When you think about the big races in motorsport, the first name that usually comes to mind is General Motors.
On August 23rd, 2019, the 86th edition of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) celebrated its return to Las Vegas with a $500,000 buy-in marathon that spanned 40 days and nights. Over the course of the ‘Grand Prix of Poker’, more than 2,400 players came together to vie for the prestigious World Poker Tour (WPT) title. While there were 14 separate tables running at any given time, the most competitive games saw up to 12 players engaged in high-stakes face-offs that could last for hours.
The 86th anniversary of the iconic game was a fitting climax to the 2019 WSOP, which had previously been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being one of the largest sporting events in the world, postponed or not, the poker world came together for what was arguably the greatest celebration of the game yet.
The World Poker Tour Championship
The centerpiece of the final table was the $500,000 WPT Championship, which was split into seven levels. The top two levels, the Player’s Championship and the Champion’s Circle, awarded a guaranteed $250,000 plus 50,000 in poker chip prizes to the winners. Players who finished in the top five paid an additional $125,000, while the remaining five paid $50,000.
The Professional Ratings
The 2019 WSOP was won by the pros, with three of the top four finishers working for PokerStars. While the likes of Viktor Frankel, Randal ‘Randy’ Reisch and Jason Mercier earned their keep, two others stand out: John Dwan, who finished fourth in the $500,000 WPT Championship, and Chris Tesi, who won the $275,000 No Limit Hold’em (NLH) Tournament. Dwan and Tesi are two of the most experienced poker players in the world, each having amassed a formidable career behind them. Together, they form what’s known as the Tesi/Dwan Duo, and they’re arguably the two best American players of all time. Although it’s always great to see the home nation dominate the world of sports, it’s no secret that Canada also produced a bumper crop of top class players that year, including Daniel Suárez, who became the first non-Bahamian to win the $500,000 main event of the World Championship of Poker (WSOP).
While Canada was well represented at the top table, there were also other nationalities that stood out. The Chinese national team featured several of the game’s best, most notably, Zhou Zi-Yu, who won the $275,000 No Limit Hold’em (NLH) tournament. With a pair of third-place finishes in the biggest tournaments of the year to his name, it’s fair to say that Zhou’s year was a vintage one. Elsewhere, Russia’s Anatoly Kokorin and Denmark’s Anders Blixt both finished in the money, which saw them earn a trip to the World Championship in Las Vegas.
The $500,000 Freeroll
The largest single tournament of the year was undoubtedly the $500,000 Freeroll, where 28,800 players vied for the title of World Freeroll Champion. The tournament, which was sponsored by BetOnline, saw participants compete in seven days of non-stop action, with the winner taking home the ultimate grand prize of $500,000. Like the WPT Championship, the Freeroll also had seven levels, with the top four levels guaranteeing $100,000 and 50,000 in chip prizes. Additionally, the remaining three paid $25,000, with the bottom three paying an entry fee of $15,000 (Level 2), $10,000 (Level 3) and $5,000 (Level 4).
The 2019 WSOP Statistics
Besides the big money wins at the top table, 2019 was a very good year for statistics, with more than 80% of all the hands played being from Omaha or Stud games. This can be attributed to the fact that these are the two most popular games in the world and it’s always great to see them thrive, especially after being overshadowed for so long by PokerStars’ monopoly of the online poker world. For example, the $10,000 Heads Up No Limit Hold’em (HUNL) tournament had an average of 712 players per day, and the $1500 WPT Ladies Invitational had a peak of 1,268 participants, while the $1500 WSOP Ladies Tournament saw an average of only 382 participants per day. In terms of popularity, it’s not even close between the two, with the Heads Up variant more than double that of the ladies’ game. This is largely thanks to Heads Up offering bigger rewards and shorter sessions, which encourages more people to join in.
One interesting stat pertains to the growth of recreational players at the 2019 WSOP. Back in 2018, the WSOP had 3% of their participants registering as recreational players. This figure rose to 16% in 2019. One potential reason for this is that the number of high-stake games increased, and it’s always great to see people having more fun while playing poker. It’s fair to say that 2019 was a vintage year for the poker world, with lots to celebrate. While the game itself may have changed in terms of how it’s played, the spirit of competition and camaraderie remain the same.