The legends of Amarillo Slim, Benny Binion and Gentleman Jack Keller will be in the air, and several recent champions will be in the seats when play begins in the marquee Main Event of the 2012 World Series of Poker.
The four most recent winners — Peter Eastgate of Denmark, Joe Cada of Michigan, Jonathan Duhamel of Canada and Pius Heinz of Germany — will have the proverbial chip and a chair when the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold’em World Championship begins this weekend in Las Vegas, event spokesman Seth Palansky said.
Amateurs, celebrities and pros from dozens of countries begin 10 days of play at noon Saturday, with opening rounds continuing Sunday and Monday.
The tournament field will narrow until July 16, when a final table of nine players will emerge with a chance to share in a prize pool topping $60 million. They’ll resume play Oct. 28, with a winner to be crowned late Oct. 30 or early Oct. 31.
The number of entrants determines the size of the prize. This year’s winner could take home almost $9 million and a coveted championship bracelet like the one awarded to Johnny Moss in the event that Binion started with one table of invited players at his Binion’s Horseshoe casino in 1970.
The tournament, now owned by Caesars Entertainment Inc., moved in 2005 to the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino.
Palansky said other past winners who’ll play this year include Poker Hall of Famer Phil Hellmuth and 2003 champ Chris Moneymaker.
They’ll be trying to top a field of perhaps 7,000 players to become repeat champions. No one has done that since Johnny Chan won in back-to-back years, 1987 and 1988, in tournaments attracting fewer than 170 players — most of whom he had faced before.
Since then, a poker playing boom made card-dealing terms like “flop,” ‘’turn,” and “river” widely known to television audiences. Fields at the World Series of Poker have exploded.
“The odds of a repeat now, because of the field size, are very long,” Palansky said.
The largest field for the WSOP Main Event was just under 8,800 players in 2006, when Jamie Gold won about $12 million. Heinz, at age 22, topped a field of more than 6,800 to win a little more than $8.7 million in 2011. Players last year hailed from 85 nations and ranged in age from 21 to 91. More than 240 were women.
Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr., died in April. Keller, winner of the 1984 main event, died in 2003. Binion died in 1989. Each is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.