2007 WSOP: The chirp of the railbirds

Scotty's Table
Day 5 at the WSOP.

"Scotty, smile for the young lady," says a chatty member of a group of railbirds sweating Scotty Nguyen's table on Day 5 of the World Series of Poker championship Saturday.

Nguyen, stretching his arms in the air and smiling for the woman's camera, obliges and seems to be pleased about the attention. The woman's flash goes off and she is admonished for breaking a cardinal but virtually unenforceable rule of the WSOP: no flash photography.

Unfazed, she tells one of the men that she didn't get the shot she wanted.

"Scotty! Scotty!" he yells at the table, "One more photo!"

Several more flashes go off from the perimeter of the floor and the announcer once again comes on the microphone to remind spectators that security will escort them out of the Amazon Room if they continue to use the flash.

Eyeing Nguyen's table closely, a young man in a ball cap asks me whether there is anyone else famous at the 1998 Main Event champion's table. In seat number one, I tell him, is British pro Willie Tann. "To the left or right of the dealer?" he says loudly. "That old guy?"

Tann's eyes jump up from the table and meet those of the young man in the ball cap. We're only about four feet away from his seat.

Undaunted, the man goes on to admonish a player who calls an opponent's raise on the river, only to have his jacks meet up with queens. "Bad call!" The railbird says as the player looks miserably down at his tiny teddy bear card protector. "Bad call!"

Even the most WSOP-seasoned poker pros aren't immune to a little frustration with the fanfare that comes with the Main Event. After being the subject of a series of media photographs while playing, 1996 champion Huck Seed grumbled about the cameras in his face.

Later, when speaking to PokerListings.com shortly before busting from the tournament, he was more diplomatic.

"I guess it depends on the energy of the crowd," Seed said of whether he gets frustrated with the hubbub surrounding his table when he's deep in events. "If it's a good energy, if the crowd is into it and excited, then that brings more to the tournament and it helps people.

"It's just like if you went to watch a sporting event and nobody showed up to watch. How would people play? They might not play as well as if thousands of people showed up to watch."

The energy Saturday? "Pretty good," Seed said, scanning the room and noting that not many people had come out to watch today.

Others pros find the commotion of the Amazon Room just plain distracting. At a players' forum midway through the Series, Bill Gazes admitting to loving the much-maligned tent set up to catch the spillover from early WSOP tournaments because it was more peaceful than the main room.

"In the H.O.R.S.E. tournament," he said, "I was back against the rail both times and ... people are leaning over the ropes, and saying 'What did you have in your hand that time, Bill?' or 'You played that hand well' or people talk about who got married last week. It's brutal. Fans can't be there right now."

As Gazes also noted, fans are a necessary part of the World Series of Poker. Indeed, heckling and overly enthusiastic fans come with any sport; major league baseball outfielders know this all too well.

With a few exceptions, however, pro poker players are accessible to fans on a level that is unlike that of professional athletes and celebrities. They will look up and smile for a photo in the middle of a hand; they'll pose for snapshots and hear fans recount a hand from their televised table at Foxwoods on their 20 minute break; they'll even autograph t-shirts and posters passed over the rail to them during a game.

But when the fans are close enough for the pros to know they are literally sweating them, it's not too much to ask Harrah's to give them a little extra breathing room. At $1,500, $10,000 or even $50,000 a pop, they've earned it.

A few posted spectator guidelines wouldn't hurt. No one likes having to establish too many rules, granted, but Harrah's should think of it as a courtesy to its customers. No talking to players during a game should be standard protocol.

Poker is fed in part by fans who, though they may not know much about it, love the game and its celebrity element. That's great. But if the players have enough respect for the fans - and willingness to promote the World Series of Poker by posing for photographs and signing autographs for tourists on their dinner breaks - Harrah's should be willing to have their backs also when millions of dollars are on the line.

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