If one judges the health of the game of poker by the number of players who enter the $10,000 buy-in World Series of Poker Main Event, then poker is now the healthiest it’s been at any time since political machinations stymied its growth 16 years ago.
The 2022 Main Event attracted 8,663 participants, the second-largest field in the 50-year-plus history of the tournament. That tally falls 110 players shy of the record of 8,773 set in 2006 — the final year before Congress attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act at the 11th hour to unrelated must-pass port security legislation. The act limited access to online poker and ended what had been exponential yearly growth.
The near-record 2022 number represents a promising capper to an equally promising first year on the Las Vegas Strip for the WSOP. The tournament series was held off-Strip at the Rio from 2005-2021 before moving this summer to its new next-door-neighbor co-hosts, Paris and Bally’s.
A look at the 10 largest WSOP Main Events to date:
$10 million to first
The recent innovation to allow players to register until the start of the third level of the second day of play — the sixth day in real time, with four “Day 1” flights and two “Day 2” flights — certainly helped goose the numbers. Here are the 2022 entry numbers by starting flight:
With a total prize pool of $80,782,475, WSOP organizers decided to pay the top 1,300 finishers (15% of the field), with payouts beginning at $15,000 and gradually increasing from there. The top eight finishers this year will all become millionaires (before taxes, anyway):
Two modern champs, two elite female players
Entering Monday’s Day 5, 380 players remained, and while there aren’t as many big names to be found as casual fans might like to see, the top of the leaderboard was certainly loaded with long names. Among the top four in chips: Taylor von Kriegenbergh, Johan Schumacher, and Aaron Mermelstein.
The most noteworthy plotline surrounding the 4.39% of the field left standing (or more accurately, left sitting) was the presence of each of the last two Main Event winners. Argentina’s Damian Salas, who won the COVID-trampled hybrid online-live version in 2020, had 2.355 million chips (equal to 94 big blinds), and defending champ Koray Aldemir of Germany was in the middle of the pack with 1.285 million chips (51 bigs).
They were the only former winners remaining after Chris Moneymaker, Greg Merson, Ryan Riess, and John Cynn all busted on Day 4.
Also of note were two top female players still in the hunt. Loni Hui, a two-time bracelet winner known at the time of her victories as Loni Harwood, had 1.9 million chips, while Gaelle Baumann, who finished 10th in the Main Event in 2012, was somewhat short-stacked at 665,000 chips. Baumann’s run a decade ago is the closest any woman has come to making the final nine since Barbara Enright accomplished that feat and finished fifth in 1995.
The field will whittle from 380 to a final table of nine by the end of play Wednesday, and that final table will stretch across Friday and Saturday before the $10,000,000 winner is crowned.
New Hall of Famer revealed
The WSOP announced Sunday afternoon that the late Layne “Back To Back” Flack is this year’s inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame.
Six-time bracelet winner Flack died in July 2021 at the age of 52. An outgoing personality at the table, Flack earned his nickname by winning consecutive Legends of Poker events in 1999, and then cemented it by winning two WSOP bracelets two weeks apart in 2002 and two more one week apart in ’03.
The 30 living members of the Hall of Fame voted Flack in over a field of nominees that included tournament director Matt Savage, the broadcast duo of Norman Chad and Lon McEachern, PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg, and pro players Josh Arieh, Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Kathy Liebert, Mike Matusow, Michael Mizrachi, and Brian Rast.
Speaking of Matusow, say what you will about “The Mouth,” but you can’t accuse him of playing scared with his Main Event life on the line:
— PokerGO (@PokerGO) July 11, 2022
Photo courtesy of PokerGO