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Best of Vin Narayanan
Because of its size, the World Series of Poker Main Event is a spectacle. But the spectacle of the world's biggest poker tournament becomes a circus when Phil Hellmuth make's his grand entrance. In 2007, Hellmuth entered the tournament dressed up as a NASCAR driver with 11 models in tow -- one for each bracelet. In 2008, he arrived at the Rio in an army truck and walked into the tournament dressed up as General George Patton -- with 11 models dressed in fatigues escorting him in. Last year, he dropped the 11-model motif and entered the Rio decked out in a Julius Caesar costume with dozens of models in Roman garb serving as his courtesans. How will Hellmuth enter this year? We have no idea -- but he'll definitely put on quite a show.
9. The new digs
Last year, the World Series of Poker had to turn away hundreds of players from the Main Event because the WSOP ran out of space and tables. In an effort to avoid last year's fiasco, this year's WSOP Main Event (and the rest of the Series, for that matter) is being played in two rooms -- the Amazon Room and the Grand Pavilion -- that give the WSOP 100,000 square feet of real estate in the Rio. Tournament officials can squeeze in 377 tables across the two rooms, so there should be plenty of room for anyone who wants to play. In addition to providing more playing space, the two-room format will also make the tournament more compact and fan friendly. In previous years, Day 1 fields at the Main Event were so large that play was spread across several rooms throughout the Rio, with some players getting a seat in the Amazon Room while others were stuck playing on the casino floor -- a good 15-minute walk from the main action.
8. Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey is always one of the main stories in any tournament he plays. He's the most dominant player in the game and always a threat to win. Last week, he won his eighth WSOP bracelet in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event. Last year, he reached the final table of the Main Event and finished seventh. And with all sorts of prop bets regarding bracelets -- many estimates place the value of his prop bets over $1 million -- in play, Ivey will have no issues with motivation.
7. Field size
When Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, there were 839 players in the field. When Jamie Gold won the Main Event 2006, the Main Event field reached its peak, with 8,773 players. Since then, Main Event fields have failed to crack the 7,000-player barrier. In 2008, there were 6,844 players. And that mark could have been beaten last year if Day 1D hadn't sold out (see item 9). But with more space and new registration policies, there's a good chance that this year's tournament could surpass the 2008 field and even crack the 7,000-player mark, making it the second-largest Main Event.
Casino City's Aaron Todd suggested last week -- prior to her 11th-place finish in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout -- that Annette Obrestad was overhyped. I disagree. Annette was 18 when she won the World Series of Europe Main Event in 2007. And the poker fans have been waiting to see how she would fare once she could play in the Series in Las Vegas. The Main Event fits her style of play nicely. She'll be smart and show aggressive play against the large groups of fish in the tournament, and be a little more careful against the better players. That combination should help her make a deep run in this tournament. And it will be interesting to see just how well she does.
5. Pros vs. Joes
The last "seasoned" pro to win the Main Event was Carlos Mortensen in 2001. Since then, Robert Varkonyi, Chris Moneymaker, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem, Jamie Gold, Jerry Yang, Peter Eastgate and Joe Cada have won poker's biggest tournament. Raymer and Hachem have gone on to become good pros.
Cada, 21, and Eastgate, 22, were fairly young when they won the Main Event, but they had gained a fair amount of experience playing online poker. But challenging them for their titles were two "regular Joes" who came from outside the poker world. In 2008, Dennis Phillips was the chip leader for much of the tournament before finishing in third behind Eastgate and Ivan Demidov. And amateur Darvin Moon was the runaway chip leader for most of the 2009 tournament before losing to Cada in heads-up play. The "pros vs. Joes" dynamic is one of the most interesting to watch at the WSOP, and this year should be no different.
4. More "TV" tables
Traditionally, there have been two "TV" tables, complete with hole cameras, at the WSOP Main Event. As a result, TV coverage was limited -- for the most part -- to the action at those two tables. This year, there will be four television tables, which means the audience at home will get to see a wider variety of action when ESPN airs its WSOP coverage this fall.
3. Can the "Old Guard" thrive?
In this era of online poker players filling the Main Event field, the big question is whether "old school" players like Men "The Master" Nguyen, Johnny Chan, T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson and Sammy Farha can navigate the huge Main Event fields to bring home the gold bracelet. Nguyen and Farha have both won bracelets in the 2010 WSOP, so we know they still have game. But with Eastgate and Cada winning the last two Main Events, poker's biggest tournament has looked and felt like a young person's game. And it will be interesting to see if someone from the "old guard" can break through.
2. Joe Cada
No Main Event winner has successfully defended his crown since Johnny Chan won back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988. Last year, 2008 Main Event champion Peter Eastgate grinded his way to a 78th-place finish. Will Cada join Chan in poker history? The odds are against the kid from Michigan. But it will be fun to watch him try.
1. The next young gun
In 2008, a 22-year-old Peter Eastgate won the Main Event. In 2009, a 21-year-old Joe Cada won the Main Event. And it's entirely possible that fields at the WSOP will continue to get younger as a generation of online poker players decides it's ready to go after the big money in Vegas. If the Main Event fields do continue to get younger thanks to an influx of online players, it's likely that Eastgate and Cada are just the vanguard of a very big youth movement in poker -- and that this year's champion will have cut his teeth playing poker on the Internet.