The much-anticipated main event of the 2006 World Series of Poker kicked off last Friday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino with the largest field of participants ever gathered for a single poker event.
The $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold’em World Championship will pay a top prize of more than $10.8 million to the winner. Moreover, each of the nine final table players will walk away with at least $1 million.
The World Series of Poker is the largest, richest and most prestigious poker event in the world. The record field of more than 8,500 players guarantees an overall event prize pool of more than $75 million. Combined with the other events at this year’s World Series of Poker, the total prize pool for all events will approach $150 million.
The World Series is being conducted in the Rio’s convention center, where a "poker room" the size of two football fields has been created. The room contains more than 300 tables, an elevated stage with bleacher section for "featured play," and bank of tellers for cashing out players.
"This year’s World Series of Poker is turning out to be the biggest and best ever with record-breaking participation and a global field of players from more than 50 countries," said World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. "Everyone is here with the hope of winning a bracelet, and we’re seeing dreams come true and poker history unfold."
At last year’s World Series of Poker, 5,619 players entered the main event. World Champion Joseph Hachem of Melbourne, Australia, took home $7.5 million.
Because of the massive size of this year’s field, the event will feature four "first days" of competition, in which groups of about 2,130 players are played down to 800.
Then the four groups (800 players in each) will be paired on Tuesday and Wednesday and reduced to two groups of 700.
After an off-day on Thursday, the 1,400 remaining players will fight it out on Friday until only 600 remain. On Saturday, the 600 will play down to 300, which will be played down to 150 on Sunday.
Next week, the field will be winnowed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday until the final nine players remain, who will return for the final table on Thursday, Aug. 10.
Handling the large crowds has been a challenge for the Rio’s security and event staff.
"At times, it resembles a cattle drive," said one uniformed security officer.
To try and make movement easier for players, WSOP officials have barred spectators from the tournament floor during certain hours.
Also, players are given breaks in staggered "shifts" so that restrooms aren’t overloaded.
New this year is the stipulation that players cannot wear any item of clothing with ".com" printed on it because ESPN is filming the event.
If players have a cap or shirt with such lettering, the event staff will provide black electrical tape to cover it up. Or players have the option of removing or turning the clothing inside-out.
The stipulation seems laughable to many since, in the halls outside the tournament area, are high-profile "lounges" from online poker sites such as pokerstars, FullTilt Poker, Ladbrokes and ultrabet, to name a few.
Overall, this year’s World Series of Poker has scheduled 46 events, many of which were complete sell-outs. Three separate events prior to the main event attracted more than 2,700 players.
Competition has featured the youngest player to ever win a World Series of Poker gold bracelet — 21-year-old Jeff Madsen, who quickly went on to become the youngest player ever to win two gold bracelets.
At the other end of the spectrum, 80-year-old Kuei Chi Chang, who had never played tournament poker prior to this year’s World Series of Poker, finished in the money twice in a matter of days. The Las Vegas resident finished 52nd out of a whopping 1,068 players in one event and 42nd out of 415 in another.
Another highlight came last week when Phil Hellmuth, Jr. made history by becoming just the third person in World Series of Poker history to win a 10th gold bracelet. He joins poker legends Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan as the only individuals to achieve this milestone.
Through the first 38 events, the 37th annual World Series of Poker has generated 35,727 total player registrations, surpassing the previous record of more than 32,000 set last year. With the addition of the championship event, total player registrations in 2006 will be nearly 44,000.