Last night I watched a little reality television. At least what I consider reality, not the made for TV bachelor romps, or a bunch of New Jersey wannabe celebs prancing around like peacocks in front of the cameras. No, I'm talking about the 2010 "World Series of Poker" that took place last month, but premiered on ESPN.
7,319 poker players won, borrowed, pooled funds, or otherwise ponied up the ten thousand dollar entry fee to participate in the richest tournament in sports. The total prize pool is just under $69,000,000. The winner will take home an astounding $8,944,138 for outlasting the field. That makes the $1.35 million that Phil Mickelson took home by winning the Masters look rather paltry in comparison. It even dwarfs the $2,752,055 that Dario Franchitti pocketed by winning this year's Indy 500.
The Main Event has come a long way since it's inception in 1970, when Benny Binion invited six of the best poker players in the world to a tourney at his Las Vegas Horseshoe Casino. Back in 1988, in a scene immortalized in the movie "Rounders," Johnny Chan bested Erik Seidel and a field of 167 to win the $700,000 first prize.
Poker exploded when Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Nashville, won the title and $2.5 million. Chris earned his entry into the Series by taking down a forty dollar "satellite" tournament on PokerStars, an online gaming site. He bested a field of 839 participants in the 2003 WSOP. His rise from relative obscurity gave every wannabe poker player the knowledge that you didn't have to be a poker superstar to win. It also coincided with the rise in popularity of other online gaming sites like Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet.
The following year, a whopping 2576 players vied for the prize pool that swelled from just over eight million to $25.7 million in 2004. Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, a patent attorney, who's only other WSOP cash had come in a 2001 Omaha Hi-Lo preliminary event, took the top prize of five million dollars by defeating pro David Williams.
I was fortunate enough to cover the 2006 and 2007 Main Events. It is a long and grueling tournament. There are so many entries now that the first bout of eliminations has to take place in four separate "Day 1's." The action you see on television is greatly condensed from what occurs in real time. Each blind level at the Main Event is two hours long. Ten hours of play is shrunk down to the one hour that makes it on TV. So for every "all-in" with the cameras rolling, there have probably been dozens of hands with literally no action. I sat watching one of the "featured" tables. In an hour of real time, only twice did any action play out on the felt. Most of the time the action went like this: fold, fold, fold, big bet, then everyone else (including the blinds) folded to the raiser.
Tuesday night showcased Day 1A and Day 1B. There were many notable pros including Mike "The Mouth" Matasow, Gavin Smith, Raymer; celebrities such as Ray Romano and Jennifer Tilly, and scores of amateurs hoping to be the next Raymer or Moneymaker.
Even though I followed much of the action via twitter and blogs, it's still fun to watch. Plus the commentary of Norman Chad makes it one of the best telecasts of any kind. Chad is so funny and irreverent, he could make a trip to the dentist worth watching.