What to watch at the 2012 World Series of Poker

2010 champion Jonathan Duhamel, $1 million buy-in tournament among top attractions

The newly designed 2012 World Series of Poker bracelet by Jason of Beverly Hills on Friday, May 25, 2012.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas
Case Keefer

Feeling overwhelmed by the 2012 World Series of Poker, which kicked off with its first open event of the summer Monday, is natural. The 43rd annual WSOP will attract millions of dollars and thousands of players in a combined 61 bracelet events at the Rio over the next six weeks.

“It’s going to be nonstop, 24-hour, seven-days a week poker action,” WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel said on a recent conference call.

With so much going on, it’s difficult to know where to start with following the action. That’s where we come into play. Look below for our list of five tournaments, players and story lines to watch as the world’s most popular card game once again takes over the town.

    • Five tournaments to watch

      $10,000 buy-in Main Event

      July 7-July 16

      Poker’s world championship will always serve the summer’s marquee event. The WSOP has effectively cut down how long it will take to get down to a final table of nine players, who will reconvene in October to crown a winner, this year with a few subtle changes. The Main Event will stage only three starting days instead of the usual four and all players will converge on Day Two. The WSOP also eliminated the daylong break in the middle of the tournament.

      $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop

      July 1-July 3

      Thirty players have committed to participate in the most expensive tournament in poker history. The field is a combination of billionaire businessmen , including Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin and real estate magnate Andy Beal, and the world’s most well known poker players like Daniel Negreanu and Tom Dwan. Cirque du Soliel founder Guy Laliberte will also play, and a portion of the pool will be donated to his One Drop charity. The first-place prize is expected to pay out $12.2 million.

      $50,000 buy-in Poker Player’s Championship

      June 24-June 28

      It was widely assumed that the Poker Player’s Championship would always come in as the second-most prestigious event of the summer behind the Main Event. A $1 million buy-in tournament has a way of changing things. But with a combination of eight poker variations, the Poker Player’s Championship remains the most complete test of competitors’ skill sets. The tournament also lost a bit of luster when ESPN announced it would not televise the final table this year.

      $5,000 buy-in No-limit hold’em Mixed Max

      May 31-June 3

      The first major event is the sixth tournament on the schedule. It’s an all-new game for Las Vegas after the WSOP debuted the event at its European series last year. The tournament starts with nine players per table and decreases from there. Six-handed play commences on the second day until the final 32 players are bracketed by their chip count to square off heads-up.

      $10,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha Championship

      June 21-June 23

      Behind no-limit hold ’em, pot-limit Omaha has become the second most popular poker variant in recent years. This event annually attracts one of the most stacked fields of professionals. A notable player usually prevails as evidenced by mainstays Ben Lamb, Daniel Alaei and Robert Mizrachi each triumphing within the last five years.

    • Five players to watch

      Pius Heinz

      A surefire way for a player to put a target on his back is to win the Main Event. Opponents go out of their way to take shots at a world champion, especially in the first year he’s defending the title. It’s a pressure that 2009 champion Joe Cada and 2010 champion Jonathan Duhamel struggled with the past two years at the WSOP. Cada infamously failed to cash in a single event at the 2010 WSOP. Duhamel hardly did any better, making the money in only two tournaments in 2011. The 23-year old Heinz looks to break the negative streak this summer.

      Jonathan Duhamel

      This year, it’s as worthwhile to keep an eye on the 2010 Main Event winner as the 2011 champion. Duhamel is on a tear on the worldwide poker circuit in 2012. He’s made more than $1.3 million in tournaments this year, according to the Hendon Mob poker database, and leads the esteemed Bluff Player of the Year race through five months.

      Phil Ivey

      The 2011 WSOP just didn’t feel right without Ivey’s piercing stare striking fear into opponents. Although there’s no official word yet, Ivey is expected to return to the felt at the Rio this summer. Given his absence from the tournament scene for most of last year, there’s some debate regarding whether he’s still the top player in the world. The 36-year old Ivey already owns eight WSOP bracelets, so Phil Hellmuth’s record of 11 remains within his reach.

      Marvin Rettenmaier

      Aside from World Series of Poker tournaments, the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Championship is the biggest event of the year. Rettenmaier, a German pro, won this year’s WPT Championship for $1.2 million at the Bellagio early Sunday morning. Rettenmaier could be due for a breakthrough at the WSOP. He’s played the series the last two years with decent but not outstanding results, cashing for $170,447 with one final table.

      Viktor Blom

      Every year at the WSOP, a few 21-year old Internet poker phenoms make their Las Vegas debuts to much fanfare. Blom’s legend puts some of the past names to shame. The Swedish pro has captivated the poker community for the last few years under the online name “Isildur1”. A high-stakes cash game player, Blom has swapped millions in a single night on multiple occasions.

    • Five storylines to watch

      Registration numbers

      Attendance is always a talking point at the WSOP. The series is on quite a run, as its set new registration records in each of the last four years. The combined total prize pool at the 2011 WSOP came in at $192 million with 75,672 participants. Could 2012 bring the rare downturn?

      Best players without a bracelet

      This is the annual list players don’t want to see themselves on. Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius, Shawn Buchanan and Andy Bloch are among the most famous cardplayers in the world with no WSOP bracelet to show for it. Those players have combined for six second-place finishes at the WSOP. Look for at least one of them to wear gold in 2012.

      Winning multiple bracelets in the same year

      It’s hard enough to win one World Series of Poker tournament, but two in the same year is seen as next to impossible. Nonetheless, at least one multiple bracelet winner has emerged in six of the past seven summers at the Rio with 2007 as the outlier. Brian Rast pulled off the feat last year, winning the Poker Player’s Championship and a pot-limit hold’em tournament. Phil Ivey and Jeff Lisandro are the only players to ever win three bracelets at the same series in 2002 and 2009, respectively.

      Side games

      The 480 tables set up in the Rio convention space aren’t only for tournaments. Half of the pavilion area turns into the city’s largest poker room with daily tournaments and cash games of all varieties. Take a stroll around the room to see jaw-dropping amounts of money passed across the table. Or sit down at a low-stakes game to play against notoriously weak players happy to gamble in the same room they watch on ESPN.


      It will be interesting to see whether the WSOP’s repeal of celebration and table talk rules will make for a more boisterous environment during tournament play. Players are asked to keep their talk under control, but it won’t take much to make a difference from the “church”-like atmosphere of the past few years. Either way, more table talk and celebrations should enhance the televised product.


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