Legendary baseball great Lou Gehrig once proclaimed he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." That may have been true a half century ago. But as of 2010, I’m convinced that I’m the luckiest man in all of poker. I’ve been the Media Director at the World Series of Poker for nearly a decade now, which makes me the senior member of the tournament staff. During this span, I’ve watched about 500 final tables and have seen hundreds of millions in prize money paid out to winners. I’ve also witnessed history being made on several occasions. Yeah, I have to admit -- I’ve got a pretty cool job.

The WSOP has given me a treasure chest full of memories. But, I’ve also experienced quite a few embarrassing moments through the years, as well. Here are a few of the stories I can tell:

Painted From Memory (2001) When I first started covering the WSOP, tournament reporting was very different than today. There was no live event coverage over the Internet. The Main Event final table was not even shown on television. The only official record which existed was a sheet of paper containing a hastily-written news story which was photocopied several hundreds times and passed out inside the poker room at Binion’s Horseshoe. I remember being very nervous about the job during my first year [1]. I watched every hand at the final table and took careful notes so everything in the report would be completely accurate. Unfortunately, late one night about a week into the series I lost my notebook which contained all the key hands, comments on strategy, and quotes from the players. I went into a state of panic. I remember staring at a computer screen and typing out the entire tournament report solely from memory. The following day, a number of poker players approached me. They asked how I could possibly get so many of the hands completely wrong. I’m not sure what was more embarrassing -- getting all the hands wrong or having to admit I could not be trusted to hold onto a simple notebook.

Greed is Good (2002) There were a number of controversies whirling around at the 2002 WSOP. The dealers went on strike that year. Some players were barred and others boycotted all events. Then, there were the tournament entry fees, which were purportedly raised to cover operating expenses, but which were widely perceived as casino ownership fleecing the players [2]. About halfway through the series, I was working quite late and made a terrible typo on the final report, which was posted to a new website read by thousands of poker players. I meant to write the total prize pool was "$237,000." But instead, I wrote the pool was "$237." Several wisecracking critics could not resist making comments. "We all know the Horseshoe owners are greedy, but isn’t withholding 99.9 percent of the total prize pool just a bit much?"

Freedom of Speech (2003) One of my bold new ideas was giving the microphone to each WSOP gold bracelet winner right after his victory and letting him (or her) say a few words to the crowd. Everything went along fine for a few weeks as most winners thanked their family and friends, which received polite applause. Then, Prahlad Friedman won the $1,500 buy-in Pot-Limit Hold’em championship and subsequently, nearly started a riot. U.S. forces had just invaded Iraq, and Friedman was adamantly opposed to the war. When Friedman took the microphone he launched into a political speech, strongly expressing his views. Many poker players, including a few veterans, made a mad dash for the stage and began yelling back at Friedman. Some tournament players got up from the seats and surrounded Friedman as he was leaving the room. Shouting matches began. Security had to be called to break up the disturbance. Horrified by the spectacle, one of the tournament directors came over to me and said, "Got any more bright ideas, Nolan?"

Slots of Fun (2004) ABC’s "Jimmy Kimmel Show" did several live updates from the WSOP in 2004. During one segment, we did a late night television shoot right off Fremont Street. This was broadcast on a side street where the huge neon "Binion’s Horseshoe" sign was clearly visible. The casino sure looked impressive at night, except for one major flaw. Emblazoned in bright lights directly underneath the famous Horseshoe logo were giant letters spelling out "Poker, Keno, and Slots." No big deal, right? Trouble was, in the word "SLOTS," the two light bulbs on the upper curve of the "O" were burned out. I’ll let readers try to figure out what word showed up in bright lights instead. It sure made for some interesting television.

The Safety Pin That Failed (2004) I was the emcee for the Poker Hall of Fame induction held that year. The "Class of 2004" included a real class act -- Berry Johnston. It was brutally hot and on my way into work that day I dressed in shorts. I brought along a black tuxedo to wear for the occasion. About five minutes before I was to begin the official ceremony, I rushed to change clothes and suddenly realized I did not have my black tuxedo pants. I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, one of the photographers was wearing a pair of black pants. I begged him for a temporary "loan," and he agreed. I struggled to shoehorn my hefty 40-inch gut into a pair of super tight 32-inch trousers. Fortunately, someone stapled me up with a safety pin, which was all that prevented me from becoming the first WSOP flasher in history. The trick lasted about three minutes. As I began speaking to a full house gathered around the stage, I felt the safety pin slowly giving way. Then, there was a pop. "Ka-pow!" My pants began to fall down towards my knees as I had notecards in one hand and a microphone in the other. Over the next 15 minutes, I struggled to duck walk around the stage trying desperately to hold up my pants. Fortunately, all eyes were on Berry.

The Quarter-Million Dollar E-Mail (2004) Long before he became the 2004 world poker champion, I knew Greg "Fossilman" Raymer quite well. He was part of a small group of poker players who occasionally offered percentages for sharing tournament buy-ins. At the time, I invested in a number of players, usually for $500 at a time. A few days prior to coming to Las Vegas to enter the Main Event, Greg e-mailed me and a few players asking if I wanted to invest for a certain percentage. Unfortunately, I had a heavy workload at the time. Although I read the e-mail and intended to make an investment, I failed to respond. I completely forgot about the e-mail until I checked later and discovered that I could have invested $500 for five percent of Raymer. The Fossilman ended up banking $5 million a few days later, which means my cut would have been a cool $250,000 [3].

Get Off the Stage! (2005) Part of my job is being a jerk sometimes. Keep in mind that ESPN has a lot of expensive television equipment sitting around and we try our best to keep non-players off the stage while the final table is played. It’s just common sense. That last thing anyone wants to see is a $100,000 television camera being knocked to the ground. During the $1,500 Limit Hold’em event in 2005, I went onto the stage during the first break and saw a young man browsing around the table looking intently at all the stacks. The man was dressed in a basketball jersey. I asked the young man why he was standing so close to the table. He replied that he wanted to look carefully at all the stack sizes. I told the young man in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed up on the stage during the break. About five minutes went by and the players began returning to their seats. I noticed the same young man in the basketball jersey milling around again. This time, he was actually hand-counting one of the stacks! Furious, I ran up to the table yelled at him, "I already told you once, get off the stage right now!" The young man looked at me like I was insane. At that instant, the floorman approached and informed me that young man I was throwing off the stage was the current chip leader, Eric Froehlich. He went on to win his first gold bracelet at that final table. A few years later, when I saw Eric playing at another final table, hoping for some good karma, he asked me to throw him off the stage again. Jokingly, I did. And, he won gold bracelet number two.

You Don’t Look a Day Over 78 (2006) Clare Miller won the 2006 WSOP Seniors World Championship. I usually ask players their ages when they win, so we can document certain records. However, there’s some etiquette as to never asking a lady her age. So, I decided not to ask Mrs. Miller the touchy question. Someone who was present at the final table claimed to know Mrs. Miller and insisted she was 78-years old. Why I chose to believe this remains a mystery. So, in the official tournament report sent out to more than 500 media outlets that night the headline trumpeted, "78-Year-Old New Mexico Grandmother Wins Seniors World Championship." The following day, I was hunted down like a wounded deer. Clare Miller and her husband Shelby tracked me down in the hallway and demanded to know why I reported she was 78-years old. I was speechless. Here was one of the highlights of this lady’s life, and I ruined it by making her 17 years older than her real age (she was actually 61). After I admitted that I blew it, they turned into the nicest people you can imagine. Shelby even quipped, "I read that headline and was furious because I wanted to know how come I’ve been sleeping with this woman who’s 17-years older than me my entire life!"

Frankenstein (2006) The days and nights are often one and the same at the WSOP, especially when you’re working. It’s a labor of love, but there have been many nights that became morning and a new day began before I had a chance to sleep. For some of us, every day is at least 12-hours long and there are no days off for 50-straight days. A few years ago, I decided that rather than drive home to sleep perhaps only 2 to 3 hours, during some nights I would just crash inside the media room. One night, I finally got the tournament report done at about 8 am and elected to sleep on of the floor for a few hours before coming back fresh and ready at noon. Unfortunately, one of the media outlets saw me sleeping and snapped a now-infamous photograph. The picture was posted on the Internet. It made me look like Frankenstein collapsed in a zombie’s grave. Of course, some of the key people at Harrah’s saw the photo and asked about the lazy WSOP Media Director who sleeps on the job.

I Can’t Believe He Said That (2006) I’m not sure I’ve ever been as embarrassed as the time I insulted Vanessa Selbst at a WSOP final table. That year, we had a ritual before every final table where a top pro was introduced who would then say a few encouraging words to the players and the audience. The stage was filled to capacity and our special guest that day was poker pro Liz Lieu. I had the honor of introducing Liz to the crowd and in doing so I made the bold prediction that "Liz will be the next woman to win a WSOP gold bracelet." There was an awkward silence right after I made the remark. Then, someone pointed out that sitting at the final table that day within ten feet of my introduction was Vanessa Selbst! By that time the microphone was already out of my hands and the damage had been done. Several poker players approached me as I went through the tournament room and asked why I insulted Vanessa. Of course, the reality was I did not see her sitting right there in front of me. To Vanessa’s credit, she graciously accepted my apology. And, in what was most certainly an act of either divine intervention or poetic justice, Vanessa returned to the WSOP two years later and won her first gold bracelet.

Note: In a future article, I will tell you some more embarrassing moments from recent years working at the WSOP. Fortunately, I do not expect any embarrassing things to occur in 2010 and beyond.

Footnotes:

[1] Mike Paulle did many of the official reports in 2001. I wrote five reports that first year.

[2] Max Shapiro was the official reporter in 2002.

[3] Years ago, it was common for staff members not only to invest in players but also to play in events. Since Harrah’s took over the WSOP in 2004, this practice is no longer allowed.