The chips are stacked and counted for the 2006 World Series of Poker. Thousands of decks of cards, sealed tight and in order, are arranged for the hundreds of dealers to pick up. The players have rested up and taken care of all their arrangements for the most prestigious event in the poker world. All that's left to think about is what the 2006 World Series of Poker will bring us.
One thing that should remain consistent from 2005 is that there should be a predominance of professional players taking the bracelets home. The pros have adjusted their game to the larger fields and are now showing more risk taking moves in these events, negating the advantage that the newcomers to poker had in 2004. I see no reason why this is going to change when the tournament starts on Tuesday (the first open event of the World Series) and would expect that this year's champions list will be peppered with notable names capturing bracelets once again.
With that said though, the fields for each event should surpass their 2005 numbers. Of the forty five events that make up the slate for the WSOP this year, there are only a few that should be small tournaments, and I say "small" in that there won't be upwards of 1,000 players coming to the felt for them. The rebuy events, the $5,000 tournaments and the less-known forms of poker such as Razz and Deuce to Seven Lowball will probably feature around 500 players (The Deuce to Seven is $5,000 with rebuys, so that field will be quite small) and will not be watched as closely by the assembled fans in the Amazon Room. For some players looking to earn a World Series bracelet, these tournaments would be the most logical shot, although the players in the field will bring together the best poker players around.
For the Seven Card and Omaha (and their high/low variations) events, they could very well be 750 players or more in those tournaments. While not as popular as Texas Hold 'Em, these tournaments have their fans and, as newcomers to the game discover these variations, they will draw significant action from most of the players. What will be the real draws for this year's series will be, of course, the Texas Hold 'Em tournaments.
While there is only one $1,000 open Hold 'Em Event, there are several $1,500 and $2,000 Hold 'Em tournaments (both Limit and No-Limit). In these fields, there could be upwards of 2,000 (in the $1,000 event) and for the $1.5K and $2K tournaments the numbers could surpass 1250. This would be a huge jump over the fields in the tournaments last year as only the first $1500 event surpassed the 2000 player mark and the others were all around the 1000 to 1500 mark. Competition will be fierce there as well as the pros mix it up with first time World Series players and could present the best stories from this year's tournament.
The two events that everyone will focus on are the $50K H.O.R.S.E. tournament and, of course, the Championship Event. The mixed game event should draw around 150 players and each one of them will be prime time names that everyone will recognize. While it is a slight disappointment that the play will revert to No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em at the final table, those eight players who make it there will be the best poker players in the world, bar none. While the winner won't be considered the World Champion, the event should answer the question of the best poker player around (at least for one tournament).
Picking a winner out of the Championship Event, and the up to 8,000 or so players for that, is akin to picking which side a drop of water will drip off the back of your hand. It is very interesting to look at the different bookmakers odds and see players given anywhere from a 33-1 shot to 125-1 odds, making them the favorite. The odds for a player winning shouldn't be anywhere near this; the lowest an odds any player, no matter how great, should have is around 250 to 300-1. There are some players, though, that have to be given some serious consideration.
Since he has led the Player of the Year race almost since the start of the year, Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi has to have front runner status applied to his name. A win in any event during the World Series will solidify his position on the POY and a victory in the Championship Event would put the 25 year old Floridian into the pantheon of poker greatness. Mizrachi's aware of this as well and, although he cashed in seven events in 2005, the WSOP bracelet would be a crowning achievement to a still burgeoning career. If he can quell his aggressiveness somewhat, he can go far during the six weeks at the Rio.
After watching the Full Tilt Red Rock tournament on Thursday night, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mike Matusow will be making some noise during the run at the Rio. His play during that invitational tournament showed that he has his focus on doing well during the World Series and, as such, I wouldn't be surprised to see the defending Tournament of Champions victor either take a bracelet at some point over the next six weeks or even make another stirring run in the Championship Event.
Nine time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth has some momentum built up as the World Series gets ready to start as well. Hellmuth has been playing excellent poker recently at the World Poker Tour Championship and the WPT Paris stop and seems to be intensely focused on getting back some records that once were his (or shared by him). His competitive fires have been stoked by, for the first time in a few years, having people ahead of him on the bracelets list and the most lifetime cashes board. As such, could it be possible that Phil could capture a bracelet and get back to a tie with Doyle and Johnny or, perish the thought, two to pass them? I would say that this year is the time for Phil to make such a move.
When it comes to the ladies, there are some formidable challengers there also. Cyndy Violette had her breakout year in 2005 when she cashed for over $700,000 at the World Series. Although she didn't put a second bracelet on her wrist (to go with her 2004 bracelet), she has to be considered one of the top female players in the world. Kathy Liebert also seems to be in top shape for the tournament this year and Liz Lieu, fresh from her first significant tournament victory in 2006, could be someone to watch as well.
Will a woman win the Championship Event? Logistics and numbers say that this isn't likely. At last year's tournament, barely 10% of the 5600 player field was female, which doesn't bode well for a woman capturing the World Championship. As with everything in poker, though, the chance is always there for a female to make a run such as Tiffany Williamson last year and shock the people in attendance.
I personally believe that another foreign born player will win the Championship Event, following in defending champion Joseph Hachem's footsteps. Patrik Antonius is a juggernaut when it comes to tournaments in Las Vegas and has to be given serious consideration for a shot in the Championship Event or any other tournament. "The Flying Dutchman" Marcel Luske has come close on a couple of occasions and cannot be counted out either. There are a slew of other international players who could surge to the forefront and none of them can be counted out from becoming the next World Champion.
One thing that will be said about the 2006 renewal of the World Series is that it will be one of the best tournaments ever. After taking an extreme amount of heat for the 2005 tournament, Harrah's has had a year to get ready for this one rather than the couple of months they had last year. As such, the environment for the fans, the media, the tournament staff and the players should be a quantum leap above what occurred in 2005. Preemptive kudos must be handed out to Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack and the rest of the Harrah's staff for this attention to the World Series and their drive to make it the greatest event around.
With that, we'll wrap up the "Countdown To The World Series". The next six weeks will bring us tremendous highs and lows for poker players from around the world and will be the most closely watched, talked about and analyzed tournament schedules in the history of our great game. As we get ready for the famous call of "shuffle up and deal", all we can say now is the World Series of Poker is HERE.
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