Cyndy Violette smiles at me, and I am mesmerized. Wearing a pink shirt with the words 'Poker Pro', a Doyle's Room baseball hat, and spreading around the felt an assortment of stones with phrases like "I am lucky," "I am focused," "Enjoy," "Trust," and "Power," she has captured the attention of her entire table.
Reporters love to say that Phil Ivey is the most focused poker player of all time. "Did you see his concentration?" they ask one another incredulously. I've seen Phil Ivey in the first few hours of a 12-day event, and the reporters are all kidding themselves. Early in events, when he is out of hands, he is not focused – he is bored. He is looking around the room, trying to find something to capture his attention and pace himself. I watched Howard Lederer for three hours yesterday in levels 1 and 2, and after he stopped to peek down at his cards and muck, not once did Howard avert his steely Professor-like gaze from Coco Crisp on ESPN's Sportscenter, being run on the flat-screen television 20 feet in front of him. I asked Howard jokingly, "So, what tips do you have for an avid Sportscenter-watcher?" He chucked and wryly told me, "I'll start paying attention in level 4 when the antes come in. I have to pace myself in these early levels."
Cyndy Violette is a different story. It is just into level 2, a little past the second hour of play, and she is going full-force. As I approach her table, I see seat 8 bet a pot at the river and win the showdown. Violette's eyes crinkle, and she immediately focuses her gaze on him. The cards for the next hand are dealt, and Violette peeks at her first card, then immediately returns her stare to seat 8. The second card is dealt, and Violette breaks away for a moment to look at her second card, then mucks. Her eyes are right back on her target before the cards hit the muck pile. She continues this routine for an entire orbit, until seat 8 shows his cards in a showdown. She nods her head upon seeing his ace-high.
"Wow," she says.
I watch Cyndy for the next half-hour, and there is no pacing for her. Her eyes never leave the eyes of another player. She studies them subtly, flashing an effervescent smile when they look back at her. They smile back, enamored with the idea that Cyndy Violette is smiling at them. This is part of Cyndy's game, too. She is the Pied Piper of the table, using her charm to hypnotize her table-mates. They want desperately more than anything else to gain her approval.
"What did you have?" Cyndy asks the man next to her as he folds his hand. "Q-J?" He smiles, looks around, and bends the cards above the felt just enough that only Violette and a nosy reporter in back of her can see his Q-J offsuit. Cyndy chuckles at the man, and he is beaming with a look of pride on his face.
Only one man does not comply with Cyndy – Harry from Minnesota. Harry is an elderly gentleman who seems relatively new to tournament poker, but he is somehow immune to Violette's charm. Cyndy comes into a pot, betting on every street and building a huge pot heads-up with Harry. The river comes down a Jack, making the board 10-K-4-A-J, and Harry bets out. Violette suddenly jerks up. "Oh, no, Harry, not again," she smiles. "Queen again?" she asks incredulously. Harry from Minnesota is stone-faced, staring right at the flop and refusing to meet Violette's gaze.
Cyndy continues to stare at him. One minute quickly turns into two. She badgers him with innocent questions, "You didn't get a queen again, did you Harry?" but he refuses to take the bait, remaining statuesque. Suddenly, he mumbeles something and Violette senses that he wants to finally break his vow of silence. She leans forward, looking straight into his eyes, and asks, "Eh? What was that?" He laughs nervously and opens his mouth to say something, but suddenly goes back to statue form.
Cyndy is flustered. She shows him A-K for top two pair and mucks, still keeping her smile. "You had the queen, didn't you Harry."
He finally looks up and smiles, but refuses to divulge his holdings.
Cyndy's table-mates seem eager to jump to her aid. "I folded a queen, Cyndy!" yells one man from across the table. Cyndy smiles at him, giving him his reward. "I folded one too!" yells another. Another smile, and another happy player.
"What about you, Harry?" He laughs nervously, seeming to be tearing up inside but still will not answer. "Why did you crack my A-K, Harry?" she asks. Nothing will work.
The ESPN crew, capturing the entire hand on tape, asks Harry what his name is. "That's Harry from Minnesota," Violette yaps cheerfully. "He's my rival." The table laughs, all except for Harry, who seems a bit torn inside.
10 minutes later, Violette is still at it. She asks again, "Will you tell me what you had later?"
Harry pauses, finally caves, and says, "Wednesday I will."
Violette looks ecstatic and laughs. "Email it to me, OK?"
Harry from Minnesota, looking as if the weight of the world has been finally lifted off his shoulders, answers, "Sure." Violette quickly flashes a smile before turning away, refocusing her attention back to the hands of Seat 8, shuffling green chips and contemplating a call.