Whew! Five days (no nights) in Vegas wore me out. I flew in Saturday to watch my son play poker in the “main event.” I’ve never been to football’s Super Bowl or baseball’s World Series, but this WSOP shindig seemed every bit a combination of both.

My son, Bret, began play noon Sunday. That morning I suggested he consider going over to the Rio a couple of hours early, just in case it was a registration madhouse. He said he was pre-registered so wasn’t going to bother getting there more than five minutes early.

Oh well, I knew it really wasn’t important to start with the herd on the first hand out of the gate. Phil Helmuth makes a trademark of showing up late to tournaments. Truth be told, it isn’t a big deal since not many wonderful things can happen early in big tournament play but a bunch of bad things can. Also, blinds are so tiny, the cost of tardiness is nil.

I did worry about administrative screw-ups. Stuff happens. I wasn’t comfortable walking in a few minutes before “shuffle up and deal” rang through the rooms, especially when I saw the mob as our taxi pulled up at the Rio entrance.

I needn’t have worried. We filed in, went with the signs that guided the flow toward the event. Bret peeled off at the “will call” desk to get his ticket. He presented identification and, after filling out an IRS tax form, was given his room and seat assignment. I was impressed. No muss, no fuss.

Luckily his table was on the edge with his chair closest to the ropes. I found a place to sit on some stairs so was able to comfortably watch the action…or, more appropriately, inaction. Tournament poker is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror and excitement. Combat pilots use the same description for their profession.

I took in the sights until Bret was in a hand. Then I’d walk over to watch what went on. During hands he wasn’t playing, he’d come over to where I sat and we’d chat about the game or other players. It was most enjoyable for this father.

The huge central exposition hall had a “carnival” atmosphere. Books, software, educational DVDs, cards, chips, even a car customized into a “Pokermobile” were hawked from display booths. It was a flea market without fleas.

As I moseyed through the expo hall, Doyle Brunson rode past on his handicap scooter. He zipped right by. Had I stepped a foot to my left, I’d probably have gotten my name on the nightly news. “Doyle Brunson hits fat southern boy at WSOP main event. Otis Gardner rushed to hospital. Scooter successfully removed.”

I ran into a bunch of familiar folks. I stood in line with Hevad Kahn. He wasn’t hyperventilating or agitated one little bit, unlike his televised persona. He seemed like a nice, quiet guy. I suppose some players don’t go into “character mode” until on camera. I was surprised Chris Moneymaker was such a short dude. I don’t know how he manages to see over his chip stacks.

Mike Matusow apparently doesn’t come alive until ESPN people show up. He’s known as “The Mouth” because he constantly runs his. But on this day, he sat at the table next to Bret’s and I didn’t hear a peep from him. No camera – no sound. It’s magic!

Jerry Yang, last year’s winner, was in the house. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson most definitely looks like the artistically classic Jesus. Joe Hashem and Daniel Negreanu were signing books at separate tables.

I want to read Negreanu’s new book. I would’ve bought it there, but why carry it around all day, signed or not? I don’t care much about people’s autographs unless they’re on checks to me or already dead like Elvis.

News folks with cameras and microphones scurried around the room. When an “all in” was hollered from a table, they’d rush over to film and record the play. Most of what they filmed would be edited out. It’s mostly chaff excepting a few kernels for entertainment consumption. I look forward to seeing the finished product on ESPN.

It was a lot of fun even though we won’t be seeing Bret on TV. He got “all in” with the best of it but was drowned by a two-outer on the river. It happens. It’s the nature of the game, both its biggest strength and weakness.

I learned something. Now I understand why so many players wear headphones. It isn’t about the music. The big room full of players fiddling with their chip stacks sounded like the soundtrack of a Japanese horror movie, “Cricketzilla.”

Being southern, the cricket sound filling the room didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it made me want to grab a cane pole and bait up. Needless to say, the trip was a total hoot…or should I say, “chirp.”

Like Arnold, I’ll definitely be back.