One by one, they walked to the payout station. Michael, the zit-faced, scraggly-bearded British kid who wreaked havoc on my table near the end of Day 2, and "Austin," as I called him, who was from that Texas city and gave me fits whenever I tried to play a hand with him earlier on Day 2.
Every time a dealer called, "Payout, Table 423" after yet another player busted out, I knew I was laddering up the prize pool of the $1,500 Monster Stack, earning a little more money as I dreamed that insane dream - top prize of $1.1 million and the champion's bracelet, one of poker's most prestigious accomplishments.
But was the dream really so insane? As we entered Day 3 with 276 players remaining out of 6,927 who started, I was fairly low in chips with 362,000, but I quickly built it up over 1 million in tournament chips after catching a rush of good cards.
One by one those players dropped, until we were down into the double digits remaining. Get through 90 something more players and I could be the sole survivor.
One large difference between 2006, when I went relatively deep in the Main Event, and today, is my ability to post frequent updates on social media, and suddenly friends and colleagues who know relatively nothing about poker were constantly monitoring my Facebook page and checking chip counts on WSOP.com. And their words of encouragement bolstered my resolve.
Unfortunately, after I caught that rush of cards, the spigot ran dry and the blinds and antes we are forced to post dwindled my stack to around 400,000 in chips. But right before the dinner break, a miracle happened. I got all-in before the flop with A-K versus T-T and after my opponent flopped a set of tens, I managed to hit running spades on the turn and river to make a flush. I not only survived but was over 1 million in chips again.
Alas, no, as just a few hands after we resumed play I got all in with A-K again, this time versus J-J. The board did not improve my hand and I was out in 63rd place.
"Never go all in without a pair," my uncle Jerry ribbed me.
Ha, maybe he's right.
Still, the $17,000 and change I got was a nice consolation prize, and now, with two weeks to go in this Vegas adventure, I'm brimming with confidence and a larger bankroll that I'll put to use in more WSOP bracelet events, with the Main Event looming on the horizon.
I didn't notch that life-changing score in the Monster Stack, but the summer's not over.