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September 20, 2019

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World Series of Poker Main Event starts with much fanfare at the Rio

New card-playing champion should win around $8 million in less than two weeks

WSOP 2018: Main Event Day 1

Christopher DeVargas

Poker players Antonio Esfandiari and Frank Kassela compete on Day 1 of 2018 WSOP Main Event at the Rio, Monday, July 2, 2018.

WSOP 2018: Main Event Day 1

A man receives a head massage while competing on day 1 of the 2018 World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Monday July 2, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Poker leaves little room for pageantry.

Professional players are sometimes even perturbed by posing for photographs after winning a title. They’re always on to the next game, the next tournament, the next hand.

The World Series of Poker Main Event might be one of the only cures to such apathy. The 49th edition of poker’s $10,000 buy-in world championship got under way Monday morning at the Rio, with the place positively buzzing.

Some hopefuls took their seats as soon as the doors to the famed Amazon Room opened, while others mulled about taking photos or talking with friends and family under the blare of sporting-event music before the start of play.

“This is my 14th World Series of Poker, and I can tell you, every single summer, there’s no place I’d rather be,” Tournament Director Jack Effel said during a brief opening ceremony.

The Main Event will play out for each of the next 12 days at the Rio until a new winner is crowned. ESPN and ESPN2 will provide daily television coverage, with PokerGo also streaming portions of the proceedings all the way up to the final table.

It’s the first time in more than a decade that play will continue through consecutive days with no breaks in the action, not even before the final table.

The final nine players will emerge next Wednesday night — or perhaps early Thursday morning — and begin competing down to a winner on Thursday.

New Jersey pro Scott Blumstein prevailed last year, winning $8.15 million after beating a field of 7,221 players. The first-place prize is expected to be around $8 million again this year, with the early returns indicating the number of entries could increase.

A total of 850 players entered Monday’s Day 1A, the first of three starting flights, as compared with 795 a year ago. Day 1C typically draws as much as five times the number of players.

“Just come out and try to make the best decisions you think are right every hand,” Blumstein said. “That’s what I came to do last year, and it worked out.”

Blumstein registered and started his defense a couple of hours late, settling in to what he described as a “tough table” with fellow notable players Lacey Jones and Brian Yoon. Only a handful of poker’s bigger names chose to start their Main Event on Day 1A.

Stephen Chidwick, who’s in the top 25 on poker’s all-time money list with $17 million in earnings, was among them. He scooped a sizable pot in the first hour after placing a turn bet and staring down an opponent.

On the other side of the room at roughly the same time, former Main Event runner-up Erik Seidel managed his own early score with a more relaxed approach. Seidel, the second all-time winningest player in poker with $34.5 million in earnings, leaned back with his right foot over his left knee as he forced another player to fold to a river bet.

Mathematically, play should be more relaxed early as all entrants started with 50,000 chips and blind levels at a miniscule 75-150. Blinds increase every two hours.

“I always say, structure-wise, it’s twice as good as anything else you can play around the world,” Blumstein said. “It allows for a lot of play.”

Another fan favorite in the field Monday was Antonio Esfandiari, fifth on the all-time money list. He tried to keep the mood light, bantering and joking around with what looked like a table with some of the oldest players in the building.

Diversity is always vast in the Main Event, as last year’s final table featured age ranges from 25- to 65-years-old with professions from retired vacation rental salesman to world-class cardplayers from five different countries. A total of nearly 100 countries are expected to be represented overall.

It’s all a part of the Main Event charm that poker players can’t deny.

“In the next two weeks,” Effel roared, “we’re going to crown the world champion of poker.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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