When the World Series of Poker's latest addition made its eagerly anticipated debut, the Monster Stack tournament immediately proved that it was here to stay.
Priced at an affordable $1,500, the Monster Stack version of the WSOP's most popular no-limit hold'em tournament differed from the half dozen cousins it had sprinkled throughout the summer schedule. Players began the action armed with a 15,000-chip starting stack, with the blinds beginning at 25-25 and escalating every hour according to a traditional structure. Designed to satisfy the recreational player's desire to experience the rush of deep stacked, decision-heavy poker, the Monster Stack was aimed directly at the thousands of WSOP attendees who head home every year lamenting the fact that one early loss in Level 1 doomed them to an early death.
Blessed with the promise of a bolstered stack, and the belief that more chips would level the playing field between themselves and the increasingly tough WSOP fields, droves of amateurs, recreational players, and low-stakes grinders set out in search of their fortune. The Rio was unusually full that Thursday morning, hallways packed with players clutching to their registration slips and wandering around to find their designated room. The cancellation of cash games throughout the sprawling Pavilion Room was the first sign that something special was amiss, and soon enough even the dozen tables in the Rio Poker Room had been signed into service. Every available poker table in the entire casino was occupied by eager players as the tournaments early moments got underway, and yet, the long lines at the registration window stretched onward as if the tournament had not yet begun.
Eventually a second starting flight was slipped into the schedule on the fly, and the WSOP's staff of dedicated tournament directors worked their magic to accommodate every last one of the runners who wanted to take their shot at the Monster Stack's swelling prize pool. When the totals were tallied up it turned out 7,862 individual players had taken their shot, a truly staggering number in terms of tournament turnout, and one which created a first prize payout of $1,327,083 from the $10,613,700 total prize pool.
The biggest share of that treasure was claimed by Frenchman Hugo Pingray late Monday night after he emerged from the fray of a five-day grind to defeat Joe McKeehen heads-up for his first WSOP bracelet win. With the first ever edition of the Monster Stack now in the books, the time has come to reflect on the event's significance within the overall context of the World Series and the wider world of poker.
Amateur Hour: Billed by many as the "Common Man's Main Event," the Monster Stack served its purpose well by providing amateurs with a chance to chase that life-changing score every player harbors dreams of hitting one day.
Bobby Byram had less than $60,000 in recorded live cashes to his credit since 2008, until his seventh place finish produced a payday of $210,469 — higher than his previous best by a factor of 13, and one which quadrupled his career earnings in an instant. For Lynne Beaumont, her sixth place finish for $273,090 was a long time coming, as the British grinder had amassed 88 live cashes between London and Las Vegas since 2005. Of those in-the-money finishes, however, only two resulted in five-figure scores, meaning Beaumont's run in the Monster Stack provided a payout nine times higher than any she had hauled in before. Germany's Claas Segebrecht had just five cashes on résumé before placing fourth in the Monster Stack, with none of these resulting in a payday of more than $13,377, so the $468,594 he pocketed on Monday represented 35 times his previous high. The winner himself was a rank amateur before doing the Monster Mash; Pingray had only notched four cashes for $45,631 prior to the 2014 WSOP.
Second to One: While reentry tournaments have irrevocably altered the landscape of turnout records, the Monster Stack attracted 7,862 individual entries to join the frenzy of flops and folds. That number is good for second place on the all-time list for non-reentry events started on a single day, with only the 2006 Main Event and its 8,773-players field looming larger.
Flipping Quarters: At one point in Level 42 the tournament staff colored up and introduced the 250,000 chips into play, with a single rack of the yellowish ducats equaling 25 million in sum. Pingray captured every last one of the 117,930,000 chips on the table when it was all said in done, meaning he can lay claim to holding one of the biggest stacks in all of poker history.
"Poker is Dead" Dies: Pundits and prognosticators have been sounding poker's death knell since Black Friday abruptly ended the party of online play, but every summer the WSOP seems to refute that notion. This year provided a resounding refutation to the idea that poker's popularity was on the decline, with more than 15,000 buy-ins being brought to just a pair of tournaments. The second edition of the Millionaire Maker event — another $1,500 buy-in bonanza with a seven-figure score awaiting the winner — saw 7,977 entries and reentries recorded during the series' first week. When the Millionaire Maker's tremendous turnout is combined with that of the Monster Stack, there were 15,839 entries recorded over the two events. Boasting nearly identical first-prize payouts of $1.32 million, the Millionaire Maker and the Monster Stack generated a buzz unlike any other seen at the WSOP save Main Event season.
Level Up: Prior to Monday's final table the longest tournament of the 2014 WSOP was the Millionaire Maker, which ended after 37 levels of play, but the Monster Stack was not to be outdone. Pingray claimed the last of McKeehen's chips in Level 43, meaning nearly 2,600 minutes of poker had been needed to whittle the 7,826-player field to a lone remaining runner.
McKeehen Makes Good: Since being featured in a PokerNews profile to begin the series, all McKeehen has done is add nearly $1 million to his lifetime earnings — essentially doubling that already impressive number in a month's time. The Pennsylvania-based young pro has dominated the East Coast tournament circuit during the last few years, but he had yet to make a splash in Sin City before running deep en route to a runner-up finish in the Monster Stack. Less than three weeks ago McKeehen took down top honors at a Venetian Deep Stack $2,100 buy-in event, adding what looked to be a summer-defining $101,864 score to his record, but with time ticking away on his WSOP clock, McKeehen rose to the occasion by very nearly winning his first gold bracelet.
Nonetheless, McKeehen continued to prove himself as one of poker's stars to come, as he made it heads-up for the 18th time out of 68 career live cashes — good for a spectacular 26 percent heads-up rate. The final table appearance also marked his 37th such accomplishment (54 percent final table rate), and his $820,863 in winnings was by far the most McKeehen has collected for a single cash.