For true fans of the game, there’s no bigger moment in poker each year than the arrival of the World Series of Poker. Now entering its 43rd year, it’s the world’s longest-running poker tournament series. It’s also the world’s richest tournament series. It’s no longer the one time of the year that every poker player counts on to make or break him, but it is without a doubt still the most prestigious place to win a poker tournament. As a result, everyone who’s anyone in poker shows up for the WSOP.
In order of their appearance, here’s a look at five events on the 2012 WSOP schedule that are guaranteed to grab the poker world’s attention.
The first event of the 2012 WSOP with a five-figure buy-in, this tournament is guaranteed to draw a field filled with poker’s best. From touring tournaments pros to online heads-up specialists to the occasional hometown champion looking to make his mark, this tournament draws all kinds of poker players. And with the 512-player cap, basically anyone who wants to test their one-on-one skills will have the opportunity.
There isn’t a accepted world championship for high-dollar, heads-up tournaments, at least not in the same way that the WSOP Main Event is accepted as poker’s world championship for NLHE. But this tournament is as close to a heads-up world championship as we’re likely to get. First, there’s the price tag, which doubles the entry cost of most similar tournaments in the world. Second, there’s the strength of the field: all the world’s greatest heads-up players tend to already be on location when the tournament runs. And third, there’s the difficulty of winning the tournament: a player has to win nine matches in order to claim the championship, meaning that a win represents a true accomplishment.
2. Event 45: The Poker Players Championship – $50,000 buy-in
After the early boom years it became apparent that the WSOP Main Event, which had once been too expensive for anyone but the world’s best players to enter, had forever changed. Thanks to satellites all over the world, thousands of players began to turn out every year for their shot at the poker world’s most exalted title. The game’s elite players needed a new venue to face off against each other, so in 2006 the WSOP put together a HORSE tournament – featuring alternating games of hold’em, Omaha hi-lo, Razz, stud, and stud hi-lo – with a $50,000 buy-in. Poker legend Chip Reese won that event after a marathon final table, and since his passing in 2007 the David “Chip” Reese Trophy has been awarded to the event’s winner every year.
The game choice irked some, who said that HORSE wasn’t the best test of skill, especially in the modern era of big-bet games. So in 2010 the format for the event was changed to the current eight-game mix to better reflect the tournament organizers’ intent to test all-around poker skill. The five HORSE games were augmented with no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, and 2-to-7 triple draw, but the Chip Reese Trophy still goes to the winner. Outside of the next event on this list, the Poker Players Championship is without a doubt the best tournament to watch if you want to see truly elite poker players face off against each other.
3. Event 55: The Big One for One Drop – $1,000,000 buy-in
The WSOP has toyed around with high-dollar events for some time now, with the $50K HORSE and Players Championship events and the 40th Anniversary $40K NLHE event. But when Cirque du Soleil founder and amateur poker enthusiast Guy Laliberté suggested upping the ante, the result was a bit more than probably anyone had expected. The largest buy-in in poker history will help to benefit Laliberté’s charity, One Drop, which works to provide clean water in developing countries. One out of every nine dollars in the prize pool will go to the charity.
The $1,000,000 price tag on this unique event means that it is going to draw a much different field than the average WSOP tournament. There will be the usual high-rolling poker pros, of course, but there will also be rich businessmen who can afford to light seven figures’ worth of Federal Reserve Notes on fire just to sit with the world’s greatest poker players. There might also be a satellite winner or two in the field, as the WSOP is holding a mega-satellite with a $25,300 buy-in to award seats.
More than 30 players have already committed to play, and with a 48-player cap we’re likely to know the lineup of players well in advance of the July 1st starting date. That means there will be more than enough time to line up bets with your friends before ESPN begins streaming the event live on a 15-minute delay.
4. Event 57: No-Limit Hold’em Six-Handed – $10,000 buy-in
Few games typify the action of online poker more than shorthanded no-limit hold’em. Where casinos are usually loathe to spread the game because it leaves usable seats at the table open, online rooms have catered to their players and given 6-max games a vibrant life they wouldn’t have had otherwise. The $10,000 NLHE 6-max event, then, serves as sort of a live-game world championship for online poker’s typifying game. It’s a relatively new event for the WSOP – 6-max events have been aorund for several years, but big buy-ins have only been in play since 2010. The first tournament featured a $25,000 buy-in, but that was dropped to $10K for last year and remains there for this year.
It won’t purely draw online players – after all, 6-max tournaments are more common in casinos today than they used to be, and many of the world’s top live cash-game players are used to playing at shorthanded tables. But online players will be heavily represented in the field given the amount of practice at shorthanded poker the online game has given them. The last two final tables have featured several ridiculously accomplished practitioners of the online game, including 2010 winner Dan “djk123” Kelly, 2011 winner Joe “ender555” Ebanks, Chris “moorman1” Moorman, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Tristan “Cre8ive” Wade, Jason “JCarver” Somerville, Mike “Sowerss” Sowers.
5. Event 61: No-Limit Hold’em World Championship – $10,000 buy-in
There is no doubt: on the mountain of tournament poker, this event is the summit. The Main Event, the original freezeout poker tournament, the same event won three times by Stu Ungar and twice by Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, is the one tournament every poker player in the world aspires to win. Over the last two decades it has grown from an event that attracted a few hundred players and awarded $1 million to the winner to a two-week tournament that draws thousands and pays out life-changing sums of money to its champion. And for the last half of that run, it has become a cultural force as well through seemingly unending reruns on ESPN.
This year’s Main Event will be the fifth consecutive running to feature the “November Nine” format, where the final table is delayed for four months and then shown nearly live on television and the web. The wait will once again be a long one, though this year’s version is actually running in late October, one week earlier than in previous years, due to the US presidential election. The winner of the tournament may not be the most skilled player in the field, or the most naturally talented, or any number of other superlatives, but there’s one guarantee: he’ll be the most envied player in poker for the next year.