Man playing poker

2019 WSOP Main Event is the Second-Largest Ever

The World Series of Poker Main Event is as impressive a spectacle as you will ever seen in the world of sports or gaming. Most major professional sporting events have more people in attendance, but those are mostly spectators and media members there to watch a handful of actual participants. While there are plenty of spectators and poker media at the WSOP, the crowd is made up mostly of poker players – seeing the vast expanse of poker tables as you walk into the venue is quite the sight. And now, as the tournament begins Day 3, it is officially the second-largest World Series of Poker Main Event of all time.

After the first three starting flights, the total entries were already 8,125, so we knew that this edition was already in the second spot at a minimum. The question, because late entry was available until the start of any of the Day 2 flights, was how high would the number get? Not many people seriously thought the record of 8,773, set in 2006, would be seriously challenged, but in the end the total field of 8,569 runners came shockingly close to the all-time mark.

Add It Up

Let’s see how we got to that number. On Day 1A, 1,334 players entered the tournament, a tremendous number for the opening flight, which is always the smallest of the three. Last year’s Day 1A had 925 players – a good number, but a far cry from what happened last week. Day 1B had another 1,914 players register and then Day 1C became the biggest single-day flight in Main Event history with 4,877 entries.

After all Day 1 flights, the total number of players in the 2019 WSOP Main Event was 8,125, as mentioned.

In a departure from previous years, though, players could still register prior to the start of Day 2. And since there were three Day 2 flights, there were two opportunities to add more players (Day 2A/B was a combined flight). 100 more players signed up for Saturday’s Day 2A/B, bringing the total to 8,225, and then a whopping 344 players signed up before the start of Day 2C, making a total field of 8,569.

It is no surprise that more people signed up late for Day 2C than for Day 2A/B, as there was no day off between Day 2C and Monday’s Day 3, meaning players who made it to today didn’t have to shell out for another hotel night.

Main Event Growth, Then Stagnation

2018 WSOP Main Event Champion John Cynn
Photo credit: WSOP.com

As discussed, the 2006 WSOP still has the record at 8,773 players; 2006 and 2019 are the only Main Events to reach the 8,000-entry mark. 2006 was the height of the poker boom, which started in 2003 with the confluence of Chris Moneymaker’s championship, the improvement of televised poker, and the rise of online poker. That Main Event field was just 839 runners, though, less than a tenth of this year’s field.

The number exploded to 2,576 in 2004, the year Greg “Fossilman” Raymer took the title, and then more than doubled in 2005 to 5,619. That was Joe Hachem’s championship, the first year the WSOP was held at the Rio, though the final three tables were at Binion’s. It was also the first WSOP I covered in person.

2006 was insane. Poker had taken the internet by storm and internet poker rooms were jostling for eyeballs and patches at the Series. Some rooms were qualifying players for the Main Event by the hundreds. It was a glorious, exciting mess, culminating with Jamie Gold table chatting his way to victory. It seemed like nothing could stop the poker train.

But the UIGEA almost did, passing in the fall of that year. Most online poker rooms were spooked at left the U.S. market. This, in turn, caused many online players to stop playing and naturally, fewer people qualified via online satellites. As a result, the Main Event field dropped by 2,400 players the following year. For the next decade, Main Event attendance stayed in about the 6,300 to 6,800 player range, topping 7,000 just once.

And then there was a sudden, massive upswing. Registrations increased by more than seven percent in 2017, with a total field of 7,221. The number surged to 7,874 last year and this year’s figure represents almost a nine percent increase.

Why Now?

It’s hard to say why exactly this is happening, but I would guess that much of it has to do with online poker regulations loosening around the world. Some of the more restrictive European nations that allowed online poker – France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal – have either stopped ring-fencing themselves from each other or are in the process of doing so. And it has been a slow go in the United States, but the liquidity sharing of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware has got to be helping participation.

Let’s not forget about land-based poker, either. The decline of online poker after Black Friday had a ripple effect, hurting major poker tours and poker television, but those poker tours have strengthened again. The World Poker Tour has bounced back and has grown in recent years, the European Poker Tour has regained popularity, though it remains small, and several smaller tours have taken off, giving players with lower poker budgets a chance to get more comfortable with live tournament poker.

There are 2,880 players remaining in the 2019 WSOP Main Event after Day 2, more players than Greg Raymer beat in the entire Main Event in 2004. They will be vying for a prize pool of more than $80.5 million. The money bubble will burst with the elimination of the player in 1,287th place, either late tonight or tomorrow. The min-cash is $15,000 and this year’s champion will pose with a pile of $10 million.

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