What to watch for at the 2017 World Series of Poker

Bernard Lee
ESPN Staff Writer


"I'm always so excited to start playing the World Series of Poker (WSOP), which is the most anticipated tournament series of the year. Every year, it is a different experience and I always can't wait to see what happens." -- Jason Mercier, 2016 WSOP Player of the Year
Hundreds of thousands of hopeful entrants from all over the globe have the same sentiment as Jason Mercier. Next week, the wait will be over as the 48th annual WSOP opens its doors on May 30. During this nearly eight-week journey, poker players from over 100 countries descend upon Las Vegas, making the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino the center of the poker universe.

For many poker players, the WSOP is a dream pilgrimage. Some may be planning to make their first trip to the WSOP this summer. Others may be preparing to follow the action from afar. Nevertheless, here is a snapshot of the biggest poker tournament series of the year, including some historical background of this annual poker odyssey.

Location: Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino
Located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, the Rio has been the home of the WSOP since 2005, the year after Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesar's Entertainment) purchased the right to the WSOP brand. Prior to 2005, the WSOP made its home in downtown Las Vegas at Binion's Horseshoe Casino. To honor the Binion's legacy, Harrah's scheduled the final 27 players of the 2005 WSOP main event to return to Binion's for the final time. That year, I was fortunate to play among these final 27 players.
In 1970, casino owner and poker player Benny Binion created the original concept for the WSOP, holding the event at his own casino. During its inaugural year, the players played a series of cash games and voted for a champion, the legendary Johnny Moss.

Dates: May 30-July 22, a complete schedule can be found here




Number of Bracelet Events: 74 (record number, breaking last year's record of 69)

Beginning in 1976, the winner of each WSOP tournament was given a bracelet to commemorate their victory, which has symbolically become the ultimate prize in poker. Since then, over 1,200 WSOP bracelets have been awarded to players.
Many casual fans believe that there is only one WSOP tournament -- the main event. Since ESPN (and this year, Poker Central) focuses its coverage primarily on the main event, some observers don't realize that there are multiple bracelet events played every day. This summer, the nearly eight-week WSOP will have 74 total bracelet events, culminating with the $10,000 main event. In actuality, the 74th bracelet will be the The Little One for One Drop, which has a $1,111 buy-in, starts after the Main Event is already underway, but is scheduled to end on July 15. Thus, the main event, although technically bracelet 73, will be the last bracelet event to finish the 2017 WSOP.

Breakdown of Games (Number of events, percentage): No-limit hold 'em: 39 (53 percent), Omaha: 11 (15 percent), mixed events: 11 (15 percent) Stud/Razz: six (8 percent) 2-7 Draw Lowball: four (5 percent) limit hold 'em: three (4 percent)
Of course, with its recent popularity in the 21st century, no-limit hold 'em dominates the WSOP tournament series. Omaha is the next most popular version, especially pot-limit Omaha (PLO), as nine of the Omaha events are specifically PLO.
As for the mixed games, players are able to compete in multiple games during the same event such as HORSE (which stands for hold 'em, Omaha, razz, stud and stud eight-or-better) and recently Dealer's Choice. In this version, each player chooses which game they would like their table to play. This choice is determined once an orbit by a different player in rotation, which adds another layer of strategy based on the proficiency of one's opponents in the different games.

Range and breakdown of buy-in amounts: Lowest: $333 (Event 8: WSOP.com Online event) - Largest: $111,111 (Event 6: High Roller for One Drop)
There are 41 events in the $333 to $1,500 range, 15 events in the $2,500 to $5,000 range, 15 events at $10,000 and three events over $25,000.

Range in field size (based on 2016 entries): Largest: 21,613 (Event 2: Colossus). Smallest: 100 (Event 16: $10,000 Lowball Draw Championship.

Starting Times: Morning events: 11 a.m. Afternoon events: 3 p.m. However, when multiple flight events are held on the same day, such as Colossus, PLO (Event 18) and Crazy Eights, the second flight begins at 4 p.m.

Starting Chip Stacks: For most of the bracelet events, the starting chip stacks are five times the original buy-in amount. Thus, for the $10,000 championship events, you begin with 50,000 in chips. For the preliminary event such as the $1,000 and $1,500, players receive 5,000 and 7,500 chips, respectively.

There are some exceptions such as the Colossus (5,000), $565 PLO (5,000), Crazy Eights (8,000) and The Giant (20,000). Additionally, there are a few events where the WSOP's intent is to give the players additional chips, such as The Monster Stack (15,000) and The Marathon (26,200).

Weekend Warriors: Every weekend, the WSOP has scheduled a collection of affordable buy-in events so that these players can get the most bang for their buck in a short window of time. These "Weekend Warriors" are able to play multiple flights and/or events, hoping to fulfill the ultimate dream of every poker player -- winning a WSOP bracelet.

June 2-4: Colossus ($565 buy-in, 5,000 in chips to start). Six total flights: two flights on each of the three days with one re-entry per flight.
June 10-11: Millionaire Maker ($1,500 buy-in, 7,500 in chips to start). Two total flights: one flight on each of the two days with one re-entry per flight.
June 16-18: $1,000 Seniors Event, must be 50 or older to participate (June 16), $1,500 no-limit hold 'em (June 17), $1,000 Super Senior, must be 65 or older to participate (June 18). Starting stacks are 5,000, 7,500 and 5,000, respectively. There is only one flight for each of these events and one re-entry is available for the Senior and Super Senior events.

June 24-25: Monster Stack ($1,500 buy-in, 15,000 in chips to start). Two total flights, one flight on each of the two days.
July 1-2: Crazy Eights ($888 buy-in, 8,000 in chips to start). Four total flights, two flights on each of two days with unlimited re-entry.

The Giant
Beginning this year, the WSOP will offer a new bracelet event called "The Giant" that has a flight held on five consecutive Friday nights, starting June 9. With only a $365 buy-in, 20,000 in starting chips, and unlimited re-entries each flight, "The Giant" will also provide plenty of play. Players who make it through each of the flights will reconvene on July 8 to crown a champion.

Online Events
Online poker no longer has been available throughout the United States since Black Friday on April 15, 2011. However, three states allow online poker to be played legally within their state boundaries -- Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
This summer, there will be three bracelet events which will be played completely online on WSOP.com. The event June 3 will offer a $333 buy-in bracelet event with unlimited re-entries and 15,000 in starting chips, the July 1 effort will have a $3,333 buy-in with unlimited re-entries and 25,000 in starting chips and the July 7 event will be a $1,000 buy-in with 15,000 in starting chips and unlimited re-entry.

Buy-In Methods
Most players register for the WSOP events via cash or casino chips. However, some players wire in money or bring cashier's checks.
Beginning last year, players were allowed to use credit cards to buy-in to WSOP events, but only during the pre-registration process. Last year, the maximum buy-in was $1,500. This summer, the limit has been increased to $10,000. (Note: there is a $3 processing fee along with a 2.95% fee or 3.95% using AMEX.)

Main Event (July 8-17, Final Table July 20-22) - $10,000 buy-in, 50,000 in chips to start, two-hour levels
Reigning champion: Qui Nguyen
Three-time champions: Johnny Moss (1970, 1971, 1974), Stu Unger (1980, 1981, 1997)
Two-time champions: Doyle Brunson (1976, 1977), Johnny Chan (1987, 1988)
Beginning in 1971, tournaments were played at the WSOP, including the main event. Initially, the main event buy-in was $5,000, however, in 1972, the buy-in increased to the current $10,000.

Additional Events to Watch:



  • $111,111 High Roller for One Drop on June. Back in 2012, Cirque du Soleil Founder Guy Laliberté and the WSOP teamed up to organize the first Big One For One Drop with a $1 million buy-in. The event would not only award the largest first place prize ever for a poker tournament (won by Antonio Esfandiari for more than $18.3 million), but also support Laliberté's initiative One Drop, which focuses on gaining access to clean water worldwide. Since 2012, the event buy-in has fluctuated between $111,111 (2013, 2015, 2016) and $1 million (2012, 2014). Last year, the event was an $111,111 buy-in attracting 183 entries. After three grueling days, the event was captured by the young German phenom, Fedor Holz, taking home almost $5 million.
  • $10,000 buy-in no-limit 2-7 Lowball Draw championship on June 11. When the WSOP was originally being created, the poker players were deciding which game should be played for the main event. Although no-limit hold 'em was eventually chosen, no-limit 2-7 Lowball Draw was considered as a possible game. Many poker players call it one of the purest forms of poker: either you have it or you don't. Seven-time WSOP bracelet winner Billy Baxter is widely considered the master of lowball as all of his WSOP bracelets were won in some variant of lowball.
  • $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship on July 2. Played six-handed, this tournament rotates among eight different games (no-limit hold 'em; seven card stud; Omaha hi-lo eight-or-better, razz, pot-limit Omaha, limit hold 'em; seven card stud hi-lo eight-or-better, 2-7 Lowball triple draw). Many professionals consider this event the most prestigious after the main event, as it certifies the champion as the best all-around poker player of the WSOP. In 2006, the $50,000 HORSE event was introduced and captured by the late Chip Reese. After he passed away in December 2007, the David 'Chip' Reese Memorial Trophy was given beginning in 2008 to the $50,000 HORSE champion. In 2010, the event added additional games and was renamed The Poker Player's Championship with the winner still receiving the David 'Chip' Reese Memorial Trophy.
  • Side events: Introduced at the WSOP back in 2010, these "Deep Stack" events, which are all one-day events, are a lower-cost option for the casual player or a player looking to build up their bankroll. The winner doesn't receive a bracelet, but with hundreds of players playing in each event, the top prize sometimes has been over $50,000. There are typically three Deep Stack events a day, starting at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. (with an accelerated format) and 9 p.m.
  • Satellites: To start almost every day, the WSOP holds a $185 satellite at 9 a.m., awarding the winners $1,500 in buy-in chips (lammers) plus $100 in cash. Every night, the $575 satellite awards $5,000 in buy-in chips (lammers) plus $50 in cash. However, if the following day has a $10,000 event, the satellite will be played out in the following day's event's discipline. For example: June 11 is the $10,000 no-limit 2-7 Lowball draw championship. Thus, on June 10 at 8 p.m., the WSOP will run a Lowball draw satellite.

If you are planning on making the trek out to Las Vegas this summer, see you at the Rio and hope to see you at a final table. Good luck to everyone and I hope these words that I say at the end of my radio show each week hold true: "May you always go in with the best hand...And may you never get unlucky!"