“If there weren’t luck involved, I would win every time.” –Phil Hellmuth, Poker Professional
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event starts Sunday, July 5th, at the Rio All-Suites Hotel in Las Vegas. The 2015 WSOP in Vegas started on May 27th. There are a total of 68 tournament events over a month and a half that culminate with the $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Championship, also known as the WSOP Main Event. This final tourney runs from July 5th through July 14th until it is down to the last nine players, or the “final table.” Those nine players return to Vegas in November where each of them is guaranteed to win a minimum of $1,000,000. Last year’s Main Event winner, Martin Jacobson, won $10,000,000.
Before you clean-out $10,000 from your savings account and book your ticket on Southwest Airlines or Spirit, keep in mind that there were 6,683 entrants into the Main Event in 2014. Even people who play poker for a living and can actually support themselves in that vocation have difficulty reaching the final table.
Poker has become an obsession over the last decade for a lot of people, both nationally and worldwide. The online poker world has been a significant catalyst of this, fueled by Zynga poker and WSOP on Facebook, and other online sites dedicated to playing poker.
The field in the WSOP Main Event is so large that many of the top poker professionals, people who make money playing poker for a living, don’t even “cash” (win back their entry fee plus a little). Poker has become a major television revenue producer on networks like ESPN and the Travel Channel. It is a major “sport” now with significant sponsors for the best players and two major poker tourney circuits including the WSOP and the World Poker Tour. Top poker pros have become celebrities, and many of them have written books on how to play poker.
I have wanted to play in the WSOP Main Event for a number of years. It is a bucket-list item for me, so to speak. This year, I decided to try my hand in a $1,500 Buy-In No-Limit Hold ‘Em Event, and if I did well, I told myself that I would enter the Main Event. My family felt this would be a more reasonable approach than the Main Event that lasts for weeks. Even this event was scheduled to last three days, where you play poker for over 10 hours per day, not including breaks.
Playing in a major poker tourney was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. A lot of these players are REALLY good. Many are very young (they have to be at least 21), smart, patient, from other countries, and have grown-up playing poker online. Another fascinating thing for me was that the room has a really funny sound. Nearly all the players have learned to “shuffle their chips,” and when hundreds of people are doing this at once it sounds similar to a room full of crickets.
Although poker is a game of skill and not pure luck, you still have to “get the cards.” My suggestions if you decide to enter one of these tournaments are:
- Play A LOT of online poker, including online tournament poker, before entering a major tournament for money.
- Only bet as much money as you can lose. In tournament poker, this is your entry fee.
- Play “tight,” or conservative, until you have an excellent hand, and even then, play conservative, especially in early rounds of the tourney.
- Be patient.
- Keep your chip count in mind when playing. You want to keep about 40 big blinds to stay competitive. If your chip count starts dropping below 10 big blinds, you may want to consider pushing all-in (putting all your chips into the pot).
- If you’re going to Vegas for a long time, consider getting a house or condo through Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO).
- Get a good meal before you start playing, and bring some money for snacks.
- Stay hydrated.
- Expect long lines at the bathrooms during the short breaks.
- Have fun!
In my tourney, I made it into the 10th round of play. During the 10th round, I had 30 big blinds and called a guy who went all-in pre-flop with 25 big blinds. I had pocket Queens (two Queens). I deliberated whether to call, even though I had a pretty good idea that I had my competitor beaten pre-flop. I was the chip leader at my table, but there were a lot of people ahead of me at other tables. I figured I needed to have 40 big blinds or more entering Day 2 to be competitive. There were 11 rounds in Day 1, and blinds were increasing every hour. Based on his body language and historical play, I thought the other player had a “Strong Ace,” or an Ace with a high card like a Jack, Queen, or King. If he had a King and an Ace, it would give me a little better than 50 percent chance of winning. I called him. He had Ace-King, off-suite. The dealer flopped an Ace, and I lost the hand. I was left with five big blinds and had to push “all-in” pretty soon after that with a weak hand (suited 8-7). I lost. It was a bummer. I still finished in the top third of the field, but only the top 10 percent, or so, win money that exceeds the entry fee.
Overall, I had a really fun time, learned a lot, and met some really interesting people. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.
What is on your bucket list? Have you ever played in a big poker tourney? How did you do? What are your recommendations to other players?