by David Stratton | If there’s a recession, someone forgot to tell the poker players.
The World Series of Poker kicked off last weekend with a record field of 3,929 entrants for the $1,500 buy-in, No Limit Hold’em event.
It was the most players to enter a tournament outside of the WSOP’s finale, its $10,000 buy-in championship event. The main event reached its peak two years ago with 8,773 players.
The previous record of 3,151 was set in a comparable $1,500 event during the WSOP’s final week last year.
"This is a great start," said WSOP Commissioner Jeffery Pollack. "The sound of chips chirping throughout the Rio is a welcome return for all of us who love poker."
Because the field was so large, it was split into two groups of about 2,000 players, who played on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
After the first round of action, what’s left of each group was combined into a more manageable field on Monday, with the final table set to be played on Tuesday (June 3).
The No Limit event was actually the second on the schedule. The WSOP began with the Pot Limit Hold’em World Championship, which attracted a field of 352 players, who each tossed in the $10,000 buy-in.
Canadian Nenad Medic won the event, and the $794,000 first place prize.
Overall, the World Series will feature 55 tournament events, of which 12 are "world championship" events.
In addition to the final Main Event and $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event, championships will be held in 10 poker variations: Pot Limit Hold’em, Mixed Event, Seven Card Stud, Ladies No Limit, Heads-Up, Limit Hold’em, Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo, Omaha Hi-Lo, Seniors No Limit, and Pot Limit Omaha.
Prior to the start of the action on Friday, brief opening ceremonies included playing of "Viva Las Vegas" by the UNLV marching band, and the customary "Shuffle up and deal" announcement by 10-time WSOP bracelet winner Doyle Brunson.
There was no shortage of poker heavy hitters in the Pot Limit Championship event. Eight former champions bellied-up to the tables, including Jamie Gold, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Jim Bechtel, Berry Johnston, Tom McEvoy and Doyle Brunson.
Also in the field was another player who made his mark in another World Series, the 1998 baseball World Series MVP Orel Hershiser.
The former pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers has reportedly become quite a poker player in recent years. On the mound he was known as "Bulldog" for his dogged determination. We’ll follow his progress in the World Series to see if the moniker applies on the green felt.