The Main Event of the 44th annual World Series of Poker is underway, and the big one leads this edition of Five Thoughts, but we also have to touch upon some other stories, including Loni Harwood’s win, the Player of the Year race, and Daniel Alaei’s fourth bracelet.
1. This is, the Main Event!
Every year, the number of entrants for the Main Event provides a nice sweat for prop bettors, writers, players, and fans alike. The number can also act as a litmus test for the state of the industry, and some use the number to judge the success of the WSOP as a whole. In 2013, the big one attracted a total of 6,352 entrants, generating a prize pool of over $59 million. The top 648 players will earn a minimum of $19,106, each member of the official final table is guaranteed $733,224, and the winner will take home a whopping $8,359,531.
While this is the smallest Main Event since Joe Hachem won in 2005, and the number of entrants has dropped roughly four percent per year since Black Friday, it is still an incredible turnout. Without online qualification available — this should be rectified soon — and without reentries, bringing more than 6,000 players to one place to play a five-figure buy-in poker tournament is an absurdly beautiful thing.
To put the WSOP Main Event’s success into perspective, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and Aussie Millions attracted a combined 1,616 for their $10,000 Main Events. This means that the WSOP had nearly four times the combined field sizes without having any direct online qualifiers.
There are also other mitigating factors like increased tax laws that have negatively affected the WSOP. My Australian colleague Mateusz Pater joked on Wednesday that if his fellow countrymen didn’t have to pay so much upon receiving their money, that the Main Event would have over 10,000 players. This is a bit of a farce, of course, but an immediate 300-player boost wouldn’t be out of the question. Crown Casino was more abuzz than any other venue I’d ever been to outside of the WSOP, and most of the grinders from down under seem to absolutely love the game, but it makes no sense to come all the way to Las Vegas and basically get negatively freerolled.
As for online qualifying, it’s coming. Unfortunately for Caesars, WSOP.com missed the boat completely in 2013, but now they have a very long time to knock the kinks out before the 2014 WSOP — and it's much more important the product gets launched is as top-notch form as possible, rather than in a rush. I’d like to see them start with satellites to WSOP Circuit events, which I believe would be a huge success especially if WSOP.com expands to New Jersey and other states, and I would also like to see a bit more creativity when it comes to promotions. For example, Paddy Power has a really cool promotion for the Irish Poker Open, wherein all of their online qualifiers compete in a last longer. Calvin Anderson, the winner of this year’s last longer, earned €50,000 in cash, a seat in the 2014 Irish Poker Main Event, and another $10,000 Main Event seat he could use in any other tournament.
The WSOP could up the ante and give away $100,000 along with a seat to next year’s Main Event, the WSOP Europe Main Event, and the Asia-Pacific Main Event. With this kind of value up for grabs, plenty of grinders would try and satellite in using the online client, creating an Amazon Room filled with patched-up players.
Large satellites for the Poker Players Championship and even the One Drop could also be very cool, giving everyday players an opportunity to compete with the best players in the world in big buy-in events. The opportunities are endless, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of the eventual launch of WSOP.com.
For now, all eyes are set on the Rio as we anxiously await the formation of the 2013 November Nine. The next few days should be a blast as the field starts to whittle down, slowly but surely. To follow live coverage of the event, check out the PokerNews Live Reporting.
2. Third Time’s a Charm for Harwood
On Sunday, Harwood reached her third final table of the 2013 WSOP. In her first two attempts, she finished sixth in Event #31: $1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low 8-or-Better and fourth in Event #53: $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em, earning a combined $250,259.
Due to the start of the Main Event, and the fact that it was running concurrently with the Event #61: $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha final table, Harwood’s third final table appearance took place in the corner of the Blue Section of the Amazon Room, and initially there wasn’t even an announcer. In order to sweat the action, and more importantly the board, friends, family members, and backers alike had to lean over the flimsy railing in the pseudo media-observer area. The tournament staff had to tell the fans to stay back several times, and finally one of the tournament directors grabbed a microphone and began dictating the action.
Harwood entered the final table with the shortest stack, but then doubled into the chip lead against Hiren “Sunny” Patel. Patel flopped top pair and a flush draw against Harwood, who tabled two aces, and her hand held up. A few hours later, Harwood was nearly eliminated by aces, but instead she regained the chip lead when her ace-king cracked Yngve Steen’s pocket rockets. There was a queen and a jack on the flop, the turn was a brick, and a ten completed the board to give Harwood Broadway.
With seven players left, Harwood started applying maximum pressure, and eliminated all but one player heading into heads-up play with Yongshuo Zheng. There, she had more than a three-to-one chip advantage, and Zheng never took the lead in the match. On the final hand, Zheng made Broadway on the river, but that same final card also gave Harwood jacks full of tens. All of the money went in the middle, and Harwood was crowned the champion.
Our own Lynn Gilmartin spoke to her after the win:
Pamela Maldonado took a look at some of the records Harwood broke when she won Event #60, which include most cashes at a single WSOP for a female (six), and the largest prize won by a female in Las Vegas. Harwood also tied Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final tables at a single WSOP with three, and she now sits in No. 8 on the all-time WSOP money list for women.
These gender-driven accomplishments are awesome, but let’s look at the larger picture, because the fact that Harwood is a female doesn’t make her performance this summer any better or any worse — she’s been spectacular nonetheless. Harwood has crushed so much so that she currently sits in third of the WSOP Player of the Year race, but unfortunately for her she has already been eliminated from the Main Event.
Not to worry though, there is always WSOP Europe, which has moved to Paris for 2013. Harwood told Maldonado that she’s not sure if chasing the POY is important, but after a few weeks of reflection, we’re sure that she and her boyfriend Philipp Hui will be booking flights to Charles de Gaulle to do a bit more bracelet hunting. With an emerging online poker market, it would be a bit foolish to pass up on an opportunity to make a big splash.
3. Player of the Year Race
At the start of the Main Event, the top 10 of the WSOP POY race looks like this:
|4||David “Bakes” Baker||USA||475.35||0|
There are a few issues that I have with this list, but let’s start with the positives. First, Ashton has clearly had the best WSOP. Like Baker, the Brit has four final table appearances, yet unlike Baker, he was able to close the deal and win at least one bracelet. The bracelet wasn’t just any piece of hardware either, it was the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship, one of the most prestigious poker tournaments of the year.
Ashton is also a member of Ivey and the Misfits, so excuse me if I am a little bias.
Second, I am glad to see only two $1,500 no-limit hold’em winners on this list. No disrespect to Harwood and Hamby, who are both tough players and very deserving of the bracelets they earned, but there are so many of these bracelets awarded. In fact, wouldn’t it be a good idea to give a separate POY award for performances in the $1,500 and $1,000 no-limit hold’em events? This way the “everyday man” that the WSOP markets to in their “I’m a Player” campaign could be championed in bracelet events and in the Carnivale of Poker.
OK, on to the things that really grind my gears.
Schneider at seven is, to steal a phrase from ESPN’s Matthew Berry, whoa crazy crazy. Seven? Really? Ashton is clearly No. 1, and there are arguments for Bakes and Negreanu (don’t forget that, along with his win down under, Kid Poker came runner-up to Eli Elezra in Event #59: $2,500 Limit 2-7 Triple Draw and finished fourth in the AU$2,200 Mixed Event at WSOP APAC), but Harwood, Nguyen, and Johnson shouldn’t be ranked higher than a double bracelet winner. Mathematically, I don’t know how to rectify this other than to give bonus points to double bracelet winners, but I’m also not sure if that’s fair.
Since the inception of the POY award in 2004, four of the winners, including Negreanu (2004), Allen Cunningham (2005), Erick Lindgren (2008), and Ben Lamb (2011), only won one bracelet. Each of them topped a double bracelet winner, like Ashton is poised to do if he can fade the Main Event and add a few more points in Europe. Again, Ashton deserves to win at this point, but Schneider also deserves to be higher.
Perhaps I should just go with a Ricky Bobby-like attitude: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
In the end, all POY systems are flawed because it’s impossible to create a perfect formula, and even more impossible to please everyone, including myself. I guess as long as the top spot is indisputable I should be happy, but I just hope we don’t forget how awesome of a summer Schneider had here in 2013.
4. Alaei Wins Number Four
Minutes away from having to return for a fourth day — and if they had to play a fourth day, it would’ve come two days later so the players could play the Main Event — Daniel Alaei added a fourth WSOP bracelet to his already impressive trophy collection, winning the aforementioned Event #60. Alaei defeated PLO specialist Jared Bleznick in the first hand of heads-up play, where nearly 100 big blinds went in on the turn. Alaei had floated the flop, turned a set of tens, and faded Bleznick’s straight draw.
Bleznick, who players very few tournaments, earned his sixth career WSOP cash and banked $526,625.
The final day was quite bizarre. As most of the poker world focused on the Main Event, this massive, $10,000 buy-in event was tucked away in a dark corner of the Amazon Room. There were plenty of storylines heading into the final table, including Oleksii Kovalchuk looking to win a third consecutive bracelet in as many years, Alex Kravchenko looking for his first bracelet in 2007, and of course Alaei in search of number four. Despite all of this, there was a very small rail which seemed to get thinner and thinner as the night went longer and longer.
As the clock passed 3 a.m., the Main Event television crew started building some of the feature table areas in other parts of the Amazon Room. The echoes of hammering and drilling filled the room as the players at the final table battled for nearly $900,000.
When Bleznick and Alaei finally reached heads-up play, they were both deep. With around 15 minutes left in the 11th and final level, a fourth day appeared mandatory, but then it ended. Just like that.
A somewhat subdued Alaei, who is now a two-time winner of the $10,000 PLO event, spoke of his late father with Gilmartin:
5. The Straddle
This week, in the penultimate edition of The Straddle, Kristy Arnett talks about Lynn talking about boobs. Need I say more?