What: The entire sequence involving the top two players at the World Series of Poker’s Texas Hold ‘Em Main Event: escorted by security guards, models in evening gowns carry in baskets of bundled cash; the cash is dumped upon the table; the runner-up is knocked out; the cash is stacked in front of the winner; and the crowd hoots as the winner shows off his new bracelet.
Why: Many championships award both money and a graven idol of worship. The World Series of Poker is unique in that you can wear your championship totem while you are playing. You’ll rip the seams out if you wear that ugly green Masters jacket on the tee, and you’ll be Johnny Nine-Fingers if you wear your Super Bowl ring in an NFL game. But wearing your Main Event bracelet at the table is encouraged, and lets everyone at the table know you’re the player to beat. (Which is not always a good thing. Part of poker is making people think you’re worse than you are. But sometimes you just want to intimidate, and there’s nothing better than a bracelet for that.)
Impact: The bracelet was as much responsible for the explosion of televised poker as was the holecard-cam and the dearth of content on ESPN2. No matter what, when the Main Event winner is asked whether the million dollars or the bracelet matters more, he will say the bracelet, because, the theory goes, anyone can win a million dollars. (I’m still waiting for proof.)
Personal Connection: I’m posting this from Las Vegas, between poker games. That’s how I measure time in Vegas: the gap since I last played poker. My record is pretty good in coming out ahead at the poker tables in my Vegas trips so far. I credit this in minor measure to my skill at cards (hey, I have written 1/2 of one poker book and 1/3 of another, after all), but in much greater measure to the influx of fish swimming to Vegas to see if they can do what the guys on TV do. Since I’m not a gambler (that is, I don’t play roulette, keno, blackjack, or any other game against the house), my primary outlet is trying to take money off of those guys. Thanks, World Series of Poker!
Other Contenders: jumping in the lake after winning the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship; kissing the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Brickyard 400; placing the rose garland on the horse that wins the Kentucky Derby; every player on the winning NHL team getting a day with the Stanley Cup.