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A day with the man who drives the WSOP machine

4 July 2008

LAS VEGAS – The doors have swung open for Day 1B of the 2008 World Series of Poker's Main Event and Jack Effel is standing smack dab in the middle of the Amazon Ballroom.

Bodies are coming at him from all directions and Effel looks a lot more like a traffic cop at a busy four-way intersection than he does tournament director of one of the most prestigious events in the world.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome players!" he bellows into the cordless microphone as more than 1,100 participants enter the room. "Please make your way to your seat as quickly as possible so we can get things started on time today."

As he continues to make his announcements and holler directions into the mike, Effel is constantly checking his watch and glancing at his Blackberry. Time is clearly of the essence.

"We gonna start on time today, Jack?" an ESPN employee says to Effel with a laugh.

"Twelve o'clock sharp, baby," Effel smiles back. "That's the plan."

event17winner

A familar sight at the WSOP: Tournament Director Jack Effel with a big smile on his face. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City)

It's 11:52 a.m. and if Effel wants to keep his "plan" intact, he'd better hurry. He makes his way to the stage that sits atop the Milwaukee's Best No Limit Lounge and is greeted by WSOP Commissioner Jeffery Pollack and Main Event defending champ Jerry Yang, who will both join him for the opening ceremonies. Pollack reaches over to put a miniature American flag in Effel's coat pocket, in honor of Independence Day.

"Don't poke me in the eye," Effel says, half-joking.

At 11:57, Effel motions to his staff to begin letting in the long line of spectators that have been waiting outside for almost an hour. Seconds before noon, Effel leans over the stage and looks down to get an ESPN stage manager's attention.

"You guys ready to roll?" he asks.

After getting a thumbs up, Effel jots down a few last minute notes and then takes a deep breath. It's 12:03 when he officially kicks off the festivities. Three minutes late. Not bad, considering the circumstances.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" Effel announces with his booming voice. "Welcome to the greatest poker tournament in the world."

* * *

The poker world is focused on the WSOP for an eight-week period every summer, but for guys like Jack Effel, the event is a year-round affair.

"It's all about preparation," says a relaxed, but animated, Effel as he stands near the cage inside the Amazon Room about two hours before the start of Day 1B on Friday. "The secret to success is when preparation meets opportunity. That's our motto."

Effel, who is a Dallas native, left his house in Henderson and began the 16-mile drive to work this morning at around 8:30 a.m. He has just one cup of coffee (cream with one Equal) each morning, which is surprising considering the amount of energy he exudes.

When he arrived at the Rio Friday morning he clawed through some paperwork, checked his e-mail, and made sure everything was in order from Day 1A action, which didn't end until 1:30 a.m.

Asked if he stays until the bitter end each night, Effel shrugs his shoulders.

"Nope," says the father of two. "I've got a great crew here. My year-round manager Daniel Vogel is like the right side of my brain and our day-shift manager, Jimmy Sommerfeld is tremendous. Same with the night-shift manager Dennis Jones. I was out of here at around 7 last night. A 10-hour work day, just like any other average Joe."

Not quite. Effel may look like a real estate broker or a financial planner, but make no mistake, his job is far different than most 32-year-olds.

We're talking about a man who is just the eighth tournament director in the 39-year history of the WSOP. He is in charge of pulling the strings for an event that has become a worldwide sensation. Under his direction, there are three tournament managers, 10 tournament supervisors, 30 assistant supervisors, five dealer coordinators, two dealer supervisors and one dealer manager. Speaking of dealers, 700 of them will throw cards in the air today.

"They're so important to the success of this tournament," Effel says.

He has a soft spot in his heart for the dealers because that's how he broke into the business back in 1997 at Sam's Town Hotel and Casino in Tunica. He also trained dealers and was a shift supervisor and poker room manager before becoming assistant WSOP tournament director in 2005 and director of poker operations for Harrah's in 2006. In January of 2007 he began working full-time and year-round on the WSOP.

"We've been working hard towards this year's tournament," he says. "We wanted this to be the year when everyone said, 'You guys nailed it.' I think we're well on our way."

* * *

Play has been underway for about 15 minutes and Effel is making his rounds. He walks at a brisk pace and he checks his Blackberry at least once every 60 seconds or so. When he speaks, he moves his arms and hands around like a weatherman standing in front of a doppler radar map predicting a blizzard. And he constantly has a smile plastered across his face.

"You're following him around today?" one of the tournament supervisors says to me. "Good luck. Hope you have your walking shoes on."

Effel spots Blair Rodman at table Orange 15 and heads to his table to wish him well.

"Happy Fourth and Happy Main Event, Blair," he says.

He goes on to say hello to Bill Elder and many others, including one player that calls him over to give him the news that he's recently become a father.

"Good for you, man," Effel says genuinely. "Hey, this would be a great time to win the Main Event. You could start that college fund off with a bang."

The ESPN cameras catch Erik Seidel as he stops Effel in the aisle to say hello. Then Effel turns to WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla and asks if there are any former Main Event champs in the room.

"Raymer's at Blue 15," Dalla responds without hesitation.

"Great," Effel says as he picks up the pace a few more notches and moves with his cordless microphone towards Blue 15.

"Hey Greg," Effel says as he puts his hand on the shoulder of the 2004 Main Event champion. "Mind if I give you some love?"

"Sure Jack," Raymer says with a smile. "What are you going to do, give me a hug?"

Effel laughs and then turns the microphone on. "Ladies and gentlemen please give a warm welcome to our 2004 Main Event champion, Greg 'The Fossilman' Raymer!!!"

The crowd applauds loudly and Raymer stands up and acknowledges the cheers.

"You gotta give these guys their due as soon as you can," Effel says. "You never know how long they're going to be around."

Effel isn't kidding. Less than two hours later, Raymer is eliminated.

Another former champion, Jamie Gold, gets up from his table in the corner of the room to say hello to Effel. The two exchange pleasantries and then Effel heads over to the ESPN Main Table to see how things are going.

"What's up E-Dog?" Effel says to Erick Lindgren during a break in the action. "Did you have time to get all your wagers in at the sportsbook before things got started today?"

As Effel leaves the main stage area, an ESPN employee carrying a boom mike pulls him aside and asks how his family is doing. It's clear that Effel is well liked by everyone involved with the event.

It's 12:34 and Effel is hungry. "Time to pass the torch and get some lunch," he says to no one in particular.

As he walks with Sommerfeld to have his regular low-carb lunch at the Sao Paulo Cafe ("The last thing a guy like me needs is more sugar," he explains), Effel talks about how difficult it is to balance work and family, particularly during the WSOP.

event17winner

WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel jots down some last minute notes before kicking off the festivities for Day 1B of the Main Event on Friday. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

"I try my best to get away from it all when I'm at home," he says. "The e-mails keep pouring in and I try to stay away from even checking them. If it's important enough, they'll call my cell."

Effel studied business and finance at the University of Mississippi and says he would love to some day go back and get his MBA.

"But that would take away from my free time with the family," he says of his wife Elisha and his kids Elaura, 14, and Jacob, 9. "That's not fair to them."

Fittingly, Effel met Elisha at the 2005 WSOP, the first year he worked the event. Elisha was there as the production manager for Image Masters.

"The best day of my life," Effel says with a wide smile. "No doubt about that."

After lunch, Effel gets away from the madness – or "organized chaos" as he calls it – that's going on out on the floor. He remains in his office crunching profit and loss statements from Day 1A for about two hours. Then it's back to working the tables.

* * *

Effel's day begins winding down around 6 p.m. The count of players for the day has been announced at 1,158 ("Not too bad for the Fourth of July," he says) and his night manager, Jones, is preparing to take over at the controls.

Just after 7 p.m., Effel's day is done.

"It's an honest days work, and I love it," he says before heading out the door. "Like I said, preparation is the key to everything. This event is like the Olympics, meeting Woodstock, meeting poker. It's like a sold-out, farewell Rolling Stones concert every day. It's a beast. But if you prepare for it like we do, the execution is the easy part.

"Once we get organized in the morning and everybody knows what they're supposed to do, it basically runs itself. It's just like any other poker tournament. Now we've all just gotta get up in the morning and do it all over again."

A day with the man who drives the WSOP machine is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT