By the end of the day, 27 players will have claimed bracelets at the 2013 World Series of Poker. The victors have included a number of repeat WSOP champions, six Canadian record-setters, veterans who finally have broken through with a long-awaited win, amateurs hitting gold and emerging stars trying to build a resume. One champion, Ken Lind, is different from the rest. The 68-year-old Seniors event champion represents more of what the game needs. In fact, the entire idea of the Seniors World Championship falls into that category.
Being out in Vegas for the Seniors Event was a blast. I've never seen that event in person before, but since my dad was playing in his first WSOP event, I wanted to be part of the experience. My visit to the Rio that day was far from my usual day-to-day grind. I wasn't there to write about the action for the site, tweet a ridiculous amount of pictures from my WSOP experience or talk to the game's stars for the podcast. Instead, I watched as an anxious railbird as my dad, who gave me the poker itch as a kid with nickels and dimes at the kitchen table (sorry, mom), was competing on the game's biggest stage. He plays poker weekly, but hold 'em is never the game of choice. He isn't the most refined player in the discipline and I'm sure any of the younger generation of pros would be bored by his lack of advanced statistics, aggression or mathematical approach to the game. He defines the word amateur and, like thousands of others this past weekend in the Seniors event, he was simply giving it a shot.
My dad in action on Day 1 of the WSOP's Seniors World Championship.
My only reporting that day was to my family, whom I sent about 100 texts in a five-hour span. They cheered with the good texts, booed with the bad and applauded his effort regardless of the outcome. They loved the pictures, the videos from the break and anything else that would place them on the scene. I was surrounded by fans at this event who weren't there to see Hellmuth or Ivey or Negreanu. Joining me along the rail were family and friends all watching with angst and admiration. Their player was giving the game a shot, and if they felt anything like the way I did, it meant the world to them.
Now, it's irrelevant how he played in general (I'd say pretty well) or how he was eliminated (two-outer), but he had a great time and can't wait to go back next year. Many others who fell short of the money walked away with that exact same impression. Why? The 4,407-player event was different than everything else you'll see at the WSOP felt. People were laughing, talking and having fun. They shared stories about their families, their experience and, probably, their hands. Poker isn't always about making friends, but it is, at its heart, a social experience that, as witnessed this weekend, can make people walk away after a loss feeling like playing was worth every penny.
At its highest level, the game today is played essentially by a group of sunglasses-sporting, hoodie-wearing, iPhone-listening, Chinese Poker app-playing silent pros who would prefer to spend their thousands isolating themselves for hours instead of being part of a conversation at a six- or nine-handed table. At the end of the day, the entire goal of the game is to take all of your opponent's chips, but on Day 1 of the Seniors event, poker was the side action.
Which brings me back to Ken Lind. After his victory, he said, "I would have liked to go heads-up against someone other than the fine gentleman I was up against. He would have been my last pick. He's really good and a nice fellow. I feel for him. I am glad at least he won second place."
Lind's statement defines the event and consideration one player had for another in Event 26. Don't believe me? Watch the video replay on ESPN3 and see how they act toward one another. It wasn't just another hand, another table or another tournament. These players were sharing a life experience, and they will forever be bonded by it. That's what the game is all about.
The Seniors event has grown over the past 10 years. Expect that trend to continue.
Other winners at the Rio
Walk around the Rio, and if players aren't in the bracelet events, all you'll hear about in the hallway is who is playing the 3, 6 and 10. The Daily Deepstack series at the WSOP is crushing and has succeeded in keeping players at the Rio instead of heading to other venues in Vegas.
How well are they doing? The average first-place prize in the $235 event is $43,000. Fields are often hovering at about 1,300, and this past weekend, a field of 1,635 turned out to play. There's not much that can be said about the Deepstacks that isn't on a positive note, but there has been one small bump in the road: Sometimes there aren't enough tables available to start on time.
As the WSOP looks out at yet another avenue of growth, the players are also enjoying the opportunity to grind these events with a significant prize on the line. In association with Bluff, the WSOP will be crowning a Deepstacks Player of the Series and will award the player at the top a seat into the 2013 WSOP main event. Jose Serratos currently sits atop the Deepstacks series leaderboard thanks to his two victories taking place on June 2 and 6. He earned $86,430 for his two finishes.
The Deepstacks are adding money into the overall poker economy by attracting amateurs and those with smaller bankrolls. They're keeping players around a hotel that is challenged due to its isolation from the Strip and they're encouraging participation with a great prize. How will the WSOP improve on the Deepstacks effort from here? I think that once WSOP.com is active that they'll utilize the Deepstacks as a way to get more people into the Rio, but as for right now, why change anything? It's hard to argue with the success.