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August 23, 2019

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8 things to watch as 50th WSOP Main Event begins at Rio

Defending champion John Cynn kicks off the festivities on Day 1A

World Series of Poker

Wade Vandervort

Liran Twito from Israel, center, gets a massage from Aubrey Oiler as he plays during the World Series of Poker at the Rio Wednesday, July 3, 2019.

World Series of Poker 2019

Kami Hudson from Vegas calls another player's bet during the World Series of Poker at the Rio Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Launch slideshow »

John Cynn fought to keep his eyes open and stave off exhaustion a year ago to accept the World Series of Main Event championship bracelet after a final session that lasted all night into the early morning at the Rio.

The 34-year-old poker pro was much livelier standing in almost the exact same spot Wednesday afternoon when he ushered in the tournament that will crown his successor as the next world champion of poker.

“I just want to say how absolutely crazy and insane it is for me to be here,” Cynn said. “I know when I first started playing poker and first started watching it on TV, I never actually dreamt of winning the Main Event, so to be up here a year after winning it is really special.”

Cynn went on to announce the ceremonial, “shuffle up and deal,” to cue the start of the 2019 WSOP Main Event. The $10,000 buy-in event runs three sets of starting flights through Friday and continues through Tuesday, July 16, when a winner is expected to emerge, with coverage on ESPN or ESPN2 daily.

Cynn claimed $8.8 million, the third largest prize in Main Event history last year, but there’s a chance this year’s first-place payout totals even higher. It could be a historic year for the Main Event, and not just because it's celebrating a milestone.

Here are eight things to watch as the Main Event progresses.

Cynn’s defense

An inordinate amount of attention is always placed on the defending champion. Lately, that’s been a curse.

No Main Event winner has come back to cash in the next year since Greg Merson added to his 2012 title with a 167th place finish for $42,990 the next year. In fairness, arguably none of the winners in that span was as heralded as Cynn.

The Chicago native had already made a name for himself as a high-stakes cash-game player who also came in 11th in the 2012 Main Event for $650,000. Cynn didn’t start playing on Wednesday, but he should be easy to find when he takes his seat today or Friday.

Just look for all the television cameras.

Registration figures

One of the hottest topics of conversation in the poker world going into the Main Event every year is how many people will enter. Some professionals even settle on a number and make over/under proposition wagers with each other.

The “over” has been reliable in recent years. The Main Event has gotten back to attracting monster fields, with last year’s 7,874 players going down as the second-largest of all time.

After one day, the Main Event is on pace to eclipse last year’s total. The World Series of Poker tweeted that more than 1,100 players had entered through the first two hours, or more than last year’s Day 1A drew entirely.

And that was with a long line of players standing in the registration line. For the first time ever, registration windows are open through the second day of play.

That means the final tally won’t be released until sometime Sunday afternoon or evening.

Making the money

The winner’s share and total number of entrants will hog the headlines with Sunday’s reveal, but more important to the vast majority of the field will be the full list of payouts.

The WSOP heeded player feedback and flattened its payout structure two years ago, which has led to a record number of gamblers cashing in back-to-back years. Fifteen percent of the field now earns money as opposed to the traditional 10 percent.

The money bubble, as it’s referred to in poker circles, is expected to burst early on Tuesday’s Day 4 of action and is considered one of the key moments of the tournament.

Pros vs. amateurs

It’s hard to believe that it was only a little more than a decade ago when a run of seven straight amateur champions, from 2002-2008, conquered the Main Event. Since then, professionals have emerged victorious in all but one year — and even that year is in dispute as Qui Nguyen referred to himself as both a nail salon owner and a professional gambler at times during his 2016 run to glory.

Make no mistake: Amateurs are still in the field. The Rio was loaded with them Wednesday. Minutes before Cynn started the proceedings, Rio newcomers were querying security guards on their seating assignments and queuing for pictures in front of giant WSOP block letters in the hallway.

Most professionals hold off until the final starting day to begin their Main Event journey. Nguyen was the only former champion on a list of notable players competing on Day 1A that the the World Series of Poker provided.

America vs. the world

Players from 51 countries have won bracelets through the World Series of Poker’s first 70 tournaments this summer. Last year, 104 countries were represented in the Main Event.

It’s a surprise then that the United States is on such a prolonged run of success. An American has won the tournament in each of the last four years — though Nguyen was born in Vietnam — and five of the last six.

The Main Event often becomes a source of national pride as fans show up with a variety of different flags as the tournament plays down to the final table, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday July 14. It proves every year that poker is a global phenomenon, one the U.S. is unlikely to continue dominating to the same extent it has recently.

Female at the final table

One of the first things commentator Lon McEachern mentioned on the first ESPN broadcast of the WSOP was how badly everyone would like to see a female reach the final nine.

It’s only happened once — when Barbara Enright finished fifth in 1995. France’s Gaelle Baumann came the closest when she finished 10th in 2012. Baumann was playing in Day 1A on Wednesday.

Women have traditionally accounted for less than 5 percent of the field, so it’s difficult to navigate that far but also statistically improbable that not more females have achieved the feat to this point.

Session length

Last year’s Main Event broke one record most players may rather see stay in the record books — it was the longest in history.

Cynn won after 44 levels, or 88 total hours not including breaks. The final table went 442 hands, or 43 more than the previous record, with heads-up play alone accounting for 199 hands and 10 hours.

It required a concentration and workload that would wear out even the most seasoned and prepared poker player, but no one can say they weren’t warned. The tournament’s demanding nature was one of the final messages passed along in WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel’s speech to Wednesday’s players.

“It’s going to be long and grueling,” he said.

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

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