2015 WSOP Main Event Day 1 in the Books
One would not normally look at the calendar and say to themselves, “Second week of July…yup, Las Vegas seems like a GREAT place to be right now. 100 degrees every day. Sounds like fun!” But right now is not an ordinary “right now.” Right now is the start of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. And besides, the Rio is air-conditioned.
The Main Event kicked off on Sunday with the first of three starting flights. This format has been in play since 2012 – from 2006 through 2012, there were four starting flights. Day 2 begins today; the survivors from Days 1A and 1B will compete in separate Days 2A and 2B, though those flights will take place at the same time at the Rio in different rooms. Those who made it out of Day 1C will play tomorrow in Day 2C. Starting with Day 3 on Friday, all those who advance will play in a single, unified field.
One thing that is always interesting to look at (depending on your definitions of “always” and “interesting”) is how the size of the WSOP Main Event field varies from year to year. Since the switch to three starting flights, Day 1A has always been the smallest. Many players try to avoid having a two-day layoff in between Day 1 and a potential Day 2. It requires more time off from work, having to spend more money on extra hotel room nights and meals, plus many players just don’t like having that long of a break from poker. The rest is nice, but the additional time off can sometimes make someone lose focus. This year was no exception; 741 players registered for Day 1A, much fewer than the other two starting days. That number was slightly lower than last year, when 771 players signed up.
Day 1B was the biggest let-down on a year-over-year basis. 1,716 played in the second flight on Monday, but that was over 400 fewer than played in Day 1B in 2014.
Day 1C is always the largest. It allows those flying into town, particularly amateurs, to come in a couple days later and not miss as much work/home time, plus there is just one day in between Day 1C and Day 2C. That gives players a chance to recover from the long first day, but still keeps them “in the moment,” so to speak. Plus, players have that much longer to try to qualify via satellite. Last year’s Day 1C was the largest starting flight in Main Event history with 3,768 competitors. This year, it looks like some of those that opted out of Day 1B played on Day 1C, as the 2014 record was beaten: 3,963 runners registered for the Main Event yesterday.
Unfortunately, the total field only came to 6,420, falling 263 players short of last year’s number. That makes 2015 the eighth-largest WSOP Main Event in history. Conversely, it is the fourth-smallest in the twelve years post-Moneymaker. The 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event, won by Jamie Gold, was by far the biggest, tallying 8,773 players. It was the peak of the poker boom, just months before the UIGEA was passed in the United States, quashing a lot of internet poker play. The numbers dipped after that, but recovered over the next few years as the online poker industry sorted itself out, reaching another, lower peak of 7,319 in 2011, the year of Black Friday.
Prior to the 2015 WSOP, tournament officials decided to change the payout structure of the Main Event, flattening it significantly. A big part of the allure and spectacle of the Main Event is that the winner receives life-changing money. Last year, as part of the WSOP’s celebration of its tenth year at the Rio, the Main Event champ was paid a flat $10,000,000. That looked cool and all, but it was much more than the winner should have been paid if a regular structure was used, so the extra money was taken away from other players who cashed, something that didn’t sit well with a lot of players. Another frequent complaint is that it takes several days just to make the money, so there are a lot of players who grind and grind and grind and still come away with nothing after multiple days of play.
The WSOP took player concerns into consideration, so this year it decided to pay down to 1,000 places in the Main Event. For comparison, 693 players made the money last year. Now the money bubble will be reached sooner, hopefully easing the disappointment of just missing at least a little bit and more people will go home happy (or at least maybe content in min-cashing for a $5,000 profit). The first place prize is $7,680,021, the smallest top prize since the $7,500,000 won by Joe Hachem in 2005. To illustrate how much of an effect the new prize distribution has, remember that the 2005 WSOP Main Event field was 5,619. That’s 800 fewer players than this year, but less than a $200,000 difference at the top of the money.
A lot of former WSOP Main Event champions are still in the running for another title. The (possibly incomplete) list includes Johnny Chan, Scotty Nguyen, Greg Raymer, Phil Hellmuth, Chris Moneymaker, Peter Eastgate, Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Jonathan Duhamel, and Ryan Riess. Joe Cada, Jerry Yang, Greg Merson, and last year’s champ, Martin Jacobson were not so fortunate and will have to watch the rest of the tournament from the sidelines.