Juiced Up

Previous WSOP Moment

Barry Bonds? Forget it. If you want to see something really swollen by steroids, check out these poker tournaments.

Up until this year's World Series of Poker, there had only been one major brick-and-mortar tournament with more than 1,000 participants - last year's main event, which attracted more than 2,500 players. This year, the first three WSOP tournaments - the $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold 'em, the $1,500 buy-in pot-limit hold 'em and the $1,500 buy-in limit hold 'em - all attracted more than 1,000 players, and the NLHE event would easily have broken the all-time record if the Rio had not capped entries at 2,300.

But that was nothing compared to yesterday's shocker, when 699 gambling fools signed up for the $1,500 buy-in Omaha high-low with an 8-or-better qualifier tournament, almost twice as big a field as had ever before played this esoteric game for this kind of money (the winner - to be determined later today - will take down $270,000). Omaha/8 - at least, until now - has always been a game for specialists, which is why a field of more than 100 would have been considered extraordinary for your average Omaha/8 tournament.

How specialized? The biggest game regularly spread on the online site I usually play (Captain Cooks) is $1-2 pot-limit, and the biggest game regularly spread at the casino I frequent (Foxwoods) is $5-10 limit.

As you can imagine, thanks to four hole cards (compared to a mere two in hold 'em) and the larger number of players per hand (thanks to the fact that most pots are split between the high and the low hand), Omaha/8 is a slow game, roughly twice as slow as NLHE under the best of circumstances - and a field of 699 competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars is far from the best of circumstances if you are looking for speed. Often, it takes longer to figure out who won the hand then it does to play the hand. As a consequence, when I left the Rio early this morning at 1:30, there were still 44 players alive, with many hours to go before they could sleep.