By GT Staff | "Shuffle up and deal" will be the battle cry for the next six weeks as the World Series of Poker (WSOP) kicks off at the Rio in Las Vegas.
The 39th edition of the largest, richest and most prestigious poker event in the world begins Friday and continues through July 14.
Featuring a slate of 55 tournaments in every major poker variation, the WSOP is the longest running poker tournament in the world, dating back to its inception at Binion’s Horseshoe in 1970.
Harrah’s Entertainment bought the rights to the World Series in 2004 and has been hosting it at the Rio since 2005.
Last year the WSOP attracted more than 54,000 participants from 87 countries, and awarded about $160 million in prize money. Sweetening the pot in every event was the coveted WSOP gold bracelet.
This year’s $10,000 buy-in championship event will take place beginning July 3, with the final table determined on July 14.
But what has to be described as a dramatic change to its tournament format, WSOP officials announced earlier this month that the final table won’t be contested until November, 16 weeks after the nine finalists are determined.
Each of the nine players who make it to the final table will receive ninth place prize money (about $1 million, based on last year’s event) on July 14. They will also receive an all-expense paid trip for two for their return to Las Vegas in November.
World Series on Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said the move will "enhance" the World Series by providing "an even bigger stage for our players."
"Now fans and viewers will ask ‘who will win’ our coveted championship bracelet instead of seeing ‘who won,’" Pollack said. "The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented."
Pollack added that "nearly live" TV coverage from ESPN was among the reasons for the shift in how the tournament is to be played.
But, so far, the change has not been well-received by poker players. In an informal poll conducted on GamingToday’s web site, gamingtoday.com, about 93.5 percent of respondents objected to the change, while 6.5 percent said it would be good for the event.
Among the skeptics is poker pro and seven-time gold bracelet winner Billy Baxter, who said moving the final table back four months "opens the possibility that the integrity of the game could be questioned."
"If you slip through the cracks and are fortunate enough to make the final table, it gives your opponents time to talk about things – maybe they’ll gather advice from people who know how you play," Baxter said. "Plus, you have a certain rhythm when you reach the final table, but after four months it’s almost like you’re in a different game with different players.
"It’s fine that they want to build up the players and the final table for television, but all these revenues and sponsors don’t benefit the players," Baxter continued. "Getting on TV is fine but it doesn’t put any money in your pocket if you’re a player."
In addition, some players theorized that altering the championship event’s format could further reduce the field. Last year, the number of main event participants dropped to about 6,600, down from more than 8,000 in 2006.
Nonetheless, WSOP officials are expecting an increase in the overall turnout, based on the popularity of lower buy-in events. These events – typically Limit and No Limit Hold’em with buy-ins ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 – attracted as many as 3,000 participants last year, with first place worth nearly $1 million.
This year, there are 22 Limit or No Limit Hold’em events with buy-ins ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.
Other poker variations include Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo, Stud, Stud Hi-Lo, Razz, H.O.R.S.E., and 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball.
The WSOP will also host championship events for H.O.R.S.E. ($50,000 buy-in), Pot Limit Hold’em ($10,000 buy-in), Seven Card Stud ($10,000 buy-in), Limit Hold’em ($10,000 buy-in), Heads-Up No Limit Hold’em ($10,000 buy-in), Omaha Hi-Lo Split ($10,000 buy-in), and Stud Hi-Lo Split ($5,000 buy-in).
A new event this year is the world championship Mixed Event ($10,000 buy-in), which is similar to H.O.R.S.E. (Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Stud and Stud Hi-Lo) with the addition of Triple Draw 2-7.
Other highlights include a seniors only No Limit Hold’em event ($1,000 buy-in) scheduled for June 23, and a Ladies World Championship ($1,000 buy-in) to be held June 8.
The ladies’ event attracted a record 1,286 entrants last year. This year a star-studded lineup of celebrities will join the field of professionals and amateurs. Committed to play in the three-day event are Teri Hatcher, Joely Fisher, Cheryl Hines, Mimi Rogers, Jackie Collins and Camryn Manheim.