11:28 PM: With ten minutes to go in the first day of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, it appears that both Petter Northug and Marcus Hellner have survived, and will head into a second round of play later this week. The two each have comfortable stacks of chips, and will be in decent position as the tournament continues on.
4:50: For once, it looked like Petter Northug was faced with a comeback that was too tough.
With his chips dwindling at the 2010 World Series of Poker, Northug had gone “all in,” and was met with the prospect of being eliminated just three hours into the tournament.
Stone-faced, eyes concealed behind a pair of Oakley sunglasses, Northug sat calmly and waited to see if the one player left in the hand would match his bet.
When he did, Northug flipped over his cards and walked away from the table, his tournament hinging on the next few cards dealt. Ultimately, he lucked out with a pair of aces to stay in the game.
Marcus Hellner’s second two-hour stint at the table was much less dramatic, but the result was the same, as both men appear to have roughly 20,000 in chips remaining.
The two Scandinavians have completely assimilated themselves into the poker world, adopting the typical mannerisms and disinterested appearances of many of the players here. In addition to Northug’s designer shades, both athletes have also spent much of the tournament listening to music through headphones.
Just over a quarter of the way into the 2010 World Series of Poker, Marcus Hellner holds the edge over Petter Northug.
Hellner appears to be steady at around 30,000 chips—the same number he started with—while Northug has dropped to roughly 20,000.
While his body language spoke differently, Northug was still optimistic about his chances during the first half-hour break from play. The most threatening competitor at Northug’s table, 2004 tournament champion Greg Raymer, was bounced out after just an hour, and Northug said that he was starting to get a good sense of his competitors’ playing styles.
“The thing is just to be patient and wait for my spot,” he said. “I have plenty of time yet…I think it’s a good table for me—it’s pretty aggressive players, so if I just hit the big hand, I think I can win a lot.”
Fifteen tables down, Hellner said that he was enjoying the benefits of wearing a jacket with his sponsor PokerStars’s logo.
“I think they have a little bit of respect for me because I have this,” he said. “They think I’m good at it—I tried to bluff them some times, and they take it.”
While Hellner hopes to last as long as he can in the tournament, he was realistic about his chances.
“My first goal is to beat Petter,” he said. “I think it will be very hard for me as it goes on.”
Both Hellner and Northug will have to grind through nearly twelve hours of poker—from noon to midnight—in order to make it through to the next round of competition. Neither was concerned about the long hours, though—nor the early wake-up call tomorrow morning for a 9 a.m. rollerski race at the Palms.
In fact, Northug said he was far more concerned about the poker than about the skiing—at least during his Vegas vacation.
“Tomorrow is just fun—this is competition,” he said. “It’s a big dream to play in the main event—it’s one of my biggest interests…I have to enjoy it, and I also have to play good.”
None of the players at either Northug or Hellner’s table seemed to realize that they were playing with multiple Olympic medalists—and Northug said he’d rather have it that way. If anyone found out who he was, “then they’d think I’m a big fish,” he said.
1:28: One hour into the World Series of Poker and not much has changed here in Las Vegas–neither Petter Northug nor Marcus Hellner have budged from their seats at the card table, although Northug did just fold out of a large hand just moments ago.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this afternoon’s play is that Northug is stuck at a table with Greg Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker Champion, who provides a stark contrast between the world of poker and the world of cross-country skiing.
Raymer is nicknamed “Fossilman,” apparently because of his hobby of collecting prehistoric remnants, although it also appears to be an apt physical description. Wearing a bizarre pair of holographic sunglasses, Raymer was nearly eliminated in the first hour when he lost a hand to another player at the table, but is holding on with a small fraction of his chips remaining.
Hellner appears to be playing more conservatively than Northug–the Swede has been folding the vast majority of his hands, which is typical for this early in the tournament. Northug has played a few more, and appeared to lose at least 10 percent of his chips when he called a large pot (in non-poker speak, that means that he matched another players bet), then folded when the cards did not turn his way later in the hand.
Northug is playing at a featured table on a platform in a corner of one of the rooms here at the Rio–he apparently was unhappy about being moved.
More to come.
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.