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WSOP Poker Player's Championship quieter, but bigger than last year

3 July 2011

Maybe the players are worn out from more than a month of grinding through a grueling World Series of Poker schedule. Maybe, with the proliferation of high-roller events at nearly every stop on the poker circuit, the novelty of a $50,000 buy-in event has worn off. Or maybe the players who entered the Poker Player’s Championship at the 2011 World Series of Poker on Saturday were feeling the weight of Black Friday and the loss of significant sponsorship revenue.

No matter what the cause, the mood at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino for Day 1 of the WSOP’s largest buy-in event was much more subdued than it was the last time I was here to cover this event (then a $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament) in 2007.

Four years ago, as the tournament got underway, players were frantically making last-longer bets and other side bets on who they thought would win. Mike Matusow was manically joking and chatting with every player within earshot. The players were giddy, like kids who had just gotten out of school for the summer, or like a group of guys who have just arrived in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

This year, there was no side action – or at least the players were much more discreet about it. David Oppenheim’s attempt to convince Doyle Brunson to make a last-longer bet was the only betting I detected; Doyle wouldn’t bite.

Despite the subdued start, the tournament is without a doubt a huge success. The Poker Player’s Championship drew 128 players, growing by more than 10 percent over last year’s number of 116 players. Ninety-six players filled 12 tables when the tournament first got underway, as a handful of players registered late. With players starting with 150,000 chips and just five levels of play on the day, 124 players will return on Sunday for Day 2, as only four players were eliminated.

The top 16 players (the players who make the final two tables) will finish in the money, with $1,720,328 going to the winner, and the second-place finisher winning $1,063,034.

$50,000 Poker Player's Championship Notebook

World Series of Poker officials opted to move this event from the beginning of the WSOP to near the end in response to player concerns about managing their bankrolls over the course of the entire WSOP. Defending champion Michael Mizrachi wasn’t as big a fan as other players, apparently.

“I have to say I disagree with [the move],” said Mizrachi. “You’re kind of worn out after the whole series and you’ve got to play this, it’s a little tough. I remember last year when I won it, it took so much out of me, because your brain's always going, you’ve got all the stud games to pay attention to.”

Mizrachi will be looking to pay close attention tomorrow, as he finished the day on life support as one of the short stacks.


With eight different varieties of poker being played in this tournament, sometimes it can get a little hard for the players to remember exactly what game they’re playing. Even though the tables all have plates with the game being played displayed, David Singer, who made the final table in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event in 2006, had his own cheat sheet that he kept behind his chips as a memory aid.

There were a few players who might want to copy his idea. Mike Sexton completed a bring-in with a low card in the window, thinking they were playing Razz when the game had actually been switched to Seven Card Stud. When John Monnette raised him with a king up, Sexton looked puzzled, then glanced at the plate that named the game being played and immediately mucked his hand.

“I wouldn’t have done that if I knew the game had changed,” said Sexton.

But in some cases, not knowing what was going on proved to be a successful way to win a pot. Mueller three-bet John Hennigan with a four in the window. Hennigan hesitated before folding, and when Mueller folded, someone pointed out that the game had changed from Razz to Seven Card Stud.


Because 2-7 Triple Draw requires so many cards, only six players can be dealt in at a time. And since the tournament is eight-handed for the rest of the games, players are forced to sit out two hands every orbit during the 2-7 Triple Draw round. Many of the players used their downtime during the Triple Draw round to wander around the tournament area to see how their friends were doing.


A lot of formerly sponsored pros for online poker sites aren’t wearing patches during tournament play anymore. In fact, during level two, with about 110 players, only 17 players were wearing patches for online poker sites. Twelve of those players were members of Team PokerStars Pro, two wore Full Tilt patches (David Chiu and Erick Lindgren), Mike Sexton wore a Party Poker patch, Fabrice Soulier wore an Everest Poker patch, and Jean-Robert Bellande wore a patch for the new subscription-based site on the Zen Network, RISE Poker.


Carlos Mortensen arrived about 10 minutes after the tournament began and found that his seat assignment put him at an empty table. Mortensen didn’t get to sit there and steal blinds and antes from an empty table, however. He, and the rest of the late entries, had to wait until the end of the first level to begin play.


In the past, players have received a $100 food voucher for signing up for the $50,000 event. This year, players received $10 in food vouchers, but also received $90 in credit on their Total Rewards cards.

After the comps handed out to the players, the WSOP clears $1,900 per player in this event.


Mike Sexton decided to enter the event mostly because he enjoys playing a variety of games, but also because he had a big score in June, finishing second to win six figures in a $1,500 Seven Stud high-low. And while the second-pad finish still stings a little, Sexton says it didn’t take him too long to recover.

“You’re disappointed when you come in second of course,” said Sexton. “But on the other hand when you get back home and you see the check … anytime you cash out for [$123,925] at the World Series of Poker, it’s not too bad. You really can’t complain when you’re making money around here; it’s not easy to do. In truth you’ve got nothing to cry about because you had a good day.”


As Day 1 of the Poker Player’s Championship was underway, the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em event was wrapping up its Day 2 across the aisle in the Amazon Room. Mr. Jonathan Epstein drew the most attention as the “last man standing” in the event. (Due to Nevada gaming regulations, the WSOP cannot discriminate based on sex, so they can’t bar men from registering for the ladies’ event.)

While the pros attracted a rail one to two rows deep, the final two tables of the ladies event drew spectators five or six people deep. Every time Epstein looked at his hand, a group of rowdy guys booed and jeered. Every time he got out of a hand, they cheered and applauded. And the staff at the Rio didn’t seem to be in much of a mood to make it stop, at least at first, with some of the floor staff chuckling under their breath at the more creative jeers.

While they can’t bar men from entering the ladies’ event, maybe next year they can force men to watch a video with highlights of the treatment Epstein got on Saturday night.

With 14 players coming back tomorrow, Epstein sits in seventh chip position.
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.