We are now more than a full week into the World Series of Poker’s return to live-action. It’s hard to generalize with so many different events going on, often concurrently. But the general feel to this point is that the WSOP, as most people in the poker world know it, is back and better than ever.
WSOP Heating Up
Remember that, in 2020, the WSOP was relegated to pretty much an online-only series of tournaments. Only a last-ditch effort to play a Main Event live table in person broke that up. Even when the 2021 event was scheduled, there were still some doubts as to whether organizers could pull it off.
There have been some hitches and hiccups here and there, for sure, and we’ll mention some of that later in this article. But there is a sense that the bigger names in the game have been more involved in some of the early events. It makes it seem a bit more legitimate somehow.
Obviously, there is still a long way to go before we get to the Main Event, with many events from now to then. But the bottom line is that the World Series of Poker is looking a lot more like the event we all know and love. Read on to see some of the highlights from the past week.
Koon Comes Through
In many ways, a World Series of Poker bracelet is the poker equivalent of a major championship in tennis and golf. Until you win one, it can seem like an empty spot on your career record, no matter what else you’ve accomplished in the game. And Jason Koon could relate.
Coming into this year’s WSOP, Koon was one of the top 10 among all-time tournament money winners. There have been plenty of big victories in his rearview to get him to that point. But he was still without that elusive WSOP gold bracelet, which proves how tricky they can be to corral.
A few close earlier in this year’s WSOP probably had Koon feeling like he’d have to settle for only near-misses once again. Koon finished ninth in a live event while simultaneously nabbing a sixth in an online WSOP event. Great multitasking and a good chunk of change but still no bracelet.
Earlier this week, Koon was at it again, ponying up a $25,000 buy-in for a heads-up tournament. He started mowing his way through the field one by one, bringing the gold bracelet much closer into reach. He ended up head-to-head with Gabriel Szabo of Hungary, certainly no slouch in the head-to-head department.
In a see-saw battle, a hand where the ace-queen of Koon improved to a pair of queens over Szabo’s ace-jack really turned the match in the former’s favor. A few hands later, he was able to close out Szabo and pick up the $243,981 winner’s share of the purse.
But more important than that, Koon picked up his first bracelet from the WSOP. Considering it was his 50th cash in a WSOP event, you could say that he was long overdue. Don’t be surprised if the floodgates open now that he has that first one out of the way and many more WSOP wins come his way.
Silver Comes Up Just Short of Gold
The World Series of Poker is set up in a way that anybody can compete in it as long as they are willing to pony up the buy-in. That means that the pros that you know can bump heads with unknowns along the way. And occasionally, those unknowns are actually known very well, just not for poker.
It’s not unusual to see celebrities competing for bracelets, but most of them don’t make it very far. Yet in a limit Hold’em event earlier this week with a $10,000 buy-in, one of the celebrities did some real damage and was threatening to win the tourney. And it was a celebrity perhaps better-equipped than most to win this game.
That was Nate Silver, a man who has made his name making predictions based on statistical information. The founder of the website FiveThirtyEight.com and a fixture on TV election coverage, Silver is known for making predictions, on sports, politics, and much more, based on the data.
Yet Silver found himself in a long stretch of three-handed play after everyone else had been eliminated, battling three-time bracelet winner John Monnette and Eric Kurtzman. Kurtzman, like Silver, was also inexperienced in the world of big-time tournament poker.
Silver then went back-and-forth with Monnette and held the chip lead for a bigger percentage of heads-up play than his foe. But Monnette, who hadn’t won a bracelet since 2012, eventually wore the challenger down before putting him away for a $245,680.
Normally, the return of a top player like Monnette to prominence after a long slump would be the story here. But Silver’s deep run and near-miss ended up grabbing the spotlight. All other famous hobbyists now have a pretty high standard to meet in terms of WSOP performance.
Hellmuth Continues to Impress
Although he hasn’t been able to corral his 16th World Series of Poker bracelet to add to his record, Phil Hellmuth’s start to this year’s World Series of Poker can’t be considered anything but a ringing success. And what’s been surprising has been the events he’s been using to cash so far this year.
Last week, we told you in this column about the sixth-place finish in a HORSE tournament, showing his ability to shift among many different disciplines. This past week he was at it again, taking part in a $10,000 buy-in Omaha Hi-Lo 8s or Better event.
In that event, it was Ari Engel who eventually prevailed, outlasting Zachary Millman in a grueling head-to-head battle. But Hellmuth made his second final table of the 2021 WSOP in the process, cashing in over $80,000 for his eventual fifth-place finish.
Most casual poker fans know Hellmuth for his Texas Hold’em play. After all, he was one of the most notable players in the poker television boom of the early 2000s. Part of that was his excellent play, and part of it was his love-it-or-hate-it personality as well.
But Hellmuth is a guy who wants to be known as the GOAT in the poker world. And part of achieving that is being good at events other than Hold’em. That’s the game that TV loves and the one that gets the most attention. But the greats of poker history played a wide smorgasbord of poker variations.
What Hellmuth has shown so far this year at the 2021 WSOP is that can wield his skills all across the poker spectrum. We’ll see if that ends up in any more bracelets before this year’s WSOP is over. But we can say for sure that Hellmuth is as much of a factor as he has ever been on the game’s biggest stages, no matter the discipline.
As we hinted above, not everything has gone smoothly to this point in the 2021 WSOP. One of the issues has been a shortage of qualified dealers. That has caused Caesars Entertainment, who owns the Rio where the WSOP is held, to shift dealers from two of their other properties.
As a result, those other two properties, Bally’s and the Flamingo have been forced to close their poker rooms while the WSOP is taking place. The idea was to take that hit in order to ensure smooth action in the most famous poker tournament in the world.
But that still has led to some inexperienced dealers in charge of tables at WSOP events. Normally, you could get away with that with perhaps just some slightly annoyed players. But things got a bit dicey in an event earlier this week, in which a serious poker no-no was almost permitted by the dealer in charge.
The dealer, according to social media reports, asked the other players if that was okay with them. Needless to say, it was not, and the dealer than backtracked to see if the players wanted the chips split among them, another wrong answer.
Examples like this are obviously extreme and, we’re assuming, are not par for the course. Still, it’s not the kind of thing that will breed confidence in other players, especially as the stakes continues to rise. It’s certainly something that bears watching going forward the next few weeks.
Keep Up to Date With the Latest Poker News and Tips
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