"We couldn’t be more excited and have the focus back on the felt where it belongs," said Jack Effel, tournament director for the 42nd annual event that started with just six players in 1970 and grew last year to more than 70,000 and $180 million in prize money.
"The 2011 WSOP is going to look like the WSOP," Effel said in a conference call last week. "This is the year people are going to see how big poker has become around the world and what a juggernaut the modern world series of poker has become."
Not only is ESPN involved for another season of telecasting poker’s premier event, but the contract was extended through 2017 with even more coverage.
"ESPN will be showing two episodes a week in prime time every Tuesday from July 26 through Nov. 8," said Ty Stewart, executive director for the WSOP. "There will be same day coverage July 14-19 from the main event. Rumors of our demise on ESPN are greatly exaggerated. We are very appreciative of their commitment."
The main event is scheduled to begin July 7, capping off over a month long series of satellites and championship events that begin May 30 at the Rio.
"The WSOP is now more than a poker event, it’s an annual pilgrimage," Stewart said. "It’s a chance to run with the bulls. People save all year long and plan their schedules around the summer series."
Effel said with the pronounced global recession, even he was surprised with the 20 percent growth and huge numbers at the main event.
"The industry has its swagger back," Effel said.
The WSOP kicks off with a $25,000 heads up no-limit championship on May 31. Even with the controversy surrounding Internet poker wagering offshore, the WSOP will be offering over 7,000 different events leading up to the main event.
"We will also be offering for the first time smart phone charging stations and free Internet access in hallways and rotundas," Stewart said. "We will also be offering low buy-in events for $75 so grinders can have a chance to build a bankroll at a cheap price to enter a mega-satellite event for a shot at the main event."
Check WSOP.com for the full schedule leading up to the main event.