WSOP 2019 in review

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Every summer the World Series of Poker descends on Las Vegas and for a little over six weeks everyone from gifted amateurs to the world’s best compete to win life-changing fortunes. It’s like the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup rolled into one huge event, all held in the salubrious surroundings of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.

WSOP 2019 ran from May 26th until July 16th and was especially significant as it was the 50th one to be held. In its earliest days, the event was by invitation only and players simply competed for a trophy. Today there are millions of dollars to be won, including the top prize of $10 million – but more of that later.

As well as big cash prizes, one of the most valued rewards for player is picking up a WSOP bracelet which is only awarded to the winners of the events that make up the series.

Stand-out events

To mark the 50th milestone this year there was even a tournament that was only open to previous bracelet winners. Attracting a total of 185 entrants and running over three days, it was eventually won by a 2007 bracelet holder Shankar Pillai who took home over $71,000.

The Crazy Eights featured a top-prize of $888,888, Rick Alvarado beat off competition from Mark Radoja, Thomas Drivas and Vivian Saliba. Saliba, an 888poker ambassador, was in one of just 350 women who competed in the Main Event field.

But, of the 90 events in total it was one that attracted the most attention, as it always does – the WSOP Main Event.

This is a $10,000 buy-in game which theoretically makes it open to everyone – or at least everyone with $10,000 to spare – and this year it attracted no less than 8,569 players, the highest total since 2006.

With so many hopefuls vying for a place at the final table, it’s a game that is played out over nine days with more and more players being eliminated each day. This year this phase of the game ran from July 3rd until July 12th.  During this time, the players were gradually whittled down to the ten with the most chips remaining. These then competed against each other from July 14th until July 16th to provide a fitting finale to the event.

In the past the final table did not convene until November but, quite sensibly, the rules were changed a couple of years ago to ensure that everything could be concluded in July.

How previous champions lined up

Many former champions were in the starting line-up, with varying levels of success. Perhaps the best known of these was Chris Moneymaker, the appropriately-named player who made history in 2003 by being the first winner to have made his reputation playing online poker. This year, however, fortune wasn’t on his side and he was eliminated on day four. That said, he did better than the previous two year’s winners John Cynn (2018) and Scott Blumstein (2017) who went out on days three and two respectively.

By the time the final ten had made it through to compete for the total of over $30 million in prize money there was a preponderance of American players with others hailing from Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK.

The new contender

In the case of the latter, the country was represented by a player who was vying to be the youngest ever winner of the Main Event. Nick Marchington was aged 21 years and 6 months when he entered, only just old enough to legally play poker in Vegas. No-one was more surprised than he was to find himself at the final table, albeit with the smallest number of chips to play with – 20,100,000 compared with the eventual winner’s 177,000,000 won over the previous 12 days play having all started out with just 60,000.

Nonetheless, Marchington managed to rise through the ranks to finish 7th in the final line-up, taking home winnings of $1.5 million. What was even more remarkable is that Marchington had only been playing poker for a year since dropping out of a computer sciences course at university in order to concentrate on the game instead.

Just as many sporting tournaments have heroes and villains for fans and spectators, this is equally true in the Main Event. This year the villain was Kevin Maahs whose especially secretive style of play is designed to undermine opponents’ confidence. The hero was Gary Gates who had gone into the final table in 2nd  position but slipped back to 4th taking home a still very impressive $3 million for his efforts.

Towards the end game

By the final day the last two players remained. They were Hossein Ensan from Germany and Italian rival Dario Sammartino. By this point the supporters round the table had chosen their particular favourite and the result was described as being like a Germany/ Italy World Cup Final with flags being waved and songs and chants breaking out during lulls in the action.

Although they’re good friends away from the table each player showed a ruthless streak during the four hours that they went head to head, with Ensan finally prevailing thanks to a pair of kings in the final hand. He won not just with the $10 million first prize but with a gold and diamond-encrusted winner’s bracelet too. Sammartino was also well rewarded with the $6 million runners-up prize.

It all made for a very fitting finale to what many people agree was one of the best ever Main Events even if the winner’s pot did fall short of the record-holding $12 million won by Jamie Gold in 2006. So now all attention turns to WSOP 2020 and the prospect of an even more exciting year.