THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER RETURNS
For the last few years, we have published an annual guide to the WSOP in Las Vegas. The notable exception, of course, was last year when our yearly summary morphed into a multi-part, poker-related bulletin on the COVID-19 situation. It’s therefore with great pleasure, for both poker and life reasons, that we can once again publish an article heralding Las Vegas hosting a full live series in 2021.
Poker tournaments are sometimes characterized as “a marathon, not a sprint”. Extending the metaphor, the 52nd WSOP might be described as a chain of triathlons. Kicking off with the traditional Casino Employees event on September 30th, the series consists of 88 bracelet events and doesn’t wind up until November 23rd.
During the poker boom of the mid-2000s, the emphasis at WSOP was on no-limit hold’em freeze-outs. More recently, the schedule has featured a wider collection of games, with the 2021 edition offering 35 bracelet events in poker variants other than NLHE.
The 2021 buy-ins of the open events span a broad range, from a $600 PLO 8-max to a $250k NLHE high-roller. This combination of buy-ins for every budget, poker variants for every taste, and the sheer length of the series suggests that Las Vegas will firmly reassert itself as the world capital of poker. You can find the full event schedule by following this link.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE LAS VEGAS FALL
Our previous guides to the WSOP have emphasized one critical detail for unwary players: the summer heat. I’m writing this article in what ordinarily would be the middle of the WSOP. Daily high temperatures have been consistently hitting the 115F mark, and flights in and out of McCarran have suffered cancellations. (For the science nerds, it turns out the brutal temperatures thin the air, compromising aerodynamic lift and reducing engine power. Add the fact we’re surrounded by mountains, requiring a less efficient runway configuration so the poor planes can better negotiate the terrain, and McCarran simply has to reduce traffic to get everyone in and out safely.)
Talking of aircraft (hangars), the “ballrooms” at Rio have always reminded me of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center. While this may simply reflect the fact I used to work for NASA, a more important consideration for WSOP entrants is that these cavernous halls are notoriously chilly in summer. The traditional poker uniform of headphones and hoodie has often been supplemented by mittens and muffler inside the Rio. Whether the playing areas will be more suitable for meat storage than poker for this series is currently hard to predict.
Having the WSOP later in the year should see weather conditions more reminiscent of the old WSOP spring scheduling, which included the legendary coverage of Stu Ungar’s final Main Event victory taking place outside of Binion’s. However, our dire warnings in previous WSOP guides about dehydration should still be heeded. People get sick here year round due to lack of fluids for the simple reason the humidity is exceptionally low. Las Vegas is in a desert. Death Valley is just down the road, and it wasn’t named for automobile wrecks.
TIPS FOR WSOP DEBUTANTES AND BEAUTILLIONS
With the possible exception of the most curmudgeonly cash-game specialists, playing in a WSOP event is on every poker player’s bucket list. So what’s it like the first time?
The first issue to keep in mind is the sheer scale of the playing areas. Experience in massive rooms, such as those on the US east coast and in LA, provides some preparation, but simply the sound of thousands of poker players all riffling chips simultaneously can be a little overwhelming.
In addition to the noise and seething mass of humanity at every two-hour break, playing days at the Rio can be long, sometimes exceeding twelve hours. With the vast majority of events being multi-day affairs, mental stamina is absolutely critical. Anyone planning on playing a WSOP event would do well to get in some practice with this kind of schedule in casinos closer to home.
In some ways, your first WSOP is a test. You’ll be quizzed on your poker knowledge in somewhat intimidating surroundings. You may get a famous pro you’ve seen on television sat on your left. If you’ve flown to Las Vegas across several time zones, you may be suffering jetlag. So look for any edge you can generate, whether that’s nutritional, adjusting your sleep schedule ahead of time to Las Vegas local, or arriving a few days early so you can acclimatize. At the very least, pop over to the Rio the day before your event just to get a feel for the place.
Like any test, it’s a good idea to study beforehand, without burning out. In terms of Red Chip material, WSOP bracelet-winner Chris “Fox” Wallace has provided an excellent video series in our CORE program that walks you through every stage of a tournament. It’s the perfect preparation for your first appearance at the WSOP.
MORE THAN BRACELETS
While the bracelet events get all the television attention, there’s plenty of other action at the Rio during the series. Daily tournaments are a popular feature with buy-ins as low as around $125 or so. As the name suggests, these are one-day affairs, with the higher-priced and slower-structured ones taking the best part of the day to reach the final table.
If you want a speedier poker fix, single-table tournaments at the Rio are fast-paced and potentially lucrative. Many of these notionally act as satellites to bracelet events, in the sense the prizes are paid out in lammers, but in practice they are the live equivalent of an online SNG, thanks to the willingness of players to buy the lammers at cost.
Following the lead of online poker, the Rio also offers multi-table satellites to events, notably the Main Event. Traditionally these have been split between $500 and $1000 buy-ins. Again there is no compulsion to play the Main Event if you survive in one of these satellites, and consequently you will run into some specialists who play them like survivor tournaments.
Finally, the Rio offers a cash-game area during the WSOP where the action can get fairly wild. In fact big games can break out in virtually any poker room on The Strip and beyond during the series. The only downside is that wait lists can get long, so make sure you have the Bravo Poker Live app on your phone.
SERIES BEYOND THE WSOP
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to claim that the Rio is not the most appealing of Las Vegas casinos. Further, the sheer scale of the operation tends to stress everything from bathrooms to food services, and can create long registration lines.
While playing at least one WSOP event is an understandable goal, it should be noted that there’s no need to play more than one, while still filling your desire for MTT action. All of the hotel-casinos with large poker rooms run parallel series to the WSOP, and typically feature lower juice and far more comfortable chairs. If you enjoy the crowds and bustle of the Rio, you may be perfectly happy setting up shop there. But don’t sleep on the other poker options that Las Vegas has to offer.
And finally, if you are coming out for the 2021 WSOP, everyone at Red Chip wishes you the best of luck.