Gambling Related Essays and Reports by Andrew W Scott

World Series of Poker Main Event... Report number 1

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Saturday July 7th 2007

As far as I can determine the richest single event prize-money in world sport goes to the winner of the main event at the World Series of Poker. It’s richer than Wimbledon, richer than any golf tournament, and richer than the world’s richest horse race. Last year’s unpopular and controversial winner, former Hollywood talent agent Jamie Gold, took home a whopping US $12 million. The total prize pool was a staggering US $87 million, paid out to the top 10% of the record breaking 8,773 entrants, each of whom forked out the US $10,000 entry fee.

And it should be remembered that the main event is just the last event in a poker carnival that lasts about six weeks. Last year's entire 46 event schedule drew more than 42,000 entrants from 56 countries and distributed more than US $171 million in prize money.

Poker has so often been thought of as a seedy activity, portrayed countless times as the realm of old-time degenerate gamblers in Western genre movies, and as the realm of new-time degenerate gamblers in more modern classics, like Matt Damon’s "Rounders". But things have changed now, poker is big business, with an organised world tour, genuine celebrity players, corporate sponsorship, charity days and regular TV coverage. The final table of the main event will be broadcast by ESPN live across the US and on the internet across the world.

Ever since "Aussie" Joe Hachem (who featured on last night’s Sixty Minutes program) won the big one in 2005, poker in Australia has been booming. A contingent of Aussies, including yours truly, have made the trek to gambling’s mecca for the biggest show in town. The 2007 World Series of Poker has been underway since June 1, at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, owned by the world’s biggest casino company, Harrahs. This year’s 55-event schedule has not been without controversy, mostly generated by the pressure put on the venue by the sheer number of events played, and the enormous starting fields in those events. The gargantuan Amazon conference hall has been bursting at the seams at all times of the day and night.

But all these gripes have been forgotten, now that the main (and final) event for 2007 is underway. The scale of the main event is mind-boggling in every sense of the word. Sixteen-hour days of intense play, day after day after day, with very few breaks and very few rest days. Players receive $20,000 in tournament chips, and by the time it is over, one player will have all the chips, and that will be well over $100 million in tournament chips. To force play, blinds and antes are progressively increased, with each level lasting two hours. Six levels of play, taking 12 hours in total, are played on day one. It is expected that the entire tournament will take around 35 to 40 levels. Players have to contend with the psychological pressure of knowing they can be busted out of the tournament at any moment. Indeed there will be a few poor souls who get the dubious distinction of being eliminated within minutes, losing their entire US$10,000 entry fee in the twinkling of an eye.

The general pattern is that a more than half the remaining field gets eliminated every single day. The event is scheduled to take seven days to eliminate the thousands of players one at a time until the last man (or woman) is left standing, late on July 17, after perhaps 75 hours of gruelling poker. The field is so huge that "day 1" has to be split into four: days 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D, due to the fact that there are "only" 229 tables at the tournament. A standard regulation table accommodates 10 players, and therefore only 2,290 players can play at once. The enormous Amazon convention room houses 168 of those tables, including the specially made-for-TV ESPN feature table surrounded by a stadium with four enormous big screens above the table just like the basketball stadia in the US. There is a second "made for TV" table just outside that area, and another 166 tables in the main part of the room. A further 63 tables are in the "Poker Pavilion", a temporary construction which has been dubbed "The Tent" by the players.

Initially three day 1s were planned: days 1A, 1B and 1C. But a week ago it was announced that what was formerly a rest day had been re-assigned to day 1D. The number of registrants is a closely guarded secret at this stage, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that at a rate of say 2,000 players a day, the announcement of a day 1D indicates that more than 6,000 players are expected. Even after the mass eliminations expected on day 1, day 2 is still scheduled to be split over two days, day 2A and 2B. It isn’t until day 3 that the numbers still alive in the tournament are expected to be low enough that a "day" actually becomes able to be played in a single day. We won’t know the exact number of players (and therefore the total prize pool) until Monday’s day 1D is in full swing, because entrants continue to register for day 1 as the four days of day 1 proceed. Hence the bizarre situation exists that some players register for the event after some other players have already been eliminated!

I’ll be filing updates regularly throughout the tournament. It will be a life-changing event for the winner, and hopefully it will be me! Yes, that’s right, I’ve decided to stump up the US$10,000 entry fee and take my shot. Hey, someone’s got to win, right?

Day 1A: Friday 6 July
1,287 people started day 1A at 12 noon Las Vegas time, and by the time the dust had settled at approximately 4am the next morning, 842 of them (65%) had busted out, leaving only 445 players left alive. Vegas is currently suffering daily maximums around 114 degrees F (46C), so a collective sigh of relief was heard around the room when it was announced that all play would take place in the air-conditioned Amazon room, without any play occurring in the "fan-cooled" Poker Tent.

Living legend of the game, 1976 and 1977 champion Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson entered the room to a standing ovation, but was eliminated after a few hours. Ray Romano of Everybody Love Raymond fame also played, but also didn’t make it. 1978 champion and former Bellagio Casino President and CEO, Bobby Baldwin also played today. He is still alive at the end of the day, having turned his $20,000 starting stack into $16,800. While Baldwin’s was not a great day 1, as long as he is alive he remains a threat.

The top five chips stacks at the end of day 1A were:

1st Timten Olivier $270,500
2nd John Dutchak $209,600
3rd Steve Austin $205,000
4th Michael Tureniec $203,900
5th Aurelio Arcano $166,000



© 2007 Andrew W Scott




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