More than 600 players are expected to compete for a purse of $6 million in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) championship tournament, which kicked off Monday afternoon at Binion’s Horseshoe.
The $10,000 Buy-In, No Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournament - arguably the most prestigious poker tourney in the world - will continue around the clock until a winner is declared, most likely on Thursday.
Binion’s officials estimate new records for players and payoffs.
"We will easily surpass last year’s record field of 512 entrants," said tournament director Bob Thompson. He added that if the field reaches 625 players, players would split a record $6 million purse.
"If we have that many players, the winner will take home $2 million, with $1 million going to second place," Thompson said. "In addition, all nine players at the final table would be assured of at least $100,000."
Most of the biggest names in poker are expected to compete. Former WSOP champions expected to buy-in include Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, Berry Johnston, Jack Keller, T.J. Cloutier, Tom McEvoy, Men "The Master" Nguyen and, last year’s champion, Chris Ferguson.
In an early showdown, the defending champion locked horns with The Master in the tournament’s third event, the $1,500 Buy-In, Omaha Hi-Lo.
The two champions were a study in contrasts as Nguyen played to the crowd, chattering and dancing with each pot won. The Master also tried to taunt Ferguson with admonitions to talk and "act like a champ."
Unfazed, Ferguson mostly ignored the verbal onslaught ("It actually gave me time to relax during hands") until he finally responded, "I am the champ."
Ferguson was good to his word and took the Omaha Hi-Lo event and the $164,735 pot, with Nguyen taking home $84,595 for second place.
Heading into the championship event, Ferguson told GamingToday he was ready for another strong run.
"I feel good going into the tournament," Ferguson said. "Over the first couple of days, the trick is just staying in the tournament.
"Some players try to build up their chips in the early going. My philosophy is to just hang in there and make it to the later tables."
Like many of the prominent players, Ferguson competed in about a dozen events leading up to the championship Texas Hold ’Em game. In addition to the Omaha Hi-Lo event, Ferguson won $10,265 while taking 12th place in the $2,000 Buy-In, No Limit Hold ’Em event.
Other championship players who won bracelets in early events including Nani Dollison, last year’s Ladies’ Champion, who won $441,000 for first place in the $2,000 Buy-In Limit Hold ’Em event; Phil Hellmuth, who won $316,000 for capturing the $2,000 Buy-In, No Limit Hold ’Em event; and Berry Johnston, who took home $83,000 for winning the $1,500 Buy-In Razz event.
This week’s World’s Championship completes nearly a month of tournament play at Binion’s Horseshoe. Many of the 24 events set new records for number of entries and purses.