Thursday, May 30, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The best players turn out to play the biggest tournaments in the most prestigious environment.
That’s the World Series of Poker in a nutshell. This summer’s set of 62 tournaments for bracelets, the most coveted award in poker given to winners of WSOP events, got underway Monday at the Rio.
Two more events start today, and the same cycle will play out daily until mid-July when the $10,000 buy-in Main Event, the world championship of poker, kicks off.
The Las Vegas Sun is here to supply all the vital information needed about this year’s series.
Click through below for a rundown of players, tournaments and storylines worth getting familiar with ahead of the 2013 World Series of Poker.
Five players to watch
It feels like a cop-out to start with arguably the world’s most recognizable player, but “The Poker Brat” deserves top billing after his last two years at the WSOP. He placed second in the WSOP Player of the Year race in both 2011, when he notched three second-place finishes, and 2012, when he won two bracelets. Hellmuth holds prestigious records for most WSOP bracelets with 13 and finishes in the money with 96.
While on the topic of players who have stood the test of time to stay among the elite, the 38-year-old “Kid Poker” merits mention. Negreanu enters the summer series with the Player of the Year lead after winning the WSOP Asia-Pacific Main Event for over $1 million last month. The victory gave Negreanu his first bracelet — fifth total — in five years and upped his career tournament earnings to $18 million.
Before Merson’s $8.5 million victory last year, it had been 11 years since a player who already owned a WSOP bracelet won the Main Event. Merson’s status has given him an increased expectation level going into the 2013 WSOP. Maybe even an unrealistic one based off of past world champions’ performances the next year. The three Main Event champions before Merson — Pius Heinz, Jonathan Duhamel and Joe Cada — combined to cash in only four tournaments and advanced to no final tables the year after their victories.
Merson wasn’t the only one who turned a deep Main Event run into poker stardom last year. Paul Volpe, who finished 20th for $294,601, used the 2012 championship as a springboard to becoming one of the best live tournament players in the world. He’s won more than $1.5 million in tournaments around the world in the past 10 months and leads both Cardplayer’s and Bluff’s Player of the Year races.
As the brand ambassador for the first state-regulated online poker site, Ultimate Poker, Esfandiari projects to be visible all summer at the Rio. “The Magician” will gladly take a victory lap after last year’s $18.3 million win in The Big One For One Drop $1 million buy-in tournament and try to build on his lead as the top tournament earner of all-time.
Five more players to watch
The former MIT blackjack team member finally erased his name from the top of the list of “best players to never win a WSOP bracelet” last summer. Bloch took down a $1,500 buy-in seven-card stud event for $126,363 to earn his first WSOP victory 15 years after he started trying. With that pressure now subsided, it will be interesting to see if he performs even better this year.
The Las Vegas-based O’Dwyer is bound to end up as one of the names replacing Bloch on the bracelet lists. Despite $4.8 million in career tournament earnings, O’Dwyer hasn’t been able to duplicate his success at the Rio. Coming off of a win at the European Poker Tour Grand Final for $1.6 million three weeks ago, however, O’Dwyer might be playing his best heading into the summer.
Every year, some of the most notable professionals compete in a $25,000 WSOP fantasy league where they auction for players based on a $250 budget. The four players to fetch the highest bids this year were no surprise — Phil Ivey for $110, Jason Mercier $101, Daniel Negreanu for $90 and Phil Hellmuth for $88. The fifth was Buchanan, who went for $72. It speaks to the respect the Canadian has garnered from his peers as he looks to win his first bracelet this summer.
David “Doc” Sands
Some call Sands, who finished 30th in the 2011 Main Event, the best no-limit hold’em tournament player in the world. He backed up the lofty compliment last week with a victory in a $100,000 buy-in Poker Tour event at the Bellagio for more than $1 million. Like O’Dwyer and Buchanan, Sands is also still searching for his first WSOP win.
Moneymaker only shows up sporadically to the Rio for the WSOP at this point. Expect everyone to notice when he walks in this summer. The WSOP has hit the 10-year anniversary since the amateur prevailed in the Main Event to draw all kinds of new attention to the tournament. The milestone has garnered much fanfare and media attention.
Five tournaments to watch
$10,000 buy-in Main Event
Everything builds up to the world championship. The Main Event will follow the same format as last year at the end of the series with nine days scheduled to whittle the field down from thousands to nine. The finalists will reconvene in November at the Penn & Teller Theatre to play for the first-place prize, which has been at least $8 million for the past eight years.
$50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship
June 30-July 4
Annually attracting the toughest field of the summer, the WSOP hosts the mixed-game tournament for the eighth straight year near the end of the series. And, for the first time, it will feature a two-time winner defending his title. Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi improbably outlasted all of the elite opposition for the second time in three years to win the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy in 2012.
$111,111 buy-in One Drop High Rollers
June 26-June 28
The $1 million buy-in tournament to benefit the One Drop foundation will return next year. In the interim, the WSOP will host its first-ever six-figure buy-in event with a portion going to Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte’s charity. Given the overwhelming response that saw the $1 million tournament sell out with 48 players, this year’s event is expected to be a wild success with a big turnout.
$5,000 buy-in Carnivale of Poker Open Face Chinese event
Tracking down top professionals who busted out of the Main Event before the final days won’t be difficult. They’ll be playing in the second-to-last event of the WSOP’s sister-series, the Carnivale of Poker. That’s because it’s the only tournament of the summer featuring Open Face Chinese, a poker variant quickly exploding in popularity among high-stakes players. If the tournament is successful, Open Face Chinese might make its WSOP debut next year.
$10,000 buy-in Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship
Well, it doesn’t really cost $10,000 to get into this event. Any female will receive a $9,000 discount to make the buy-in $1,000. It was the WSOP’s creative way of dissuading men from participating after a swarm has in recent years, with one even making the final table in 2011. Unless a male wants to pay an extremely marked-up price, this should truly be a championship for women in 2013.
Five storylines to watch
The “retirement” of Doyle Brunson
The 79-year old “Godfather of Poker” created a stir when he announced he wouldn’t compete at the WSOP this year. The 10-time WSOP bracelet winner later clarified in a blog post by writing he “certainly hadn’t ruled it out” but wouldn’t be on the everyday grind like most players. Brunson may not play in the WSOP at all in 2013, but don’t be surprised if he turns up for the Main Event or Poker Player’s Championship.
Late arrival for the stars?
For once, the WSOP has some competition when it comes to marquee tournaments — at least early in the summer. The Guangdog Group in Macau, poker’s new cash game mecca, is staging a tournament from June 4-7 with a prize of $130,000 ($1 million Hong Kong). Organizers expect the event to draw over 100 players, including several notables such as 2012 WSOP champion Greg Merson. It could hurt the WSOP’s starpower, at least for a couple days.
Influence of live-streamed hole cards
When ESPN began airing the Main Event live with hole cards two years ago, it forced players to change their strategies and begin to have confidants monitor the televised feed for information. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues to the rest of the events this year with the announcement that streamed final tables on WSOP.com will air hole cards. Action will be on a 30-minute delay, but that won’t affect the value of information for players at the table.
Effect of online poker’s return
The WSOP will hold daily drawings giving away seats into bracelet events for anyone who’s registered to play real-money poker at WSOP.com. There’s still no date for when WSOP.com’s poker software will be up and running, but they’re promoting the impending debut anyway. In addition to the drawings, the WSOP is offering a $100,000 free roll to those who pre-register, and $500 random cash bonuses to those wearing WSOP.com patches at the tables.
It’s the constant. Fairly or not, poker’s health is always judged on how many show up to play at the WSOP. For the first time in three years, the 2012 WSOP featured a slight downturn with 74,766 total entrants in bracelet events. WSOP officials think 2013 will get the event back to its record-setting ways. They referenced larger hotel occupancy rates and higher pre-registrations as reasons for optimism.