For 99.99987 percent of the players in this year’s events, the 2010 WSOP has come to a close. Some were winners and many more were losers. And, for nine lucky combatants, there’s still one more long day of poker left to play before someone claims the game’s most prestigious title and poker’s second-largest payday ever.
As tonight’s television coverage of the Main Event (ESPN 9p ET) moves past the massive Day 1 fields and more and more players see their WSOPs come to an end, I just have to wonder: Where did they all come from?
After a slow start, the 2010 WSOP finished strong, enticing 72,966 players total to Las Vegas to play in 57 separate events — a 20 percent increase over 2009’s record-setting figure of 60,875. And it wasn’t just the smaller events that benefitted. After hitting a high-water mark in 2006 with 8,773 entrants and a prize pool worth more than $82.5 million, the Main Event contracted over the next three years, attracting no more than 6,844 players for the big dance. Until this year, that is.
The best guess is that live satellites account for about 15 percent of the Main Event field. Combined with the online qualifiers, that means roughly 40 percent paid something less than $10k to play in the tournament, which seems about right. Still, that means that about 60 percent (roughly 4,400) of the players coughed up $10K each for their seats at the WSOP tables.
According to the WSOP’s official figures, 7,319 players took part in this year’s $10,000 Main Event. That’s 825 more people than who played in 2009, or an increase of nearly 9 percent. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty impressive, especially in today’s economy where nearly 10 percent of the general public in the US is out of work and Europe is struggling to keep countries like Greece and Ireland from going completely bankrupt under the weight of huge budget deficits.
All of which, again, begs the question, where on Earth did all these players come from?
The first and most obvious answers is, of course, satellites. But here’s the thing — according to the folks at Harrah’s, the number of players sent from online sites was actually down a little over previous years. For example, PokerStars only qualified 1,018 players for this year’s Main Event, which is about half of the qualifiers they’ve had over the previous few years. And, of those players who earned entries, only 839 actually bought into the tournament. Full Tilt Poker, which has traditionally sent fewer players to the Main than Stars, qualified approximately 600 players for this year’s tournament. Though we don’t have an exact figure on how many of those qualifiers actually played, it’s safe to assume the majority of the qualifiers showed up in Vegas. Smaller sites, like UB, Party Poker, Everest, Winimax and the like all qualified between 100 and 150 players each.
For the sake of the math, we’ll assume that, in total, the online sites qualified about 2,250 players combined and that 1,750 of them actually showed up at the Rio. That means about 25 percent of this year’s field qualified online.
The numbers get a little fuzzier when we start talking about players who earned their seats through live satellites at either the Rio or one of Harrah’s participating casinos around the world. Officials at the WSOP don’t track the number of players who earned lammers in the round-the-clock satellites that run throughout the WSOP and, because these lammers can be used for any event on the schedule, it’s impossible to tell how many players earned their Main Event entries (or a portion of their entries) at the satellite tables.
After talking with folks such as Nolan Dalla and Ty Stewart, the best guess is that live satellites account for about 15 percent of the Main Event field. Combined with the online qualifiers, that means roughly 40 percent paid something less than $10k to play in the tournament, which seems about right. Still, that means that about 60 percent (roughly 4,400) of the players coughed up $10k each.
Of those players, about 10 percent are true professionals (Lederer, Ferguson, Negreanu, etc.) with bankrolls sufficient enough to easily cover the cost of a $10k buy in. And let’s be generous and say another 10 percent are “known” professionals (either live or online) who are being staked in the event as part of someone’s stable or as part of a deal with one of the online poker sites. That covers the buy ins for another 880 players, leaving us about half the field who bought in on their own dime.
Of this remaining group, let’s say another 10 percent of the field is made up of players who ran deep in one of the preliminary events or in one of the other big poker series around town over the summer and that another 15 percent is comprised of people with enough disposable income (professional gamblers, Wall Streeters, Hollywood folk, tech millionaires, trust-fund types, etc.) who don’t have to think twice about dropping $10 grand on poker tournament. Suddenly, we’re left with just about 25 percent of the field unaccounted for. And it’s this 25 percent I find the most interesting because these are the players that aren’t easily categorizable.
Coming of Age
After talking with veteran WSOP reporters/commentators and Harrah’s staff, three theories have developed to explain where these remaining players came from. The first is that at least part of the group is made up of online players who have cleared out their online accounts because of fears about being able to move money on and off of their favorite sites. With a sudden cash windfall in their pockets, the theory goes, why not take a shot and play at the WSOP? That seems reasonable enough.
As does the second working theory, which states that many of the additional players in the field are newly minted 21-year olds who are taking their first shots at the WSOP. As Nolan Dalla commented, “There’s a new crop of young players every year… it only makes sense that a bunch of them will head to Vegas for the summer.” And, looking at the average age of this year’s November Nine, Dalla seems to be on to something.
The Darvin Moon Effect?
The final theory is, for lack of a better term, being referred to as the Darvin Moon effect. Just like the Moneymaker effect that followed his unlikely win in 2003, some grizzled WSOP vets speculate that Moon’s improbable second-place finish in 2009 was enough to spark a new wave of low-stakes players to take a shot at the big prize in these tough economic times. And, while I agree there’s some merit to this argument, the question I have is where did these people get $10K for a buy-in?
Did the mortgage their houses? Sell their cars? Form a syndicate of un/underemployed friends like the groups of factory workers who occasionally hit big scores in the Mega-Millions lotteries around the country?
No one really knows and, maybe, that’s for the best. If it wasn’t for folks like Moneymaker, Moon, Steve Dannenman and Jerry Yang, the WSOP certainly wouldn’t have grown as big as it has as quickly as it has in the past seven years. These players, rising from the ranks of the great unknown, continually show that poker is that most egalitarian of games where a social worker, accountant or logger can sit down with professional players and still come out ahead. Try doing that on the baseball diamond or the golf course. It’s just not gonna happen.
And in the end, it’s this aspect of the World Series that makes questioning where all of these Main Event players came from a moot point because, the answer is “Who cares just so long as they keep on coming.”
Pokerati contributing editor Jon Katkin is still steaming from a beat he took in a 1/2 cash game during to the Detox Series. Follow him on Twitter @JaKatkin.