LAS VEGAS -- What will I do with $10 million?
For one of the poker players who will take their seats in the World Series of Poker main event, that question will need an answer in a matter of months. The game's most prestigious tournament begins on Saturday with all eyes set on November and the dream of becoming the next world champion. Regardless of players' past success, this is the event they want to win. This is the event that defines a career. This is the event that creates a legacy.
Since the poker boom began with Chris Moneymaker, the only player to earn more than $10 million from the main event was 2006 champion Jamie Gold. Since his victory, the industry has watched as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and Black Friday dramatically altered the player base. The industry has also watched a rebound and a resiliency that defines what poker is all about. Down to the last chip? Fight on.
Earlier this year, the World Series of Poker put the $10 million tag on the main event champion. It's not only a easy marketing message and a celebration that the WSOP has been at the Rio for the past 10 years but also a sign that it's ready for the next step. It's also a game-changer.
"[The main event] is the greatest chance for achievement in my biggest passion in life," 2009 champion Joe Cada said. "I love the fact it's 10 million regardless of the entries. It encourages more fight for first if the tournament is top-heavy."
By guaranteeing double-digit millions to the champ, the WSOP is demonstrating that it's optimistic about what lies ahead. Poker fans should be, too.
Why? Let's look at the past five weeks on the WSOP felt.
The "Millionaire Maker" nearly made two millionaires, attracting a field of 7,977 entries, which made it the second-largest WSOP event of all time.
The Monster Stack was the largest single-day, single-entry field of all time at 7,862 unique players.
Phil Ivey captured his 10th bracelet and made Phil Hellmuth begin to look over his shoulder at someone in second for the first time in many years.
Joe Cada became the first post-boom main event champion to find the winner's circle once again in the $5,000 six-handed event.
The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop event featured 42 players and crowned a champion, Daniel Colman, who earned the $15 million and wants no part of the spotlight. The event, most importantly, raised $4.6 million for charity.
Eighteen players captured an additional bracelet this year, and we had a double-bracelet winner in George Danzer. The pros have reigned supreme.
The Seniors event set an attendance record again in an event with an unrivaled fun atmosphere.
Online satellites were awarded daily, the first time that has been an option for the WSOP in many years.
Add up these successes and include with it the fact that many players received their frozen Black Friday funds a few months ago, and it's easy to see the potential for the main event to grow for the first time since 2010. The amateurs who casually played online have returned, and the pros who waited anxiously for their bankrolls are back, too. The online poker industry is in its infancy in the United States once again, but it provides a second platform for engagement with the game and another avenue to grow it again. There's an excitement in the air that has replaced the frustration felt so vividly before the past few main events. This main event can be the restart everyone has been looking for.
The first of three starting flights begins Saturday at noon PT. There will be 10 hours of play on each day, and those who advance return for Day 2 either on July 8 (the fields from Day 1A and 1B) or July 9 (the field from Day 1C). The field will be combined on July 10, and play will continue until the early hours of July 15, when the 2014 November Nine will be determined. Those nine players will leave the Rio with ninth-place prize money in hand (expected to be at least $600,000) and spend the next few months thinking about their chance to collect that $10 million on Nov. 11, when the final table competes live on ESPN.
This blog is where you can follow the main event journey from start to finish. If there's someone you want to hear more about, post it in the comments section. Not getting updates quickly enough? Head to Twitter and get more ... much more. There will also be daily Poker Edge podcasts complete with recaps and interviews with the chip leaders. You can access all of those on iTunes.
The cards will be in the air soon, and at the moment the words "Shuffle up and deal" are said, one player will sit down on his Day 1 far from understanding what lies ahead. All players want to believe when they enter the main event that they're going to win, but when it comes down to it, and the field shrinks day by day from thousands to a few, perceptions and expectations change. Only a few can really explain what to expect and even fewer know what it feels like to reach the end of the road.
"This tourney means everything in the world to me," said defending champion Ryan Riess, who will begin his quest for a repeat on Saturday. "I have been waiting for it all year."
Welcome to the 2014 WSOP main event. It's going to be quite a ride.