Think of WSOP as organized chaos

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The 2012 World Series of Poker is upon us and there’s no turning back. Thousands of professional, aspiring-to-be professional and straight-up amateur players have descended on Las Vegas hoping to win a bracelet, make a couple of bucks or just collect a few cheesy autographs on an unwashed baseball cap.

Whatever your motivation is that prompted you to come to Las Vegas during the WSOP, one thing is certain: You’re not alone. For every one of the 61 bracelet winners at this year’s WSOP, there will be thousands who go home with nothing more than a story and a significant dent in their children’s college fund.

Though most articles talk about events, number of tables, and random Midwest tournament event winners, I want to discuss the other side to the WSOP, the truth behind the banners, the advertising and the players (including myself) who are convinced this is the best time of year to be a poker player in Vegas.

The truth is the WSOP is often nothing more than a roll of the dice. Even the most seasoned professional can be blinded by the insane action and deep pockets that come out for this event, and bankrolls and livelihoods can be wiped away quicker than you can imagine.

Many amateurs save up for years to take one shot at the WSOP, and see their life savings wiped out holding a 7-6 smooth against a kid who drew two and made a No. 1 in Kansas City lowball. Some may call me jaded or a cynic or a sore loser. The truth is I’m all three. I’ve won and lost thousands at the WSOP, and I intend to do so again and again as long as there’s cigarette smoke in my lungs and a chip in my pocket. It’s one of those inherent addictions that come from being a poker player in Vegas, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll leave the WSOP tournament results, schedules and celebrity entrances to other writers and instead present you with a couple of random musings and thoughts on the organized chaos that is the World Series of Poker.

Though there have been many “advice” columns written over the years on the WSOP and how to prepare for the cash games and tournaments, my advice for surviving the Rio is simple: Tip everyone and tip often. When you enter the WSOP, whether you are there to take some pictures, get in on a cash games, or play a satellite, you will want to tip. Tip the chip runners, dealers, floormen, valets, cage cashiers and the drink servers.

Literally, tip every person you see. You will not believe the rewards and karma that will follow. Don’t complain about rake or how you’re not getting Tier Credits for playing cash games. Don’t stiff the tournament dealers because Caesars withholds a percentage of the prize pool. Don’t be that person.

Under the Big Top of the Rio Amazon and Pavilion ballrooms there will be oodles of cash games, low middle, and high buy-in tournaments, and endless amounts of poorly dressed and lightly bathed poker players.

Outside of the Rio, however, are 50 poker rooms that are seemingly affected by the main attraction. Rooms that ordinarily never get $2-$5 no-limit hold’em suddenly have two or three games going. Button straddles (offered at all Caesars Entertainment properties in Las Vegas, but rarely done) become commonplace even in the smallest $1-$2 NLHE games. It’s these games, miles from the Rio, where the typical Las Vegas grinder can find his due.

Many flood the Rio’s $2-$5 games, where cash plays and unknown amounts of hundred-dollar bills get removed and added to a table at a whim. But it’s the pickup random games at places such as the Mirage, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s and South Point that seem to come out of nowhere and pad the wallets of the gritty grinders.

With so many players choosing this time of year to play well above their bankroll and “take a shot” in a bigger game, often the best games are in your back yard. A room that normally doesn’t spread a mixed game will often have the worst players. This same line of thinking applies to rooms that normally don’t spread $2-$5 or even $5-$10.

Don’t get me wrong, the Rio is certainly a hotbed of incredible action, but that action can come at a pretty price. The variance of a typical poker game in Las Vegas is easily quintupled at the WSOP. With so many games to choose from, ranging from pot-limit 5-card Omaha/8 (known as Big O) to $75-$150 razz to $150 super satellites, someone with a life savings of $3,000 can be crying on the curb bumming money to tip valet within 10 minutes.

It’s for these reasons I love the WSOP. I love the degeneracy, the desperation, the lunacy. I take great pleasure in other people’s misfortunes and triumphs, and there’s no better place to experience all of that than at the World Series of Poker.

— Michael Hamai (a.k.a LasVegasMichael) resides in Las Vegas and is content manager and editor of AllVegasPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LasVegasMichael or email him at Michael@AllVegasPoker.com.