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THE AIR is blue with bad beat stories. Wherever you turn in Binion's Horseshoe, Las Vegas, where the World Championship is being played this week at no-limit Hold'em, you hear the same thing: "I raised with aces in the pocket, he's sittin' on the big blind with five-four off-suit. On the flop comes another ace. And then . . ."

You know the rest of the story without being told. A 2 and a 3 come down to make a low straight, and the narrator is out for another year. Bad beat.

With 65 tables in action, the poker at the World Series is going strong. The entry for the big event was close to 300. The money is going around. But overall the atmosphere has not been good.

The whole event seems to have lost something of its magnetism and excitement in the economic downturn, which is undermining Glitter Gulch. And uncertainty about the future of the World Championship - will it go on, will it stay at Binion's? - continues.

Up on the roof, where the swimming pool is located, I swam into Brasso, a veteran of the European circuit. "You won't believe this," he started. "I got beaten on aces, on ace-king, even on a pair of nines against another pair of nines." How so? I dutifully inquired. "The man hit a flush! And then this woman, the worst player at the table, busts me out. I'm on the button [last to speak] with jack-nine.

"The flop comes down 7-7-2. She makes a small bet and I go over the top all-in. And she calls me with ace-queen! How can she call? What an idiot!"

The sun was shining, the water was cool, I decided to break the habit of being on the wrong end of bad beat stories. "Brasso," I said, "do you know what's happening right now?" He looked blank. "That woman is sitting by the pool somewhere and saying to her boyfriend: `Can you imagine, some crazy European guy went all-in against me with absolutely nothing, bluffing at the pot when I had bet my ace-queen. Oh boy, what an idiot!"

Brasso gave me a look and I swam off. Bad beat, indeed.