John Locher / AP
Wednesday, June 1, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Beware, those who are hoping to poker-star-gaze at the start of the World Series of Poker: The forecast inside the Rio ballrooms is cloudy.
The 47th annual event begins in earnest today, but unlike in past years, there’s no tournament clustering all of the biggest-name poker professionals for at least a few days. The WSOP is focusing on its more common clientele to start, with the $565 buy-in Casino Employee’s event in its traditional opening slot today but followed by the identically priced Colossus II Thursday.
Last year’s Colossus set a live-poker record for 22,374 entries. Recognizable pros will join the field, but they’ll be hard to spot among a galaxy of players over the next three days.
It’s not until Saturday afternoon’s Event No. 4, the $10,000 buy-in Seven Card Stud Championship, that a tournament geared toward the pros shoots off.
That will be the first of many opportunities to catch the best in the world squaring off against each other in every poker variant over the next eight weeks. By the time the WSOP wraps up in July, 68 championship bracelets will have been awarded with finalists having emerged for the coveted final one, which will find an owner in November.
To help catch up on what’s set to happen at the WSOP, the Sun has assembled a list of five players to follow, five tournaments to watch and five changes to know. Check it out below.
Players to follow
Joe McKeehen: There’s always extra pressure on the defending Main Event champion, but so far, “Joey Ice Cube” has crushed it. He has cashed for nearly $1.8 million and won two more tournaments since his $7.68 million coup at the WSOP final table last November.
Jonathan Duhamel: McKeehen will be racing to catch Duhamel as the most successful world champion of the “November Nine” era. Duhamel earned his second bracelet in one of the summer’s biggest events last year, taking down the High Roller for One Drop for $3.9 million, before winning another High Roller event in WSOP Europe for more than $600,000.
Steve O’Dwyer: The 34-year-old comes into the WSOP riding a record 20 straight weeks as the top-rated tournament poker player in the world by the Global Poker Index. He’ll have to exorcise former demons to stay there, though, as O’Dwyer has never won a bracelet or even made a final table at the WSOP in Las Vegas.
Dzmitry Urbanovich: The 21-year-old from Poland makes this year’s most highly anticipated debut after racking up $4.8 million of winnings elsewhere in the last three years. He heightened the hype by making a $10,000 bet at 200-to-1 odds, meaning he could win $2 million, with Vanessa Selbst that he would win three bracelets this summer.
Daniel Negreanu: No moment at last year’s WSOP was more electrifying than the world’s most popular player nearly making the Main Event final table. Negreanu bowed out in 11th place, earning $526,778 for the finish but getting deprived of what he wants the most — his first bracelet in Las Vegas since 2008.
Tournaments to watch
Colossus II, June 2-June 7: Everyone expects the second edition of the $565 buy-in event to wallop the total of number of entrants attracted by its predecessor. The WSOP can accommodate up to 30,000 players for the tournament, and the eventual winner is guaranteed at least $1 million.
Top Up Turbo, June 5-June 6: One of the new events the WSOP is pushing hardest falls fourth on the schedule. It’s a $1,000 buy-in, a possibly appealing price to those who bust out of the Colossus, but the twist is players have a chance to double their starting chip stack by cashing in sit-n-go tournaments held online at WSOP.com.
Tag Team, July 6-July 8: For the first time, the WSOP isn’t only an individual game. Teams of two to four players can sign up for this $1,000 buy-in, and tag each other out to take turns playing an unlimited amount of times. The only requirement is a player must stay in for at least one round of blinds.
High Roller for One Drop, July 8-July 10: No event will bring a more distinguished field than this $111,111 buy-in event. Last year, 135 players signed up to create a $14.2 million prize pool. The final table alone featured the likes of Duhamel, 2014 Big One For One Drop champion Daniel Colman, all-time bracelet leader Phil Hellmuth and the world’s current No. 2 player Anthony Zinno.
Main Event, July 9-July 18: Participation may be dwindling, but the $10,000 buy-in tournament remains the game’s biggest spectacle. It’s the world championship of poker. A professional has now prevailed seven years in a row, breaking a previous seven-year streak by amateurs. For the eighth straight year, the Main Event will play down to a final table of nine before rejoining in the fall — October 30-November 1 this year — to crown a champion.
Changes to know
Cards: The WSOP announced an agreement with Brazilian-Belgium company Copag to provide the official playing cards this year, placating angry pros who were unhappy with the ones provided by Italy’s Modiano last year. The purportedly poor quality of the playing cards, which were accused of being too thin and easy to mark, made for an early controversy last year.
More winners: For years, the WSOP’s standard was to pay 10 percent of any given tournament field. In 2016, it’s boosting to 15 percent with the minimum payout being one-and-a-half times the buy-in. Players have widely applauded the switch, and the WSOP hopes it help retain first-time customers.
Start times: Instead of Noon as the usual starting time for tournaments, it’s now 11 a.m. Not everyone is down with getting the cards into the air earlier. McKeehen has been a vocal critic online, tweeting that players are getting treated like “slaves” and curiously blaming the media for the change.
Easier payouts: During a few of the bigger tournaments — mainly the Colossus — last year, lines to receive payouts stretched on for hours. The WSOP has addressed the problem by implementing an eQueue process where players can register to get a text message that lets them know when their money is ready.
Headphones: Players long griped over Nevada Gaming Control Board Laws that prevented them from wearing headphones once a tournament entered the money. The WSOP finally addressed the issue this year, and new rules will allow players to wear them all the way up until the final table.