WSOP Week 1 Recap: Colossus lives up to hype

Jayne Furman/WSOP

The World Series of Poker wanted to make history and bring in thousands of players who had never participated in a WSOP event, kicking off the summer season of 2015 with a spectacle never before seen at the Rio or anywhere else. With their $565 event, aptly named the Colossus, the folks at Caesars accomplished those goals and then some.

By the time registration closed and the numbers were tabulated, an astonishing 22,374 entries had filled the Rio over the course of two days, shattering the previous record of 8,773 for the largest live tournament field of all time (the 2006 WSOP Main Event).

“Obviously it's just a stunning, amazing turnout,” said WSOP executive director Ty Stewart. “It ended up there were some 15,000 unique players, and 7,500 of them were making their first trip to the WSOP. It says to me there are still a lot of Chris Moneymakers out there; we just have to let them know they're welcome among the wizards.”

Those 22,374 entries produced a prize pool of $11,187,000 to be shared in by 2,241 players, with $638,880 and the bracelet awarded to the champion. That number represents a 1,130 percent return on investment for the last one standing.

There were bound to be logistical nightmares from having so many people in one tournament, and lines did grow to excessive lengths during both registration and payout periods. Quite a few pros spoke out on social media about just how flat the payouts were, with first place representing less than 6 percent of the prize pool.

“On the payout issue, I'm still generally conflicted,” Stewart said. “Of course it makes sense on first blush that with $11 million in the prize pool, the winner could get seven figures. Hey, as a career marketing guy, no one wants those headlines more than me. But this was such a unique beast, paying out some 2,200 players ... We used the same general formula we've been using for the past several years. It's just never run out to that many places paid. Lesson learned is that the payout table needs to be as front and center in every event as the structure.”

While there was some serious commotion regarding the prize pool, there’s a lot that the WSOP got right. Consider what it took to get so many players into a single tournament. Every table in three huge convention rooms was filled, with additional tables placed inside the poker kitchen, in the hallway outside of Buzios restaurant toward the front of the casino and even inside the poker room in front of the casino -- a 10-minute walk from the rest of the action.

As if that wasn’t enough, as players busted out each of the four flights had two additional waves where more people could be squeezed in. The first wave still had quite a bit of play, but those that couldn’t get into either of the first two groups were so eager to play in this historic event that they entered with just 10 big blinds and a dream of running up a stack and taking their shot.

After three long days of poker, the field played down to a final table Tuesday evening, and there’s an interesting story in play. Ray Henson, who started Day 4 of Colossus with the chip lead and who is arguably the most recognizable player at the final table, won the largest WSOP Circuit event in history back in January against a field of 4,053. He has a chance to put his name in another spot in the WSOP record books if he’s able to come back, although he’ll start the final table as the short stack

Quick Hits:

Actor James Woods, a familiar face in the poker rooms at Borgata, Foxwoods and the Commerce, made his first career final table in the $3,000 no-limit hold ’em Shootout. To get there, he had to win an eight-handed table on Day 1 and a four-handed table on Day 2 (that included WSOP bracelet winners Sam Stein and Doug Polk). Woods faced Polk for six hours before ultimately coming out on top. At the final table, Woods finished seventh. He followed that up with deep runs in both the $1,000 Hyper Hold ’Em (which was won by John Reading of Rochester, Minnesota) and the $1,500 razz event.

Robert Mizrachi came from behind to win the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo event, earning his third career WSOP bracelet. That ties him with his brother Michael for his career. Robert's next goal is the $50,000 Poker Players Championship.

Michael Wang won the first open event of the summer, taking down $466,120 for his win in the $5,000 no-limit hold ’em event. He defeated Bryn Kenney, one of four WSOP bracelet winners at the final table (Greg Merson, Amir Lehavot and Joe Ebanks were the other three). For Merson, this was his first WSOP final table since winning the 2012 WSOP Main Event.

Brandon Barnette, a dual rate poker supervisor at the Pechanga Casino in California, won the casino employees event to kick off the 2015 WSOP. The 29-year-old, celebrating the birth of his first child a month ago, took home $75,704 and the gold bracelet for his efforts. The poker title was new, but winning championships was not. As a member of the U.S. national roller hockey team, Barnette won three world championships.

Tuan Le entered the final table of the $10,000 2-7 Triple Draw world championship with a massive chip lead and an eye towards going back-to-back in that event. He did just that. Le became the first player to win the same tournament in back-to-back years since Thang Luu won the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo in 2008 and 2009.

What to Watch For:

The halls of the Rio will be packed again this coming weekend as the third edition of the Millionaire Maker takes over. There are starting sessions on Friday and Saturday at 10 am PST for the $1,500 no-limit hold ’em event which, as you might suspect from the name, guarantees at least $1 million for the champion. The inaugural event in 2013 saw Benny Chen beat a field of 6,343 to win $1,199,104. In 2014, Jonathan Dimmig outlasted 7,976 others to win $1,319,587.