“It’s more live action than you can find anywhere,” says poker room manager Michael Shaffer, looking out over a sea of 65 “ring game” tables.
Most are full – hundreds of players – many shoving chips and screaming at rivers, a few sitting quietly behind monstrous stacks of reds, greens, or blacks. To be sure, there is literally tons of dead money moving across these felts – in the form of 11-gram chips and sometimes, in the biggest games, bricks of 100-dollar bills. And with so many willing to see who’s really donkey or shark … the games are on.
It’s mostly No Limit Hold’em at the WSOP, but there’s no shortage of Omaha, Razz, Badugi and other variants of poker. The no-limit stakes range from $2/$5 to $50/$100 (and will inevitably grow bigger than that). The limit games start at $4/$8 and go to $400/$800. This year there also seems to be a lot of Chinese poker, a four-handed game played without chips.
The World Series is prepared to offer 16 different games. Dealers have undergone special training to make sure they can handle them all, particularly because the less common ones are usually only played for high-stakes, with potentially tens of thousands of dollars dependant on a single hand.
“Nobody’s ever had to have a dealing staff like this one,” says Shaffer, a 43-year poker-room veteran. “There weren’t enough qualified dealers out there, so we had to train them to be able to give the players what they want."
Indeed, the cash games are important to Harrah’s, too … which has to compete with other great poker rooms for the players and their rake – a $4 max on most of the tables, an $8 per half-hour seat charge in black-chip games where it would be cumbersomely difficult for dealers to make $96 in change.
Though the cash games are admittedly what Shaffer calls an “offshoot” of the WSOP, when the World Series got started in the ’70s, the whole purpose was to attract players to the tables where the sharks could feed on the fish.
In the contemporary era that translates to a half-a-football-sized playing field that is hard to describe as anything but a frenzy.