The 2005 World Series of Poker has come to an end. After nearly seven weeks of non-stop action at the Rio in Las Vegas, it is completely clear to me that the game is in great shape for the future. Here are some of my observations from this tournament and some predictions for next year's event as well:
There are many, many, many fish in the green felt sea.
Take this gem from the $1,500 Razz event: A poor sap is dealt a King and brings it in for the minimum. I'm dealt a 7-up (4-2 in the hole) and everyone folds to me. I raise. Now, this is an almost automatic fold for the bring in, even with two small cards in the hole. This guy called. Fourth Street bought me a 6 and the whale another King. I bet. He called. Yes, he called on Fourth Street showing a pair of Kings in Razz. He called me all the way to the end, with a final board showing K-K-8-J. Thank you.
Or, how about this one from the $2,500 Omaha Eight or Better tournament. I'm observing a hand where one player at my table raises before the flop, gets raised, he reraises and is called. The flop comes down A-2-7 rainbow. He bets right out and is called. The turn comes a 5. He bets and is called. The River is an 8. He bets and is called. He flips up A-2-3-4 for the nut low and a straight. His opponent turns up K-K-K-9. That's right, K-K-K-9.
OK, I can hardly resist another: 50 players left during the first $1,000 No Limit Hold'em with rebuys. Average stack was about 40,000, blinds were a low 400-800 with a 100 ante. Superstar #1 is under the gun and raises ALL-IN. For $60,000. Yes, the blinds are 400-800. Everyone folds (of course) to Superstar #2 on the button who goes into the tank and is clearly thinking about calling off his entire $55,000 stack. Eventually, he says, "Ah hell, let's see what you've got. I call." Now, any predictions on what these two hands are? What if I told you that Superstar #1 won a World Series of Poker bracelet a few years ago in No Limit Hold'em and that Superstar #2 won a World Poker Tour tournament and finished second in another … Superstar #1: K-K. Superstar #2: A-J offsuit. The A-J won.
Seeing Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan both win bracelet No. 10 was a great, historic moment. And while their accomplishment is worthy of praise, in my mind it was overshadowed by Phil Ivey winning his fifth bracelet. Consider this: Ivey has been playing in the World Series of Poker for only a few years and there is no player that has a higher bracelet per event entered ratio than he does. At his current pace, Ivey will win his 10th in about 4 years. Consider also that the fields have been incredibly big since Ivey has been playing.
While the nine "amateurs" that made the final table of the Main Event will get all the press and adulation, the professional players ruled the World Series preliminary events. Look at the list of professional No Limit Hold'em winners: Allen Cunningham, Michael Gracz, TJ Cloutier, Mark Seif, Erik Seidel, Doyle Brunson, Jon Hennigan. Incredible. And, professionals won nearly every other event as well.
Why was this the case? Well, in an incredibly large field (as most events were) there was so much "dead" money that the professionals were able to build big stacks early and survive some of the bad beats they had to take to get through the field. When the pros got to the final table, they closed the deal -- experience at the final table was irreplaceable.
The lifestyle show highlighted the range of products and commercial ventures that are spawning as a result of the popularity of the game. Not only did every serious online poker site have a booth, but mainstream American companies were also well represented: Degree for Men, Knob Creek, and Coke (FullThrottle) were all there. Expect more next year, for certain.
The Internet qualifiers create a HUGE bubble effect. In nearly every single tournament, play was incredibly tight on the bubble. Especially in the Main Event. Internet qualifiers on a $10 ticket to the big dance desperately wanted to get that $12,000 payday. In every other tournament, I saw the true professionals exploiting this bubble effect in a big, big way. It was not at all uncommon to see pros with an average stack nearly double up near the bubble -- not by busting someone, but just by stealing the blinds.
The Rio and the World Series of Poker staff are doing everything in their power to make this tournament the best it can be. I had no less than five people in charge come up to me throughout the tournament and ask what they could be doing better. In many cases, the suggestions I made were taken seriously and I saw them actually implemented during the very next tournament in two instances. Because they listen and care, this tournament will improve in the years to come. The good news is that it's already great. One suggestion I made they did not take: bringing in porta-potties… the bathroom lines were ridiculous.
People, all kinds of people, genuinely care about this game and the players. I met hundreds of folks from across the globe that came to Las Vegas to WATCH the World Series of Poker and meet the players. They didn't come to play. They came to watch, get autographs, and see the WSOP.
I'm taking the over on 7,500 players in the Main Event for 2006. If you'd like to make a friendly wager (or even a not-so-friendly one) let me know. It's a lock.
I'm exhausted and poker-ed out. After spending nearly every day of the last seven weeks at the Rio, I'm not at all interested in going back any time soon, though I did take quite a liking to the pool tables at the Tilted Kilt (thanks Rafe and Rick Wampler for the easy, easy money… you guys are the best).
Phil Gordon is a World Poker Tour Champion, host of Bravo's Celebrity Poker
Showdown, and plays online exclusively at FullTiltPoker.com. Get inside the
mind of Phil Gordon in his new instructional DVD, Final Table Poker
available online at ExpertInsight.com