Fan is short for “fanatic.”
All sports have what would be considered rabid fan bases. And, just as poker has grown and many players have become celebrities, fans now have developed a strong rooting interest in the games and its players.
However, no poker event is quite like the WSOP Main Event. Each player at this final table has brought along his own rail of supporters. In some cases, the fans have flown here from foreign countries. Many are making their first visit to Las Vegas. A few don't even know much about poker. Still, everyone seems to get caught up in the excitement.
Cheering rails are a relatively recent phenomenon. It all started back in 2005, when Australian Joe Hachem won the title, to the lingering echoes of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” That set off a popular trend where most players began bringing along hoards of supporters. During some years, the inside of the Penn and Teller Theater has taken the atmosphere of a Super Bowl game.
Perhaps the biggest and most enthusiastic rail of all time was in 2008, when Dennis Phillips seemed to bring everyone he's ever known to the Rio to cheer him on. That year, all of Phillips' supporters wore white button-down shirts, many plastered with logos, all in support of St. Louis' best-known poker player. One even brought along a loud truck horn to cheer on their truck-driving friend.
In the years that followed, virtually every player has brought along a cheering rail to Las Vegas. This year is no exception.
The largest contingent appears to belong to Jay Farber, hardly a surprise since he lives here in Las Vegas and many of his friends are locals.
J.C. Tran also brought along many supporters, mostly from Sacramento, his hometown. Tran has been a Sacramento booster for many years, often wearing the NBA Kings gear while playing poker. Many of Tran's pals have also taken to wearing the Kings logo, no doubt to show support for their favored player.
Amir Lehavot is the first player in WSOP final table history with close ties to Israel. It was hardly a surprise then to see a large Israeli flag unfurled in the crowd. That said, his supporters have come from all over – including Florida, Texas, Nevada, and some from overseas.
The two most creative rails belong to Ryan Riess and Marc-Etienne McLaughlin. Many wore costumes, making their sections look more like a Halloween party than a poker game.
Riess has the Easter Bunny in his corner. Someone must be sweating bullets inside that costume, as it's always warm around television lights. Nonetheless, the bunny shows no signs of fading. He (or she – how does one tell?) is hopping to his/her feet every time Riess wins a pot.
If there was a gold bracelet awarded for the best idea to fire up the crowd, it most certainly should go to McLaughlin. The Quebec poker player is of Irish ancestry. Accordingly, most of his supporters are wearing green. McLaughlin also promised a cash prize to the most interesting costume among his rail, which triggered rows of candidates. There are animals, historical figures, and some characters who defy simple description. No doubt, McLaughlin's rail seems to be having the most fun with the dressing up idea. Naturally, there's a leprochaun sitting in the front row--one of several in attendance, including McLaughlin's friend and 201 Main Event Champ Jonathan Duhamel. We shall see if they bring some luck to their friend.
No matter what though, when it comes to having fun at the WSOP, everyone here seems to be a winner.