The last of the four starting days of the 2009 World Series of Poker $10K Main Event is significant for several reasons, the most obvious being that the final numbers are reported. Until registration closes on Day 1D, there is mostly rampant speculation about the final number of players in the Main Event.
The final number is an indicator of many things, but primarily it is a tell-tale sign of the state of poker. Has the failing economy hurt the poker industry? Is the UIGEA still affecting the number of players worldwide who can and will transfer their online WSOP satellite wins to actual buy-ins at the Main Event? Does the structure and overall appeal of the WSOP warrant players coming from the world over to play in it? Overall, it shows a trend over the years of poker’s growth and recession.
The numbers from the past years were:
2008 - 6,844 players - $9,152,416 pool
2007 - 6,358 players - $8,250,000 pool
2006 - 8,773 players - $12,000,000 pool
2005 - 5,619 players - $7,500,000 pool
2004 - 2,576 players - $5,000,000 pool
2003 - 839 players - $2,500,000 pool
The final number from 2009 was 6,494, which created a prize pool of $61,043,600. The last 648 players standing were to receive a minimum payment of $21,365, and a whopping $8,548,435 was to be reserved for the winner.
What these final figures say, in themselves, is that there is a slight decrease in the number of players, and it would be easy to chalk that up to the aforementioned factors, like the economy and bank account seizures. But there is more to the story.
More people wanted to play, and they came to the Rio with their $10,000 wads of cash to enter the tournament but were turned away. The number of people that wanted to register were in the hundreds, at minimum, and could have soared closer to the 1,000-mark. But so many people chose to play Day 1D and register at the last minute that Harrah’s was forced to close registration and cap the number of players for the day. It was the first time it has done so for the Main Event in the Series’ history, and it was not an easy decision.
Due to space constraints, the World Series of Poker can only accommodate so many people at a time. With preliminary events that included only one starting day, up to 3,000 players could be seated because a last-minute decision to make the tables ten-handed instead of nine-handed was possible. With the Main Event that had already played three starting days with nine players to a table, a decision to run 1D ten-handed was not feasible or fair. Therefore, the maximum number of entrants allowed was approximately 2,800 - 2,809 to be exact. When that number was reached well before the noon start time, players were turned away.
Some WSOP Main Event hopefuls simply left the building. Others complained. Their complaints were so vocal with agitation and frustration that Harrah’s felt the need to hold a meeting with players and press at 2:30pm that was riddled with apologies from Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack on behalf of the Harrah’s and WSOP staff. Players were insistent that other accommodations be put in place to allow them to play, such as hosting an additional flight through the night or adjusting the schedule to fit a Day 1E. While Pollack tried desperately to explain why that was not logistically possible, players remained vocally frustrated, prompting the staff to end the meeting.
Harrah’s was not pleased to shut the doors to the Main Event while players were waving their $10,000 around and literally begging to play. But in order to properly accommodate them required more than Harrah’s had available to it. Not only would it require dealers, tables and other supplies, rooms, and tournament staff, but it would require full compliance with the Nevada gaming laws, including setting up surveillance cameras to monitor the action.
The contention of Harrah’s was that the WSOP encouraged early registration and had done so since about April of 2009. They allowed for in-person and online registrations to handle transactions from around the world prior to the event, and they offered four starting days to the tournament, the first two of which were very sparse with players and could have handled twice the participants on either day. Harrah’s even issued a warning on the afternoon of Day 1C, albeit late and without options, that players should plan to register as early as possible for the last day as it looked sure to be a sell-out. Yet hundreds - thousands, really - of players came to the Rio on Monday, July 6, and could not understand why they were being turned away.
If Harrah’s could have accommodated the players somehow, or if said players would have used their obviously-prepared $10,000 entry fees to play one of the other starting days, the number of entrants would have very likely surpassed the 2008 number and quite possibly eclipsed the 7,000-player mark. But with the circumstances in place and the decisions as they were, the final number of entrants stood at 6,494, and that is what the history books would reflect.
But meanwhile, there was a tournament going on. It was kicked off by a “shuffle up and deal” schtick from ESPN commentators Lon McEachern and Norman Chad. Day 1D was the most pro-heavy of all of the starting days, and just a spattering of the names in the field included Bertrand Grospellier, JC Alvarado, Chad Brown, Vanessa Rousso, Dario Minieri, Glen Chorny, Scott Clements, Josh Arieh, Rafe Furst, Farzad Bonyadi, Michael Binger, Shawn Sheikhan, Antonio Esfandiari, Vivek Rajkumar, Kristy Gazes, Phil Ivey, Kirk Morrison, Scott Fischman, Shannon Shorr, Daniel Alaei, Clonie Gowen, Mimi Tran, Jennifer Harman, Cliff Josephy, Victor Ramdin, Nenad Medic, Dutch Boyd, Mark Seif, Michael Mizrachi, Max Pescatori, Tom Dwan, Humberto Brenes, Paul Darden, David Benyamine, and Jeff Madsen.
The former WSOP event champions in the field included Robert Varkonyi and 2008 winner Peter Eastgate, along with that year’s second place finisher Ivan Demidov.
The celebrity contingent was strong, with actors like Lou Diamond Phillips, Ray Romano and Marlon Wayans, actress Shannon Elizabeth, television producer and writer Sam Simon, NBA pros Jordan Farmer and John Salley, musician Scott Ian, wrestler Torrie Wilson, and boxer Audley Harrison.
As will happen, an elimination occurred in the first minutes of the day, and it involved Anton Allemann, who pushed all-in on the river of a K-6-2-8-9 board. Opponent Roman Yitzhaki called with pocket kings for the set, but Allemann and his pocket deuces could only produce a lower set and knocked him out of the tournament. That was $10,000 spent in less than an hour.
Some of the celebrities fought hard but had to take their leave of the tables throughout the day. John Salley had been chipped down to 1,050 chips and pushed with , but he found that his opponent had pocket kings. The board mostly blanked with , and Salley was out. Ray Romano also found his way to the rail when his pocket queens met up with aces, and Torriw Wilson busted with K-8 on a 10-9-8 board against her opponent’s J-7. And lastly, Sully Erna was eliminated late in the day as well.
Varkonyi and Eastgate made it through the day to make their runs at a second world title, though Demidov would not have a chance at his first. He was ousted late in the day with on a flop when his opponent called with pocket sixes for the set. Two more fives came up on the board, and Demidov was gone.
The biggest pot of the day that sent one player to the chip lead came at the very end of the fifth level of the night. It should be said, though, that Troy Weber soared into the lead early in the day and dominated until the end, at which time his lead could be considered massive. The hand started with a flop, and some betting led to the on the turn. Weber’s opponent bet out again, and Weber check-raised. His opponent immediately raised all-in with pocket queens, but Weber called with and trips. The on the river changed nothing, eliminated a player, and sent Weber to new heights with more than 340K.
Day 1D ended with 1,816 players in the field and Weber in the lead with 353,000 chips, taking control over all four starting days. The second place finisher on 1D was Tyson Marks with 196,500 chips, followed by Stephen Costello, Mads Wissing, and Joseph Sanders to round out the top five on the leaderboard. They would all return on Wednesday, July 8, to play their second day.
With the first days wrapped up, the number of remaining players in the entire Main Event was 4,399. Tuesday was set to bring back the Day 2A players (from Days 1A and 1B), and the rest would be back on Wednesday.