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A Lapsed Poker Fan’s Guide to the 2019 World Series of Poker

Poker pro Jennifer Harman signing a hat.

It’s difficult to quantify just what the World Series of Poker means to poker players.

The WSOP is essentially the World Cup, Super Bowl and Coachella all rolled into one for poker players and poker fans alike.

For 50 days the WSOP is basically an all-you-can-eat buffet for poker players of all skill levels with tournament buy-ins ranging from $565 all the way up to $100,000 or more. The 2019 WSOP offers over 80 different events including the legendary $10,000 buy-in Main Event.

The major difference between the WSOP and most sporting events is that anyone can plunk down the cash and play. It’s home to legends of the game like Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth but it’s also where plenty of first-timers flock to take a shot at potentially life-changing money.

The WSOP has taken place every year since 1970 and is set to celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer. We’re here to catch you up on everything you need to know about the upcoming 2019 WSOP.

Why is the WSOP Such a Big Deal?

There’s nothing really like it in the world.

The WSOP is an outlier in the worlds of sports and gambling. It takes place in a casino and features some luck but it also rewards skill and some of the best poker players have been able to carve out a career from their exploits in the series. It’s arguably an even bigger draw to amateur poker players who have a chance to maybe get a little lucky and win potentially life-changing money.

The sheer scale of the WSOP is unlike anything else in the poker world with over 80 different events spread over 50 days of action in Las Vegas.

What About this WSOP in Particular?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the WSOP so there are a number of special events on the schedule such as the Big 50, which is a $500 buy-in tournament with no rake that’s expected to draw thousands upon thousands of players.

There’s also a rumor that it’s the last year the WSOP will take place at the Rio All-Suites Hotel so it marks the end of a 13+ year run at the venue. It’s the end of an era, no matter how you slice it.

So is the WSOP Just One Tournament?

It’s a common misconception that the WSOP is one tournament. It’s actually a series of over 80 different tournaments.

The WSOP Main Event, however, is a singular tournament.

The Main Event is a $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament that takes place toward the end of the WSOP schedule. It’s the richest tournament in the world with first-place prizes that frequently exceed $8 million. It’s also televised on ESPN.

Because the Main Event is such a big deal in the poker world, it is often referred to erroneously as the WSOP.

Who Can Play the WSOP?

The WSOP is open to anyone who can afford the buy-in.

In fact, there are more than a handful of wealthy, inexperienced poker players who decided to take a shot at the WSOP just because they were bored.

The only exception is that there are no minors allowed and you might have some problems if you’ve ever been banned from a Caesars property.

Other than that, it’s probably a good idea to understand basic poker rules but poker players probably aren’t going to complain too much if you’re completely new to the game. That’s just more money in the prize pool, right?

But I’ll Get Crushed, Right?

Not necessarily.

While it’s true that the WSOP regularly attracts some of the best poker players in the world, it also attracts complete amateurs from all corners of the world. Many consider WSOP tournaments to be some of the softest events in the world. Especially when it comes to the low buy-in events that start at $400.

When a tournament attracts several thousand players, you’ve got to believe there are going to be some less experienced players in the mix.

There’s also a certain amount of luck involved with card games so that helps balance the playing field. It’s not like chess, for instance, where the best players win pretty much 100 percent of the time.

Regardless of whether you win or lose, it can still be a very fun experience just to play the WSOP.

What if I Just Want to Watch?

That’s fine too. The WSOP is remarkably accessible to fans and it’s absolutely free to watch as well. Anyone who’s interested can stroll on down to the Rio Convention Center and take in the action. Action generally starts around 11 a.m. and runs well past midnight.

Be warned there are ropes that separate spectators from the table so it can be difficult to see much unless you’re watching one of the tables that’s right next to the walkways.

If you’ve ever played poker in your life, then it can be a nearly religious experience walking into the Pavilion Room and hearing the sound of tens of thousands of chips being riffled all at once.

Final tables are significantly better to watch as they usually have announcers and TVs set up to display the cards and provide close-ups. If you watch carefully, there’s a good chance you’ll see some of the biggest names in poker doing their thing. There are also a number of vendors in the hallways hawking poker products and some food options as well.

Can I Watch the WSOP on TV?

You’ve got some options in that department.

The proper WSOP broadcast of the Main Event, which condenses the marathon tournament into hour-long episodes, airs in the fall. They take several months to edit the footage into a highly polished show. That’s most likely the WSOP you’ve seen on TV before.

You can watch some of the WSOP Main Event live, however, as ESPN (or ESPN2) broadcasts a portion of each day. Meanwhile, PokerGO televises anything from the Main Event that ESPN doesn’t show.

What’s PokerGO, you ask? It’s a Netflix-style over-the-top streaming service just for poker. It’s generally $10 a month or $99 annually but there are frequently promo codes for the service.

During the summer, PokerGO is a particularly good value because they broadcast a large number of WSOP side events in addition to the WSOP Main Event.

Where’s the WSOP Schedule?

The 2019 WSOP schedule is understandably massive but if you want to see the entire thing, just head over to our WSOP schedule home page.

In the meantime, here are the cliffnotes for the gargantuan schedule:

  • Takes place at Rio All-Suites Hotel in Las Vegas
  • Runs for 48 days from May 29-July 16
  • Eighty gold bracelet live tournaments
  • Nine online gold bracelet tournaments
  • Twenty $10,000+ championship events

Wait, There Are Online Events?

Yes. It’s somewhat odd but the WSOP’s parent company Caesars Entertainment owns an online poker site called WSOP.com Poker.

Caesars Entertainment has been hosting gold bracelet events on WSOP.com since 2014. The only issue is that WSOP.com is only available in Nevada and New Jersey.

You can open a WSOP.com account if you are visiting Nevada or New Jersey but if you’re in Vegas, why don’t you just head on down to the Rio and play one of the live events?

What’s the Rio All-Suites Hotel?

It’s a hotel and casino just off the strip with a Brazilian theme that’s owned by Caesars Entertainment. It’s OK.

It’s also the exclusive home of the WSOP since 2006. The Rio catches some flak for being dated and not within walking distance of the strip but it’s been a good home for the WSOP thanks to its large amount of convention space and easy driving access for most Vegas locals.

The winds may be changing, however, as it’s rumored that Caesars is in the process of selling the Rio and may relocate the WSOP to the new Caesars Palace Convention Center in 2020.

It’s definitely the end of an era that saw the WSOP expand exponentially and gain international fame.

What’s New for 2019?

The WSOP started in 1970, which means it’s actually the 50th anniversary of the venerable series.

The WSOP is celebrating with a tournament called the Big 50, which is a $500 buy-in tournament with no rake.

Rake is how the WSOP makes money so it’s very significant the Big 50 doesn’t charge any rake. It will also award $1 million for first place. As a result the Big 50 will likely be one of the most well-attended tournaments of the entire summer with thousands upon thousands of entries.

The Big 50 is likely one of the best values the WSOP has ever offered so it may break some records for Caesars. It’s worth noting that the Big 50 is a multiple-entry tournament so you can play on a different day if you bust the starting day. Those entries will be raked, however.

How Did the WSOP Start Anyways?

A bunch of cash game players – including legends of the game like Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts – got together in Vegas in 1970 and played for an extended period of time and then voted on the best player over the course of the cash game sessions.

It was a fairly inauspicious start but the WSOP was the brainchild of the late Benny Binion, owner of Binion’s Horseshoe, more as a promotional vehicle for the casino than anything else.

The very next year they came up with the idea of “freezeout,” where players only had a limited number of chips and when they ran out of chips, they were out of the event. Sound familiar? That’s basically the modern poker tournament.

You can learn about the complete history of the WSOP right here.

What Are Some Good Events to Play?

Most poker players will agree that if there’s one tournament you play all year, make it the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event. It’s got the deepest structure, the most money and a surprisingly soft field.

Of course, if you’re like the vast majority of poker players and have a modest bankroll but still want to play, you’ll likely be interested in the following events:

DateTimeEventBuy-inChipsStarting Days
May 3011amBig 50 No-Limit Hold’em$50050,0004
June 311amNo-Limit Hold’em Deepstack$60030,0001
June 410amSuper Turbo Bounty$1,00020,0001
June 911amDouble Stack$1,00040,0001
June 1111amNo-Limit Hold’em$1,00020,0001
June 1410amDouble Stack No-Limit Hold’em$1,00040,0002
June 1611amNo-Limit Hold’em Deepstack$80040,0001
June 2312pmEight-Handed No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack$80040,0001
June 2511amDeepstack Championship No-Limit Hold’em$60030,0001
June 2610amNo-Limit Hold’em Colossus$40040,0002
June 2810amCrazy Eight’s No-Limit Hold’em$88840,0004
July 111amMini Main Event$1,00060,0001
July 211amSalute to Warriors No-Limit Hold’em$50025,0001
July 612pmLittle One for One Drop$1,000+$11140,0002

What About Tournaments to Watch?

Most casual poker fans enjoy watching the high-stakes tournaments with plenty of big-name pros. Beyond the Main Event (which is a must-watch), there are a number of interesting events on tap this year.

The series begins with a rather big $50,000 buy-in tournament kicking off on May 31 as a counterpart to the Big 50.

Arguably the most prestigious tournament among poker pros is the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship on June 24, where poker players have to play every game that’s on the WSOP schedule.

Finally the biggest buy-in tournament is the $100,000 buy-in super high roller on July 11, which will undoubtedly have millions up top.

What Are These WSOP Gold Bracelets?

That’s the standard trophy for winning a WSOP tournament.

You know how the PGA has the green jacket and the UFC and boxing have belts? Well, for poker, it’s the WSOP gold bracelet.

Most of the time, players don’t actually wear the bracelets (they go straight into the trophy cabinet) but they are nonetheless special to poker players despite the fact they give away over 80 every summer.

While complete amateurs can, and do, win bracelets, the sign of a truly skilled poker player is multiple bracelets.

Who’s Got the Most Bracelets?

That would be Phil “The Poker Brat” Hellmuth with 15.

It hasn’t really been much of a race since Hellmuth passed old-timers Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan by winning his 11th bracelet in 2007. He’s added four more bracelets since then to hit a record 15.

For a period of time it appeared that Phil Ivey might present a legitimate challenge for Hellmuth as he reeled off five bracelet wins from 2009 to 2014.

Since then, however, Ivey has played far fewer WSOP tournaments so Hellmuth appears to be safe for the time being.

Hellmuth is somewhat of a controversial player in the WSOP as many pros argue that his style of play is antiquated and he would struggle to hang with the best poker players in the world. Regardless, the Poker Brat can still make his way through a vast field of players better than almost anyone else.

Oh, Hellmuth also likes making grand entrances to the Main Event wearing costumes such as the Roman emperor theme above.

Here are the current top eight bracelet winners heading into the 2019 WSOP:

PlayerBracelets
Phil Hellmuth15
Doyle Brunson10
Johnny Chan10
Phil Ivey10
Johnny Moss9
Erik Seidel8
Billy Baxter7
Men Nguyen7

Will Daniel Negreanu Play the WSOP?

Absolutely.

The famous Canadian-American is still making exceptional reads and playing a ton of poker. The WSOP is basically his summer camp.

For the last few years Negreanu has been filming all his exploits and releasing them to a VLOG on YouTube, which is definitely worth a watch if you’re a Kid Poker fan.

Interestingly this year Negreanu has made plans to play a large number of the small buy-in tournaments in an effort to win Player of the Year for a record third time. Normally Negreanu sticks to the high buy-in, small-field events but he’s switching it up this year in an attempt to win POY. That means you might rub shoulders with the guy in tournaments as small as the Big 50.

Negreanu is also selling some of his action to fans this year so it might be possible to win big at the WSOP without actually setting foot inside the Rio.

What About Hellmuth, Ivey & Doyle Brunson?

Phil Hellmuth will definitely play a ton of tournaments at the WSOP (he’s talked about winning 20+ bracelets before he retires so he’s got some work to do) but Phil Ivey and Doyle Brunson are a different story.

Ivey has been mostly absent from the WSOP over the last five years thanks to ongoing litigation against several casinos where he won money but was eventually denied the cash. He’s also rumored to play extremely high-stakes games in Asia.

He played a number of tournaments last year but it’s not clear if he’ll play a great deal in 2019.

Sadly, Doyle Brunson (who is 85) officially retired from the tournament game last year, claiming the long hours of tournament play were just too taxing. You never know, though. The Godfather of Poker has always been a gambler and gamblers have a hard time staying away from the tables.

Which Players Have the Best Shot at POY?

New York’s Bryn Kenney has been on quite a run this year with nearly $10 million in winnings.

Kenney is an unusual player who can be a lot of fun to watch at the table. He has a slightly old-school mentality and a willingness to take risks.

Right behind him is Cold Spring Harbor’s Alex Foxen, who’s been on a blistering pace in 2019.

Last year’s Player of the Year winner Shaun Deeb is an MTT beast and always a threat to win multiple tournaments. So are guys like Mike Leah and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson.

What’s the November Nine?

The November Nine is a defunct promotional vehicle that saw the final table of the WSOP Main Event delayed several months.

The Main Event would play down to the final table of nine players and then go on break until November. The idea was that it would give the event and the final-table contestants a little more exposure and provide an opportunity for players to gain sponsorships. It also gave ESPN time to air its edited-for-TV episodes and then shoot the final table live.

It was an interesting idea but it never really amounted to very much. Even when Phil Ivey made the Main Event final table in 2009, it didn’t really do much to attract mainstream attention.

The November Nine also changed the dynamic of the final table as players had time to hire coaches and study the math behind the final table as if it was a nine-player Sit & Go.

So, for all the aforementioned reasons, they axed the concept in 2017. Now there’s a brief one-day break after the final table of nine players is reached.

What Else is Going on in Vegas During the WSOP?

Being a poker player in Vegas for the WSOP is like being a kid in a candy store.

The WSOP might be the main attraction but there are plenty of other activities for poker players during the same time span.

First off, the WSOP is also home to a huge number of cash games for players looking to avoid tournament play. You can also play the WSOP dailies, which are smaller buy-in non-bracelet tournaments that take place in the same room as the WSOP.

Of course, if you want a break from the Rio, there are many other casino venues running tournament series over the summer.

Perhaps the most famous is the DeepStack Championship Poker Series at the Venetian, which runs from May 13 to July 28, with buy-ins ranging from $200 to $5,000. There’s also events at Wynn, The Golden Nugget and Binion’s.

Here’s a breakdown of the most popular non-WSOP series in Las Vegas:

VenueSeriesBuy-insDates
The Wynn2019 Summer Classic$550 to $1,600May 30-July 16
The VenetianDeepStack Championship$200 to $5,000May 13-July 28
AriaAria Poker Classic$240 to $10,000June 2-July 14
Golden NuggetGrand Poker Series$120 to $600May 28-July 8
The Orleans2019 Summer Series$130 to $400May 28-July 7
Binion’sBinion’s Summer Series$550 to $1,000June 1-July 1

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