24/7 card stud

Baldwin, in blue, settles in for another mind-numbing day at work. Chris Buck

This article appears in the July 26 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Eric Baldwin was just recently eliminated from the World Series of Poker main event, finishing 59th.

Another weekday afternoon is another day at the office for Eric Baldwin. Dressed in a Diamondbacks cap, zip-front sweatshirt and jeans, the wholesome-looking 27-year-old sits at a table and scans his workspace, a.k.a. the Amazon Ballroom at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Baldwin makes his living as a professional live-tournament poker player, so his "office" changes frequently. But it's usually some version of the Amazon: a windowless, hyper-air-conditioned function room, somewhere deep inside a casino. Baldwin sits in the midst of an expanse of identical green-and-beige Texas hold 'em tables. Card players, most of them male, pale and under 35, and mostly decked out in a uniform like Baldwin's -- give or take a pair of sunglasses or headphones -- circle the tables in groups of nine or 10. There's an eerie quiet to the room, apart from the incessant shuffling and the occasional clink of poker chips. Smiles are rare, laughs rarer. Like most poker events, this one resembles nothing so much as a bad wedding attended by some very unhappy guests.