The poker players and media who have frequented the Amazon Room at the Rio over the past 10 years half-jokingly refer to the World Series of Poker as "summer camp." It's true -- if summer camps lasted seven weeks, awarded millions of dollars to campers and turned the shy kid in Cabin C into a household name each year.
The days leading up to the WSOP are some of the best of the year. Every single poker player is an emotional jambalaya; the plans in their head of winning two bracelets, contending for WSOP Player of the Year mixed with the fear of going oh-fer and leaving the Rio in early July with nothing but a pile of receipts and an unhappy backer.
In just a few hours the players will begin making their way to the Rio and the 2014 WSOP will get underway. We already highlighted some players to keep an eye on this summer, but beyond the players themselves, there's a few storylines to track as well.
Can Daniel Negreanu repeat as WSOP Player of the Year?
Last year Daniel Negreanu won two WSOP bracelets, one at WSOP APAC and one at WSOP Europe, on his way to winning WSOP Player of the Year. While a bulk of his winnings did come away from Las Vegas, he cashed eight times last summer, coming close to winning another bracelet in the $2,500 2-7 triple draw. Nobody has ever managed to win WSOP POY in back-to-back years but if you wanted to bet money on one guy to do it, wouldn't Negreanu be your choice? He has played a more limited schedule heading into the WSOP than he has in years past, but he still has more than $1.5 million in earnings in 2014. He's also planning on playing a lot of events this year, mostly the bigger buy-in, smaller-field events that are less of a minefield. Doing well in those events is key to winning POY and if Negreanu gets off to a hot start, look out for Kid Poker to find a way to be in contention.
The return of the $10,000 championship events
The 2014 schedule looks very different from the 2013 schedule. There are 14 events on this year's docket that weren't there last year. The reason? The re-inclusion of the $10,000 buy-in championship events. Players, particularly some of the more vocal top level ones, campaigned last year to find a way to have more non-hold 'em events. Over the course of the next seven weeks the final tables of those events are going to be full of names you recognize. Another part of that campaign by players was to find ways to give casual players who enjoy the other poker variants a price point to play them as well. That's why you see $1,500 buy-in events in razz, 2-7, stud high-low and the like. The hope is that by giving the pros the $10,000 buy-in events it brings a little bit of prestige back to some of the other poker disciplines while also giving amateurs who are playing for the love of the game a chance to play for a bracelet in something other than hold 'em.
Who will be this year's Loni Harwood?
This time last year, Loni Harwood was just another WSOP Circuit grinder. She then put a show at the Rio that left a lot of people talking. Harwood cashed six times, made three final tables and won a bracelet in the last week of preliminary events, a performance put her in contention for WSOP Player of the Year. So who could emerge from the Circuit, the seemingly non-stop series of smaller buy-in events at casinos across the country, to become a player of the year contender? There's a few names that come to mind. Joseph Morneau is a name many poker fans won't recognize, but they should. Morneau, known online as "Dyzalot," cashed 17 times during the past Circuit season, earning $154,414 along the way. Another player to keep an eye on is Alexandru Masek. As the all-time leader in Circuit rings with eight, Masek is the Phil Hellmuth of the Circuit. For his career he has earned more than $350,000 on the Circuit and it seems only a matter of time before he finds himself posing for a bracelet winner photo.
WSOP executive director Ty Stewart made two pretty bold statements during the annual WSOP conference call a few weeks back. First he predicted that the $1,000 pot-limit Omaha event on Day 2 of the WSOP could be the biggest non-hold 'em field in WSOP history. Second, he predicted the main event this year would be bigger than last year. Without saying it directly, Stewart is hinting at bigger field sizes across the board. So how is this growth possible? Well, first off there are online satellites available on WSOP.com in Nevada and New Jersey. They expected at least 200 online satellite winners, which is far from what we saw pre-Black Friday, but still substantial at this point in time. The WSOP has excelled over the past few years in running satellites at the Rio and now, with their expanded partnerships with casinos around the country to hold more of them, they can bring in more potential customers that were never there before.
So what's a likely year-over-year growth number? Well, Stewart would probably be happy with anything close to 5-8 percent for any event.
Will they play?
This storyline takes a few routes. First, will the best 21-year-old player in the world, Ole Schemion, play a full-ish schedule? If there is one player who has earned the hype for a WSOP debut, it's him. The German phenom has $5.2 million in tournament earnings with 10 career titles and wants to live up the Vegas lifestyle during his short, upcoming trip. The good news is that he'll be there, but it's anyone's guess as to how much he'll focus on the game and not the parties. Can you really blame him?
The second avenue is one of much potential controversy: Will Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson play? This subject was addressed in Bluff last month, and it comes down to the potential reaction by those seated and surrounding the former icons of the game. Could there be forgiveness? Could there be security called? One thing is for certain, if they do show up, much will be written and discussed on the topic.
Third: Doyle Brunson. It seems like each year we watch him with awe as the living legend plays at the WSOP, feeling that this would be the final time ... and the next year he's back at it. We know Brunson loves playing in the $50,000 Players Championship and we know it will be hard for him to stay away. If there's one player we hope shows up, it's Brunson.
Finally, will they play ... online poker? We wrote earlier this week about how the WSOP will allow online play at the table. If players decide to head in this direction, we're interested in seeing the overall ROI.
The Big One for One Drop
Nobody had any idea what to expect with the first Big One for One Drop in 2012. A $1 million buy-in event with a WSOP bracelet on the line seemed ludicrous at the time, but as the event neared, the hype for it dominated the WSOP. This year they've expanded the cap on the field by another eight players bringing it to 56 overall. The key to this event is attracting enough rich amateurs to make it more desirable for pros to sell enough pieces of themselves to get in on the action. Raising $1,000,000 for all but a few players is a difficult task, but if the lineup includes a number of "anonymous businessmen," then investors know they'll have a real shot at seeing a return on their investment. So who will the 56 players be? Will the German contingent that has dominated the High Roller scene for the past two years (Phillip Gruissem, Fabian Quoss, Ole Schemion, et al) find a way to take home the $20,000,000 first-place prize? Can Phil Ivey, who won the $250,000 Challenge at the Aussie Millions two years ago against many of the same players, win bracelet No. 10 and cement himself as the all-time money earner in poker for a long, long time? Could one of the mega-rich businessmen make history by beating the game's best?
The bracelet race
Another WSOP means another moment to reflect on Phil Hellmuth's tremendous WSOP accomplishments. Love his style or attitude or not, Hellmuth leads the way with 100 career WSOP cashes and 13 bracelets. Nobody is expected to come close to catching him this year, but the standings of those right behind him may be dramatically different come August. As mentioned earlier the implementation of more $10,000 events will allow for the top pros to have more opportunities to pad their stats. It's unlikely that Doyle Brunson or Johnny Chan (and their 10 bracelets) get involved in the tournament scene (they prefer the lucrative cash games during the WSOP), but Ivey and Erik Seidel will most definitely be daily participants and excel at all games offered. Getting back to Hellmuth for a second, we're pretty sure he has custom hats made with the number 14 inscribed on the side...
The best without a bracelet
It's a list that no player actually wants to be on. We have our thoughts, but we took to Twitter where some others chimed in on who they felt is most worthy of some gold this year.
- Jesse Martin (@MazeOrBowie) May 26, 2014
- Dan Fleyshman (@DanFleyshman) May 26, 2014
- Christian Harder (@realcharder30) May 26, 2014
- Alex Allison (@majorpoker) May 26, 2014
However, this one takes the cake.
- Nick Carlson (@Nick_C_C) May 26, 2014
Those obvious reasons are Brown's ongoing battle with cancer. He has 38 career cashes at the WSOP and all of us hope he gets many, many more.
Whether you're a poker fan, a Circuit grinder, a seasoned pro, an amateur dreamer or one of the "anonymous businessmen" the WSOP truly is the summer camp of poker. Just think, last year Ryan Riess was that shy kid in Cabin C -- he just managed to go home with $8.4 million and the title of world champ.