Whether you work in the poker industry, or are just a fan of the game, then I am sure the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has the same mesmeric pull as the FIFA World Cup does for anyone who likes to kick a ball about.
Since the early seventies poker players have flocked en masse to Sin City to match their luck, skill and judgment with the very best in the world.
This year, as the poker world prepared for its annual jaunt, I was offered a unique opportunity to spend the entire series living in Las Vegas.
The only burning question was whether or not I would spend that time as a player, lover of the game or as a journalist? In the end, because I couldn’t make my mind up, I decided to try and do the lot.
My home for six weeks was a $3 million mansion in a place called Shenley Court, roughly 20-minutes taxi ride from the glitz and glamour of The Strip. I was sharing the house with some of the UK’s hottest young poker talent.
John Eames and Stuart Rutter were chasing gold bracelets, Mathew Frankland and Dan Carter were playing a mixture of cash games and tournaments and David Dial, David Nicholson, Jamie Sykes and Richard Finney were there to play in the cash games. Thomas Harris was the man holding us all together as chief organiser of the household.
Leading up to the series the poker world was expecting a post Black Friday depression, but that fatalist approach proved to be a false dawn. Incredibly, the 2011 WSOP broke all sorts of previous records. A record 75,672 people entered 58 events thus creating the largest ever prize pool for a WSOP: $191,999,010.
The 2011 event boasted the most million-dollar tournaments ever, the largest ever seniors event, the largest ever single day attendance for the 3,752 players who entered event #30 ($1k buy-in) and Phil Hellmuth extended his record as the individual all time leader in cashes (84) and final table appearances (43).
Outside of the Rio Casino and Hotel, the dealers and card room managers were witnessing an unprecedented attendance at the cash games tables and specially arranged Deepstack tournament festivals.
So whether you were a professional or amateur poker player there was plenty for you get your teeth stuck into. But what was I going to chew on: cash games or tournaments? The advice from the household was to play in the tournaments and that is where I started.
I played in two separate $215 buy-in tournaments at Caesars Palace and finished nowhere in either. I then realised that if I kept entering these tournaments at a rate of one or two per day I would be skint before the end of the first week. So I had a change of plan and decided to hit the cash game tables instead. Tournaments are always going to require a much bigger bankroll, just ask Rutter and Eames, who must have spent over $100,000 on tournament buy-ins between them.
So Eames and Rutter would prepare themselves for the tournaments (and for life exclusively contained within the Rio) and the rest of us would hit the cash game tables. When you travel to Vegas to play in the cash games there are a myriad of people lining up to give you advice on how to create a profitable trip. The two main pieces of advice that kept being crammed into my cranium were casino selection and table selection.
For example, I was told that the Rio would be the best place for cash games because it would be full of tilt enraged players who had just busted out of a WSOP side event. But the Rio was so cold I once saw a Penguin wearing a slanket and the food was being refused by the homeless.
Even during the times I did brave the cold and the food poisoning I found all of my $1/3 tables to be full of nitty regulars, who all seemed to have been given the same dud advice. It wasn’t just at my level that people were struggling to find the proverbial fish out of water.
Mathew Frankland who was playing $5/10 and $10/20 even decided to leave after three weeks, because in his professional opinion, the games were just not profitable enough. In six weeks I lost $1,000 playing $1/3 cash games and all the other cash game players in the house ended up in the red.
The tournament front was equally as frustrating as neither Eames nor Rutter ended in profit, despite a few cashes. For both of them it was a bitterly disappointing series and only a gold bracelet would have made it otherwise. Dan Carter played in two WSOP events and min-cashed in one of them, Finney played in two and cashed in neither.
Sykes played in just the main event and didn’t make it past day one and I played a grand total of three hands in my WSOP side event for a grand total of $333 per hand! In fact the only player to come out of the series in profit was that man Frankland. He flew home, won a shed-load of dough playing online and then returned to play in the main event where he cashed for $54,851 finishing in a very respectable 121st place.
So is the WSOP a great place to earn some money if you are an amateur or professional poker player? I suppose I am still far too inexperienced to answer that question. I am just glad it isn’t like the FIFA World Cup or else I would have to wait another three-years and that is simply out of the question.