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Opinion

World Series of Poker generates greater interest, entertainment

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November 12, 2009

Can you imagine being on the winning side of capturing the Lombardi trophy, or hitting the walkoff home run in game seven of the World Series? It goes without saying that experiencing something like that would be intensely euphoric, something that you, and the world, would never forget.

It’s too bad that there isn’t some sort of event out there that your “average” person can enter for a shot at fame, glory, and stamping their name in history.

Oh, wait, what’s that? There is? Indeed my friend, and it’s called the World Series of Poker. Let’s talk about the World Series of Poker, its explosion in popularity, and current events.

I first want to address what attracted me to the game of poker. Growing up, playing cards was always sort of a family oriented thing for me. We would play at different holiday gatherings and whatnot, but the most fun I remember having playing cards was during hunting season after everyone would get back to the shack. Truth be told, I cared a lot less about the chance at shooting a deer than I did at the chance to play cards and hang out with my family. When the high school years came around, we started playing cards every other weekend. Having a group of guys that are always up for playing poker was a great thing in a small town, because as many people know, you have to entertain yourself.

My group of friends all got into poker by watching it on ESPN. We quickly became familiar with names like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, and many others. To this day I thoroughly enjoy playing Texas Hold ‘Em,  but it’s sad because I haven’t really found many people on campus that are big poker players, so I have to wait to go back home to get my poker fix.

The World Series of Poker didn’t start until 1970, and the championship “main event” prize money was somewhere around $30,000.

No more than a few days ago, Joe Cada became the youngest ever to win the WSOP Main Event with his cash earnings totaling more than $8.5 million.

So in its near 40-year existence, there have obviously been some big changes to the wealth that people can claim. Many poker players, believe it or not, do not look to win these major events (the WSOP consists of 50+ events) for the cash.

If you watch interviews of all the professional poker players, they’ll often say, “I just want the bracelet,” which is the equivalent a Super Bowl ring.

Obviously, the bracelet commands respect and says “I’m kind of a big deal, people know me.”

Currently, the record for most bracelets ever won is held by Phil Hellmuth, at 11. There are many “established” poker pros that have won millions upon millions of dollars, but still are looking to win that one prestigious piece of jewelry. 

For 30 + years, the World Series of Poker mainly consisted of professionals and high rollers that were willing to put up the $10,000 buy-in to be in the main event. It wasn’t until 1982 that the Main Event actually had over 100 players. Most recently, in 2009, there were 6,494 entrants.

When I first started watching poker on ESPN, I had no idea that the number of entrants was so small in the early years of the WSOP. I had to wonder what could have possibly triggered people from all over the world to want to come to Las Vegas and put up $10,000 to enter this tournament. The invention of the “pocket cam” is what started it all. This pocket cam allows you to see what hands the players have, thus allowing you to learn different strategies in playing the game.

ESPN didn’t use the pocket cam until the 2002 WSOP, and the numbers of entrants tell the rest of the story. In 2002, the number of main event entrants was 631, and by 2004, the numbers sky rocketed to 2,576 people. The craziest stat though, in my mind, is that in 2006, over 8,000 people entered the main event, and the prize for first place was $12 million. 

In the end, it can easily be said that the popularity of poker has exploded in the past decade more than anyone thought it ever would.

You can’t turn on your television without seeing an advertisement for a poker Web site, not to mention networks like ESPN, The Travel Channel, GSN and NBC all have poker shows in their lineups. I’d definitely recommend catching an episode of the World Series of Poker, just to see what the hype is all about.

Someday, who knows, maybe you’ll be the one with stacks of cash surrounding you holding up your newly won bracelet to the cameras of ESPN. It could happen.