Now in its 50th year, the World Series Of Poker (or WSOP for short) is currently underway in Las Vegas. This six-week celebration of all things poker at the Rio Resort and Casino, Las Vegas is the biggest date in the poker calendar, and this being the 50th anniversary, the Main Event is incredibly well-attended.
8,569 people have stumped up the $10,000 buy-in, a total second only to the attendance figures from 2006, during the height of the poker boom. That tournament was won by Jamie Gold, who took home a massive $12 million. Whoever wins this year will be looking at a $10 million share of the $80,548,600 prize pool. A bigger prize pool also means more winners in general. 1,286 players will end up winning something, starting at $15,000. At time of writing, four days of play have been completed, with Canadian Dean Morrone in a commanding lead with close to 5 million in chips, a whole million ahead of Norway’s Lars Bonding in second.
An Eventful Week
It has already been a memorable week in WSOP history, particularly on day 1C (as the field is so big this year, there are no less than three day 1s, and two day 2s before the field has been whittled down sufficiently to fit everyone in one room). An earthquake in California over the weekend was of sufficient strength to rattle the tables and light fittings in the Rio, and probably knock over a few chip stacks (which must be annoying – especially for the bigger winners). The surprising thing is, an earthquake was not really one of the day’s big stories.
One of the bigger events was that 10-time bracelet winner and poker legend Phil Ivey got knocked out of the tournament in less than an hour. This isn’t necessarily a huge story. Gone are the days when you would see the same names dominating events such as these. Nevertheless, it’s something of a shock to see Ivey defeated so quickly. He joins the likes of Johnny Chan, Gus Hansen and Phil Helmuth on the rail.
That said, there are still some recognisable names in the field of 354 remaining players. Currently in 44th place with just over 2.5 million chips is Antonio Esfandiari, the world’s most successful poker pro in terms of lifetime earnings. A bit (all right, a lot) further down the field, with just over 700,000 in chips is Mike ‘The Mouth’ Matusow. Always entertaining during a televised game, we wish Mike all the best and hope that he can improve his position.
There’s one more recognisable name, albeit not necessarily with a recognisable face attached to it. The 2005 World Series Main Event was won by Australia’s Joe Hachem, a relative unknown at the time. Currently in 55th place is Daniel Hachem, Joe’s son. Hopefully he can perform as well as his old man, who was a major source of inspiration for Matt Damon’s character in Rounders.
DQ Times Two
Despite the game’s reputation for shady behaviour and dodgy characters, the WSOP is usually a bastion of fair play and good sportsmanship. Occasionally you will get a loudmouth (Will Cassouf, anyone?) or over aggressive character, but that usually remains within the bounds of the rules. Unfortunately, this year, we saw a different side of that, with two rare disqualifications on Day 1C.
The first happened, according to eyewitnesses, just 10 minutes into the start of the action. Russian pro Georgii Belianin had been up all night drinking and playing in cash games. Evidently, he lost track of time and forgot to go to bed, and was still inebriated when he went to register for the tournament. He won an early hand, and in an apparent attempt at humour gone wrong, decided to grab his neighbour’s chips while his neighbour was away from the table. Touching another player’s chips under any circumstances is a big no-no, and he was immediately disqualified. Unfortunately for the players, getting disqualified means that you are also banned from all properties owned by the casino, and the confused Belianin was escorted out by police.
The second DQ was even weirder. Many people have had meltdowns during the WSOP (including the likes of Phil Helmuth and Mike Matusow), but few (all right, none) have shoved all-in blind, dropped their pants and thrown their shoes onto the table. The gentleman, whose name we shall not mention here, was thrown out of the tournament, taken off the premises and given a cursory psychiatric evaluation. Cursory is clearly the right word as the next night, he was spotted standing on a blackjack table at the Luxor, behaving in similar fashion. Oh dear.
No More November Nine
Thankfully for all concerned, the ‘November Nine’ are not more. This was the collective name for the final table of the Main Event between the years 2007 and 2016. The event began in July as it always had, but in an attempt to build excitement and drama for the main event, everything stopped until November. Or October, if there happened to be a US Presidential election going on at the time (which happened twice).
No one liked the idea. Any momentum the players felt like that had accrued was taken away by the five-month pause in the game. Many felt additional pressure and stress, and did not enjoy all the new media obligations they found themselves saddled with. Viewers were no happier with the artificially-created cliffhanger, and often forgot to watch it. Eventually, it was done away with in 2017 and now the final table is played once all the numerous other WSOP events are completed.