gold bracelet.

For me, the special moments are always the people who work at it, or have tears of joy, or great adulation for the moment of victory, and what the gold bracelet means. Yeah, the money is nice, everybody wants to win a million dollars, but the thrill of victory - when I see tears in people's eyes, and there's been a lot of moments like that. I get misty-eyed myself, it's like, wow, I can't be there but my buddy is there, or someone I just met a few weeks ago won.

It's a great experience just to see the joy. What a lucky thing to see people's lives changing literally in front of your eyes. And you see what it means to them. There's no price on that. Nobody has a better job than being able to enjoy something like that with other people.

* * * * * * * * * * *

With the WSOP in its 39th year, chances to hear about its history from people who were actually there will get fewer and further between as the event continues. So be sure to come back tomorrow for the conclusion of our conversation with Nolan Dalla, when we'll talk about Stu Ungar and the direction of the modern WSOP.

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