The rise of the World Series of Poker over the course of the last couple of decades exemplifies the rise of online poker, and online casinos more broadly. Large-scale, wildly popular tournaments such as the World Series of Poker have helped to elevate what was once upon a time a somewhat obscure parlour game into the upper leagues of the public imagination. Not only is professional poker now a massive industry, but it has also helped to fuel the rise of online poker as one of the most quickly growing online pastimes.
What is the World Series of Poker?
The World Series of Poker is one of the most high-profile professional poker tournaments played today, and it has been held annually in Las Vegas since 2004. It is backed by Caesars Entertainment Corporation and has skyrocketed in popularity since first officially starting 15 years ago.
Since this modest start, the World Series of Poker has gone on to become one of the most prestigious and highest-profile tournaments out there. It attracts the world’s top talent, who battle it out in a series of tense, live matches as players compete for some staggeringly large pots.
With roots stretching all the way back to 1970, the World Series of Poker consists of a number of events based on different variations of poker held across a number of weeks and months. With contests in seven-card stud, Omaha hold ’em, high-low stud, and the most popular, Texas hold ’em, players compete in intense matches to be crowned the king or queen of that variation. Winners of each event get given an engraved gold bracelet in addition to the prize money, which has become an iconic symbol within the sport. The Texas hold ’em tournament is considered to be the most prestigious, and it generally see the biggest prize money doled out.
Over the years, the World Series of Poker’s profile has been raised substantially through a number of high-profile poker players who have gone on to achieve legendary status within the sport. The likes of Phil Hellmuth, with his incredible 15 major tournament wins, have called the World Series of Poker home over the years, which has amassed them substantial fortunes along the way.
The main event – record-breaking entries
The main event of the 2019 World Series of Poker saw the historic tournament reaching record heights. Now in its 50th year of continuous operation, the main event saw a record-breaking number of entries. Over the course of 69 events, the World Series of Poker has already smashed previous attendance records, and a total of 154,216 entrants have played in World Series of Poker gold bracelet events. This is a truly staggering figure and smashes last year’s record of 123,865 by a significant margin.
Part of this was due to an increased focus on lower buy-in events, with the World Series of Poker adding a significant number of sub-$1,000 events to the timetable. For example, the Big 50 tournament drew a total of 28,371 entries, which is a record level of participation for any poker event.
Overall, the rise of participation in tournaments such as the World Series of Poker is remarkable and speaks to the increasing professionalisation of the sport. As evidence of this, this year’s entrant figures of 154,216 far exceed the total combined figures for the period between 1970 and 2005, which totalled 125,628 entries over 602 events.
More coverage than ever – the rise of the World Series of Poker
The seemingly ever-growing popularity of online poker has been fuelled in recent years through TV and online coverage partnerships with CBS. CBS partnered with Poker Central to livestream the gold bracelet events across a number of online and terrestrial platforms such as PokerGo and CBS All Access. ESPN picked up the rights to broadcast the main event finale, albeit with a slight delay.
Beyond the incredible displays of skill by the players involved, what this year’s tournament did show us is that the rise of poker seems unstoppable. In both its online and casino variants, poker seems more popular than ever – and the increased coverage of this most exciting of sports on channels such as CBS and ESPN is testament to this. With all this said, the future of poker looks very bright!
Record setting at the 2019 tournament
Besides providing some of the best action that we have seen to date, the 2019 tournament set a number of records worth mentioning:
· The Big 50, $500 buy-in event became the largest live poker tournament in history, amassing 23,371 entrants.
· The 1993 main event champion, Jim Bechtel, won event number 21 – a $10,000 No Limit 2-7 Lowball Draw – for his second bracelet since winning the 1993 main event. This gap of 26 years is the longest gap between wins in World Series of Poker history, and, you could argue, shows that professional poker isn’t just a young man’s game!
· The winner of event number 43, Loren Klein, won a $2,500 Mixed Big Bet tournament, and in doing so became the third player in the history of the World Series of Poker to win bracelets four straight years in a row. The last person to do this was Doyle Brunson in the mid-1970s.
· The Main Event tournament attracted a total of 8,569 entrants, which is the biggest total since the record-setting 2006 Main Event.
World Series of Poker 2019 – the key metrics
· 168,135 entries – this is a 35% rise from the 2018 tournament’s 123,356.
· $250,231,945m – the total amount of prize money awarded – more than any World Series of Poker tournament.
· 11 events – the number of events with 5,000 or more entrants.
· 52 countries – the number of different countries that have produced a World Series of Poker gold bracelet winner.
The 50th World Series of Poker tournament – changes and updates
Being the 50th consecutive year that the tournament has run, a number of changes in format were implemented. Overall, there were 90 bracelet events. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, there was a special $50,000 No-Limit Hold’em event as well as the Big 50 event – a $500 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament with a guaranteed $5m prize pot. Additionally, there was a special tournament open to previous bracelet winners only, which acted as a kind of ‘hall of fame’ tour for many fans! For the first time, there was also a Short Deck tournament held. The Main Event format was changed somewhat, and players now received 60,000 chips at the start of the tournament, which is an increase of 10,000 from last year’s starting pot of 50,000.
The biggest winner of 2019 – Hossein Ensan
This year’s biggest winner by far was Hossein Ensan. Originally hailing from Germany, Ensan outlasted Italian Dario Sammartino and Canadian Alex Livingston to claim the eye-watering $10m prize in the 50th World Series of Poker Main Event. In doing so, Ensan became the first non-American to claim the main prize, firmly placing himself in the hallowed annals of the tournament’s former winners.
After eight hours of play, Ensan finally claimed victory after battling through a tournament that saw a total of 8,568 players fight for the top prize. With previous career earnings of $2.67m, the $10m win sees him quadrupling his career best to date with one victory – a truly staggering achievement. Interestingly, although Ensan is the first overall winner playing from outside the US, he is not the first to originally come from Iran. In fact, this year is the third time in the tournament’s history that the top prize has gone to an Iranian-born competitor.
The final contest itself made for an appropriately epic battle for the top prize. Sammartino originally took and maintained a commanding league, with Livingston holding his own for a while. Eventually, however, fortunes shifted and Ensan stormed into a commanding lead, which he held until the end of the game.
For their efforts, Sammartino took a total of $6m back to Italy, while the former chess champion Livingston walked away with a not-too-shabby $4m. Overall, this final game was a nice change of pace from the traditionally feisty and contentious nature of big-league poker tournaments, with Ensan and Sammartino exchanging smiles and a congratulatory fist bump or two through the tournament.
The other winners of 2019 – who won what?
Beyond the Main Event winner Hossein Ensan, who else won big at this year’s tournament?
· Event #90 – Danny Tang: In the $50,000 Final Fifty event, the winner’s bracelet was taken home by Danny Tan, a 26-year-old poker pro from Hong Kong and the UK. This earned him a massive $1,608,406, which far outshines his winnings to date – $4.4m over the course of 15 previous World Series of Poker cashes.
· Event #89 – Carl Shaw: In the $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em event, the youthful poker pro from the UK, Carl Shaw, took home a respectable $606,562. This is the first bracelet for Carl, who also finished 101st in the 2019 Main Event.
· Event #88 – Taylor Paur: In the $500 Online No-Limit Hold’em Summer Saver event, Taylor Paur earned himself a tasty little prize pot of $149,240 out of a total prize pool of $836,550. Having won his first bracelet in 2013 in a $1,000 No Limit Hold’em tournament, this is the second major career win for the 30-year-old from San Clemente, California.
· Event #85 – Alan Sternberg: The 33-year-old poker pro from New York, Alan Sternberg, won his first career World Series of Poker event in a dramatic $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 6-Handed tournament. Winning a very respectable $448,392, Sternberg has firmly established himself on the professional scene.
· Event #83 – Keith Tilston: In the $100,000 No-Limit Hold’em High Roller event, Keith Tilston bagged his first World Series of Poker tournament win, earning himself a bracelet and a cool $2,782,406. When it came down to the final table, Tilston was the only player present not to have won a World Series of Poker bracelet before, and between the final six, there was a total of 15 bracelets. This didn’t phase Tilston, however, and he stormed ahead to a victory!
· Event #77 – Tu ‘Stephanie’ Dao: In the $3,000 Limit Hold’em 6-Handed event, Tu ‘Stephanie’ Dao scored herself a winning pot of $133,189. This is the first career win for Dao, a native of Vietnam who has been living in Canada. Dao was the second woman to secure an open-field event at the 2019 World Series of Poker. She also placed fourth in the $1,000 Ladies No-Limit Hold’em tournament, where she won a cool $52,007. Dao’s win is an impressive feat, and the future looks bright for this promising player!
Getting in the game
As we can see, poker season is well and truly upon us, and the future certainly looks bright for the World Series of Poker this year! If all this talk of high-stakes poker has whetted your appetite, why not head on over to Bitcasino today and get started playing one of the many online poker games that we have on offer. Sign up for a free-to-play account today and try them all out before committing any cash!
Words: Sean McNulty