WSOP’s Return, Las Vegas Intersecting At Just The Right Time
LAS VEGAS — The World Series of Poker arrived here at just the right moment.
From the steady stream of pedestrians marching along The Strip, to the traffic snaking its way up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, to the lines of excited customers waiting to get into restaurants and showrooms, the conclusion is obvious — Vegas is back. The one reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic that battered the town’s tourism and gaming economy is that face masks remain a requirement indoors at many businesses and they are a constant in hotel lobbies and on the casino floors.
The mandated mask wearing, though, is not the case at the WSOP when the players are at the poker tables.
However, all participants did have to show that they are vaccinated to be a player at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, where the poker festival started Sept. 30 for its 52nd edition. The cards went into air Thursday and the action will continue at a furious pace through the conclusion Nov. 23.
Being contested live at the Rio will be 88 gold bracelet events. Online, another 10 bracelets are being held for poker players in Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, depending on the specific tournament.
After a 2020 that saw the WSOP and the legendary Main Event become an online poker tournament, getting the poker world together at the Rio for in-person, live poker playing has been much anticipated. And among the 88 events, one of the first was the aptly named “The Reunion” tournament, which started this past weekend. It advertised a $5 million guaranteed prize pool and players could play beginning with any of three starting days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday — or play them all.
The Reunion proved there’s plenty of pent-up enthusiasm for live poker. Heading into Monday morning, 12,975 entries generated a prize pool of $5,449,500. Of that massive field, 286 players from Day 1c on Sunday advanced to Day 2 starting Monday morning to join 333 survivors from Days 1a and Day 1b.
As an example of how furious the pace of the WSOP is these days with 88 live events, by Monday nine live tournaments will already have begun and a couple more in Nevada and New Jersey will be contested online.
The marquee tournament, the Main Event, is scheduled to run Nov. 4-17. That’s the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold’em event that put poker on the map.
There Are Already Winners
However, some bracelets have already been won. The traditional first event in recent years has been the $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em tournament that had 419 entries and was won by Jimmy Barnett, a 36-year-old Caesars Palace employee.
In a substantially pricier event, Event No. 2, the $25,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, 44-year-old Jesse Klein, from the Philadelphia area, outlasted 78 highly experienced all-star players to win more than $552,000. The final table alone represented a combined 22 WSOP gold bracelets. Phil Hellmuth was at the final table, finished sixth and was denied his 16th gold bracelet. Klein, the winner, is a relative unknown who plays mixed cash games but he got the better of superstar Hellmuth in one hand of Razz (a low-hand variant) sending the “Poker Brat” into one of his familiar and entertaining snits.
“I’m not intimidated ever playing poker,” Klein said. “When you’re comfortable playing different games, you just play your game. You try not to get too high or too low, just stay steady.”
A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.