The WSOP Main Event Comes of Age: Tracking the Trend Toward Youth
You can never watch too much poker, am I right? Recently — in between watching the last of the live streams from the 2015 World Series of Poker — I filled the gaps watching some of ESPN’s re-broadcasts of the last decade-plus worth of WSOP Main Event final tables. These shows reached all of the way back to the pre-November Nine, pre-Rio WSOPs in which you could watch Norman Chad age before your eyes like some wise-cracking parody of Dorian Gray’s portrait.
When I got to 2007 — the year Jerry Yang took the bracelet — what struck me was the apparent age of Raymond Rahme, the genial South African who took third place that year and whose presence had the effect of highlighting the changes the age distribution at the final table of the Main Event.
Rahme’s white hair emphasized his age a bit, and indeed more than 20 years separated him from the next-oldest players at that year’s Main Event final table. However, at 62 he wasn’t that much older than 57-year-old Steven Gee, a November Niner in 2012. Then again, Gee was the first 50-plus player to make the final table since Kevin Schaeffel had done it in 2009.
Everyone knows that the average age of players at the final table has been getting progressively younger, particularly for the winners. Perhaps not unrelatedly, the physical toll of the two-week grind to make the WSOP Main Event final table is not insignificant.
In his tips for making a deep run in the Main Event, Bryan Devonshire specifically addressed the need to stay rested when dealing with the “grueling marathon” of the Main. Ronnie Bardah also spoke of diet and other issues along with specific strategy advice when delivering his Main Event tips, as did Jason Koon when running through his Main Event checklist.
It’s going to be interesting to see who makes it through to this year’s November Nine. One of the youngest players in this year’s field was Adrian Mateos. The young Spaniard won the 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event at age 19, then this spring won the EPT Grand Final Main Event at age 20. Having just turned 21 on July 1, a few days later he flew to Las Vegas to play this year’s WSOP Main Event, and yesterday cashed for $15,000 after finishing 750th.
Meanwhile the oldest player in this year’s Main Event is 94-year-old William Wachter, a World War II veteran who played the WSOP Main a year ago as well. Wachter is still in the hunt in fact as one of the 661 players who bagged chips yesterday, and he’ll be returning to a stack of 123,000 — just under 25 big blinds — to begin today’s Day 4.
As noted, however, the trend has been toward youth when it comes to Main Event final tables, with all of last year’s November Niners being between age 22 and 31.
Below is a little graph to help you visualize the changes over the past decade. Roll over it to see ages, finishing positions, and identities (the line with the circle markers is the first-place finisher, the line with the square markers is the runner-up).