LAS VEGAS (AP) — The best in golf shoot for a green jacket at the Masters. The deftest in tennis try for a title at Wimbledon. And the most skilled in poker attempt to earn a bracelet at the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold ’em Main Event.
The premier poker tournament opens Saturday in Las Vegas with an attendance expected to surpass 6,000 players. The men and women, including pros, amateurs, athletes and celebrities, will risk $10,000 and put themselves through a mentally and physically grueling schedule to try to earn a piece of the more than $60 million prize pool, a gold bracelet and bragging rights.
“It’s very simple. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of poker. It’s the single most important tournament of the year,” said Jonathan Duhamel, who won the Main Event in 2010. “Your whole life is going to change if you win that tournament.”
The Main Event is the end of this year’s edition of the World Series of Poker, whose dozens of tournaments have once again drawn tens of thousands of poker fans and players from around the world to compete for millions of dollars in prize money at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. Over 10 days, the number of players will shrink down to nine, who will go on to compete for the top prize.
Last year, the Main Event alone saw 6,737 players. Las Vegas resident Qui Nguyen bested the competition to take home more than $8 million and the coveted bracelet made from 427 grams of white and yellow gold and more than 2,000 diamonds and rubies totaling more than 44 carats.
Of the nine players who make it to the end this year, the champion will be crowned in July, not the fall.
For about a decade, the final table of the main event had been delayed until November to allow tape-delayed, reality TV-style coverage of the tournament to run before the competition’s finale aired live. The change came after ESPN committed to add live coverage for the entire Texas Hold ’em tournament, effectively eliminating the need for the long break.
The final nine players will take a two-day break and return to play July 20. But getting that far into the tournament is so challenging, even some of the most recognizable names in poker have not conquered the event.
Pro players like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu each have a collection of bracelets, but not one from the Main Event.
“You have to go step by step. You can’t win on day one,” Duhamel said. “… You look at your table, you try to play well, be lucky and make it through the day with some chips. And you do the same thing the day after and the day after. There’s no magic trick to win the tournament.”
Regardless of age — the tournament’s youngest champion was shy of 22 when he was crowned — players will have to spend several hours at the table for consecutive days. To avoid burning out, some will stick to a variety of routines, including fasting intermittently, meditating and exercising.
Booths set up at the convention center offer several services and products to make the players feel more comfortable. Players can purchase food, glasses, headphones and bracelets that supposedly provide allergy relief. They can also hire massage therapists and accountants.
Standup comedians and actors Ray Romano and Brad Garrett are among the celebrities that have already bought into the tournament. Organizers also expect Olympic champ Michael Phelps to participate.
“What’s so great about the Main Event is that it’s not just about the professional poker players,” said poker pro Maria Ho, who’ll be entering the tournament for the 10th time. “Seventy percent of the people who play are recreational players. There’s kind of an equal chance for everybody to win, and that’s not possible in any other sport.”