It's Called No-Limit For a Reason
When poker's ultimate champion is crowned on Aug. 10, the 2006 version of the World Series of Poker will have broken every conceivable record since the tournament was developed 37 years ago in a smoky downtown poker room at Binion's Horseshoe. In the following months, Jeffrey Pollock will be busy planning to break all those marks again in 2007. But the other goal for Pollack, commissioner of the Harrah's Entertainment-owned World Series of Poker, is to make the 6-week-long event at the Rio more accommodating to the legions of poker-viewing fans. "I think we can do a better job of elevating the quality of the spectator experience by making the tournament room more user friendly," said Pollack, who is also Harrah's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing. The attendance at professional poker's signature event will see a marketable increase starting today. The opening round of the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold'em World Championship event will kick off at noon.
Through Monday, up to 2,000 players a day will play until 800 remain after each session. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the 3,200 surviving players will compete until 1,400 are left.
After a one-day break, the 1,400 remaining competitors will play on a daily basis beginning Aug. 4 until nine remain for the final table.
Two weeks after it all begins, the ultimate champion will take home at least $10.5 million, a figure that will increase as the number of tournament entries grows.
Harrah's is anticipating close to 8,000 entries in the world championship event. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 7,500 players had signed up to participate.
The Rio's makeshift tournament poker room in its convention center can accommodate up to 2,000 players per session, which is the reason for the four-day opening round.
Without a card having been dealt in the championship event, this year's World Series of Poker has already rewritten the record book.
With 38 of the planned 45 events already completed, almost 36,000 players have competed, topping the more than 32,000 that participated in all 45 events last year. In 2005, a record $106 million was paid out in prize money. So far, $73 million in prize money has been awarded with seven events left to be played. As of Thursday, the main event had a prize pool of $72 million.
The main event is already the tournament's largest field ever. Last year, 5,619 players entered and each of the final nine players won at least $1 million. Australian Joseph Hachem captured a record $7.5 million for his championship run, a figure already certain to be eclipsed.
"That's really kind of mind-boggling when you think about it," said Hachem, who is planning to try and win a second straight world poker championship, although he knows the odds are long.
"I'm a realist. With 8,000 players, I know the field is full of land mines," Hachem said. "When you're the champion, people are always gunning for you."
While the main event will draw a crowd, the Rio's four-day Gaming Life Expo, adjacent to the World Series of Poker tournament room, is also expected to attract gambling fans.
Poker patrons can visit 235 booths and 23,000 square feet of retail that includes poker products, apparel, jewelry, and other items. The expo is free and open to the public, age 21 and over.
"This is my first time going through the World Series of Poker," said Pollack, who joined Harrah's at the conclusion of last year's event. Pollack had previously spent five years in a marketing role with auto racing giant NASCAR.
"The World Series of Poker is a charmed, rich and colorful event," Pollack said. "The headlines this year have had some wonderful stories."
The tournament began at the end of June and the games have produced several history-making moments:
-1989 world poker champion Phil Hellmuth won his 10th bracelet, matching Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for the most World Series event wins in the tournament's history.
-21-year-old University of California, Santa Barbara film student Jeff Madsen became the youngest person to win a bracelet at the World Series of Poker, when he captured a $2,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold'em event. About a week later, he won a second bracelet, taking first place in a $5,000 buy-in Short-handed No-limit Texas Hold'em event.
Madsen, who made three final tables in the tournament for two first place finishes and a third place win, will return to college with more than $1.4 million in winnings.
- 80-year-old Kuei Chi Chang, who had never played tournament poker prior until 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 1,068 players in one event and 42nd out of 415 in another.
"What's happened so far proves the fact that for an amateur player, dreams can come true, and for a poker professional, you can make history," Pollack said.