Here’s to the railbirds: Watching a WCOOP final table


WCOOP season is upon us, the most prestigious of the COOPs, boasting quite rightly, to represent the very best the online poker world has to offer. Each event vaunts gravitas, with finals conjuring up clashes between players whose database numbers spin wildly, reaching six figures in some places, and to the left of the decimal point.

They come for the money, the prestige but also a winners’ bracelet. And, because this is online poker, you can actually wear such bling as you play, and nobody will laugh at you.

So it’s no wonder that thousands of players and poker enthusiasts rail these finals, proof coming in the little “eye-con” in the top left corner of the screen, which shows the number of people actually watching – usually numbering in the thousands.

This figure is incredible. Not for the level of interest shown, but because as a railbird to any online tournament, it’s pretty hard to make sense of anything.

There once was a popular “winning” poker system that was available exclusively to those prepared to hand over a modest fee in return. Successful it was, but it required massive attention to detail.

First you needed three of four reams of foolscap on which to write notes about every opponent, 200 square feet of floor space on which to spread these pages, and a team of assistants to scuttle around on their hands and knees to fetch the necessary information. All the while you were busy recording new information to add to this pile. But if you could master this simple process, you had it made.

In much the same way a WCOOP final, for the spectator, can prove equally rewarding. All you need are the reflexes of a ninja, perfect eyesight and an elephant’s memory. On top of that you could add the patience of Job. A WCOOP final is no turbo and the quality of player, combined with what’s at stake, makes this chess, not checkers. Some finals last hours.

But whilst in the live game you can watch every nuance and gauge for yourself what is going on, the online game works at ten times the speed, and waits for nobody. Missed the showdown? Too bad. What was that last raise? Too late, we’re onto the next hand.

So that’s why, as a reporter, I get down on my knees and thank the Gods of Information Technology who created hand histories and the re-players that go with them. Like an old man reaching for his reading glasses before examining the week’s box scores, I watch a hand, see the hand and note the hand without comprehending what on earth has gone on. But the hand re-player, like a nurse reminding me that it’s time for my medicine, is always a comfort to me.

And so it’s not until afterwards that I’ll piece together what’s happened. Then the simple genius behind some of the hands – that gloriously frustrating brilliance, emerges.

I suspect it’s a similar approach to that taken by those on the rail. Already convinced that the live game represents a mere sliver of poker’s available talent, they watch the business end of a WCOOP final table and bask in every moment. Once I’ve found my glasses and watched it all again, it’s not hard to see why.