50 Burning Questions 50 Days from the Start of the 50th Anniversary WSOP

21 min read

We are officially 50 days from the start of the first bracelet event at the 50th annual WSOP. It’s sure to be another exciting summer full of big pots, massive scores, cruel bad beats, and Sin City shenanigans. But there are some unanswered questions about the potential storylines heading into the 2019 World Series of Poker.

2019 WSOP poker
The 50th running of the WSOP is only 50 days away. (Image: WSOP)

Who will shine brightest on the biggest stage? Will it be another record-setting summer for poker’s most prestigious series? We have the same questions as you. And also the answers to those questions.

Likely Buzz and Potential Storylines

There is so much to look forward to each year at the World Series of Poker, and this year is no different. As the summer progresses, we’ll be looking closely at these 10 intriguing story lines.

Phil Hellmuth WSOP poker
Phil Hellmuth can still dodge bullets, baby, but can his brand of “white magic” shut down ICM and GTO? (Image: wsop.com)

1. Will improved WSOP structures in lower buy-in events hurt other Las Vegas card rooms?

The WSOP isn’t the only poker series in Las Vegas each summer. Many other casinos such as Wynn and Golden Nugget host their own series with mostly low to mid-stakes events. The lure of the non-WSOP tournaments is they typically offer better structures than the cheap WSOP events. But this year the WSOP is increasing the starting stacks for those events which could shrink the prize pools elsewhere.

2. Will pushy kiosk sales people continue their aggressive sales tactics?

Each year, Caesars leases kiosks to retail businesses inside the Rio Convention Center. In recent years, a company that sells cell phone accessories and headphones has used some pushy sales tactics that have annoyed many poker players. Podcaster Joe Ingram last year pleaded with the WSOP to have these sales people removed but to no avail.

3. How many entrants will the Big 50 get?

The $500 buy-in Big 50, which begins on May 30, replaces the Colossus as the early cheap bracelet event. The Colossus has averaged over 18,000 participants in four years but slipped to just 13,000 in 2018. Has the novelty of these inexpensive WSOP events worn off or will the Big 50 attract a massive field? We’ll find out in a couple months.

4. Does talk of the WSOP moving to another venue intensify?

Many poker players want to see the WSOP move elsewhere. Some feel the Rio is old and outdated and would like to compete in a newer venue. There’s talk around Vegas of the series eventually moving to the new convention center that will be built around Caesars on the Strip. But at this point it’s nothing more than an internet rumor.

5. Will nine WSOP.com bracelet events water down the Series?

WSOP.com is set to host nine online bracelet events this summer. Some poker fans aren’t happy that so many online events will award gold bracelets. The WSOP has always been a live poker series but this year’s poker extravaganza will be a bit different. And, to some, it may seem weird.

6. Can the Main Event possibly top last year’s massive field?

The 2018 Main Event had 7,874 entries, second most in the world championship event’s 49-year history. It was a great moment for poker as it showed the game certainly isn’t dying. But it will be tough for the 2019 Main Event to surpass last year’s attendance performance.

7. Will Chris Ferguson offer a real apology?

Chris Ferguson returned to the WSOP in 2016 after a five-year hiatus. But he still has yet to offer a sincere apology and an explanation for what went down at Full Tilt Poker in 2011. Last year, he posted a short video clip which included a half-hearted apology, but without any admittance of guilt or acceptance of responsibility. That “apology” didn’t go over well with the poker community. It’s been eight years now and poker fans want answers. Maybe this will be the year? Don’t hold your breath.

8. Will ladies be well-represented?

It’s no secret poker is dominated by men in terms of participation, but not necessarily skill. At the WSOP in recent years, men have represented at least 95 percent of the field in most tournaments. For the game to grow, it needs a higher female turnout, especially at the biggest poker series in the world.

9. Is a 16th bracelet in store for Phil Hellmuth?

The doubters keep saying the game has passed him by but Phil Hellmuth continues winning tournaments. Last year, he shipped bracelet 15 in a $5,000 no-limit hold’em event. He now has five more WSOP titles than anyone else in history. But he’ll never get credit from many poker fans, partially because of his many childish meltdowns.

10. Who will have a breakout summer?

Every year, one or two players go from unknown to international poker star at the WSOP. One of those individuals is usually the Main Event champion. But many others have come out of nowhere to crush it in Las Vegas over the summer. Who will be that lucky and skilled player this year?

The Players

Thousands of poker pros, recreational players, high rollers, degenerates, and hometown home game heroes pack the Rio Convention Center each summer.

Tom Dwan poker WSOP
Tom Dwan’s showing up at the Rio this summer would delight the poker community. (Image: thewealthrecord.com)

11. Will Phil Ivey grace us with his presence? 

After losing a $10 million lawsuit to MGM’s Atlantic City partner casino Borgata, and then subsequently having his name removed from the famous Ivey’s Room at the MGM-owned Aria in Las Vegas, it’s unclear if the poker legend has it in him to step foot in a Las Vegas casino, especially since a Clark County Judge gave Borgata a right to seize his Nevada assets.

12. How will “Magic” John Cynn perform as defending world champion?

A year ago at this time, John Cynn was just another Average Joe poker player. This summer, he’ll have a target on his back. Poker players, especially the recreational variety, love to bluff a former world champion. It makes for a cool story to tell your buddies at the local watering hole.

13. What does Joe Cada have in store for an encore?

As if winning the 2009 Main Event wasn’t enough, Joe Cada almost won it again last year. He was eliminated in fifth place for $2,150,000, an incredible performance. A few days later, he capped off his 2018 WSOP with a title in the $1,500 Closer for $612,886. Oh, and all this was less than two months after winning his first bracelet of the summer ($3,000 No Limit Hold’em Shootout for $226,218). It might be impossible to top that accomplishment in 2019 but he’s Joe Cada, so we wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

14. Who will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame?

Two individuals will be selected for the 2019 Poker Hall of Fame class this summer. And it’s really anyone’s guess which poker greats will get the nod. Antonio Esfandiari seems like an obvious choice now that he’s 40-years-old, making him eligible. Other names that haven’t received enough votes in years past include Chris Moneymaker, Mike Matusow, and “Miami” John Cernuto.

15. Will Daniel Negreanu win his first bracelet since 2013?

It’s almost hard to believe Kid Poker hasn’t won a bracelet in six years. He rarely takes a day off during the series. And the PokerStars pro has 39 cashes since he won his last piece of jewelry. We know many poker players don’t like to use the phrase “he’s due,” but he’s due.

16. Is Dan Smith poised to finally win his first bracelet?

If there’s a “best player to have never won a WSOP bracelet” poll, we’re voting for Dan Smith. With over $27.7 million in live tournament earnings and 31 WSOP cashes, he’s as skilled as they come. But despite having finished in the top three seven times at the World Series of Poker, a gold bracelet has somehow escaped his wrists. That’s going to end this year. The Magic 8 ball says so and it’s been correct 99.9% of the time.*

*Statistic might be slightly exaggerated.

17. Does a healthier Mike Matusow have a big summer planned?

Mike Matusow is still competitive in tournament poker, although he’s slipped a bit since his earlier days. But, like Negreanu, he doesn’t have a WSOP title since 2013 when he won his fourth. Knee and back problems may have hampered his performance in recent years but he appears to be getting healthier and maybe, just maybe, bracelet number five is on the horizon this summer.

18. Can anyone track down Tom Dwan and force him to enter some WSOP events?

The answer to this is most likely no. But that won’t stop us from wishing the online poker legend will get back into the mix at the Rio. It’s been a few years since “durrrr” last competed in a WSOP event, and the series would be much more entertaining with him in action.

19. Will Doug Polk’s passion for poker return?

Don’t count on it, but we’ve seen stranger things happen, like Jamie Gold bluffing his way to a Main Event title. Getting Polk to the Rio for something other than to troll Daniel Negreanu might require someone to egg him on. Perhaps, a “Polk quit poker because he can’t win anymore” post from D-Negs would do the trick? TK End with a joke about maybe if he wins a Global Poker Award (link to that story) he’ll be back. TK

20. Can Shaun Deeb repeat as Player of the Year?

It won’t be easy for Shaun Deeb to match his 2018 WSOP performance. After all, he won Player of the Year and two bracelets, including the $25,000 Pot Limit Omaha High Roller for a whopping $1.4 million. If Deeb considers anything less than what he accomplished last year a failure, he probably won’t be satisfied with his results this coming summer.

Drama, Drama, Drama

Every year there’s something happening on and off the table — usually off — that has poker players on and off social media voicing strong opinions and unfriending each other on Facebook. Though it’s impossible to know in advance, here are the questions that have us thinking about what kind of controversy we can we expect in 2019.

Howard Lederer WSOP poker
Imagine if Howard Lederer were to show up wearing a Full Tilt hat to the 2019 WSOP… (Image: pokervip.com)

21. Will blacklisted Full Tilt Poker duo of Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer cause a stir?

We’ll likely see Ferguson in competition this summer but Lederer is a different story. He briefly re-appeared along with Ferguson in 2016 and then again in 2017, but was a no-show last year. He hasn’t been spotted in Las Vegas poker rooms recently either. But it sure would be interesting to see the once revered poker pros pose for a picture in Full Tilt gear. Odds of that happening, however? Exactly zero percent.

22. How many pointless Twitter feuds must we endure?

The poker community is a wonderful collection of people from all walks of life. But each summer, the drama on Poker Twitter heats up, especially late in the series. While we can’t predict exactly what will cause the Poker Twitter drama this year, we know the social media feuds will be plentiful.

23. Does Doug Polk have another troll job for Negreanu in store?

Last year, Polk purchased a billboard outside the Rio which read, “MoreRakeIsBetter.com,” mocking Daniel Negreanu’s claim that cash games on PokerStars are better with higher rake. Doug likely won’t compete in many events, if any, but expect to see his presence felt at the WSOP anyway.

24. Who will be snubbed by the Poker Hall of Fame?

Only two players are selected to each Poker Hall of Fame class. That means it’s impossible to make everyone happy. And because of that, the poker community will most certainly throw a fit over a few names being left out. Matt Savage and Chris Moneymaker are names that are unlikely to get in but have supporters who believe they’re deserving.

25. Who gets the money if and when Phil Ivey cashes?

As we already mentioned, we don’t know if Ivey will even compete at the 2019 WSOP. From a fan’s perspective, it sure would be nice to see arguably the best poker player ever at the Rio. But let’s say he does play and scores a few big cashes. Will Borgata attempt to force Caesars to ship them his winnings? It could get dicey.

26. What if James Woods ends up at a table with Daniel Negreanu?

Last year, Woods and Negreanu got into it on Twitter over their opposing political views. It’s no secret the retired actor is a staunch Donald Trump supporter and conservative while D-Negs despises the president. They both flung harsh insults at each other in a vile Twitter feud. Things could get ugly if they end up seated at the same table.

27. Will New Jersey residents be allowed to compete in online bracelet events?

Following a recent DOJ reversal on a previous opinion related to the Wire Act, it’s unclear what the future holds for online poker shared liquidity between separate states. Currently, WSOP.com is available in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey on one platform. But if the courts agree with the DOJ, shared player pools will be eliminated and only those in Nevada will be allowed to compete in the online bracelet events.

28. How will players react to having so many online bracelet events?

We’ve already seen some grumbling from poker fans on social media about the WSOP hosting nine online bracelet events in 2019. But once the series kicks off and WSOP.com start receiving bracelets, expect some poker players, especially the live tournament grinders, to complain about how the WSOP should only be a live series.

29. What’s the over/under on number of times poker players complain about the Rio?

The Rio has hosted the WSOP since 2005 after the series moved from Binion’s. In the earlier years, few complained about the venue. But over the past few years, many poker players have expressed their distaste for the casino. They feel the Rio is getting old and dingy and needs an overhaul. Or, better yet, the WSOP needs a new home.

30. Will MAGA-hat wearers put anti-Trump poker players on tilt?

Last year, Loren Klein made headlines for wearing a MAGA hat at the $10,000 PLO final table. That caused liberals within the poker community to express anger towards him. The vitriol increased when Klein shipped the bracelet for $1 million. Expect to see at least a few MAGA hats around the Rio this summer, and also expect to hear some complaining from the anti-Trump crowd.

Vegas Lifestyle

The World Series of Poker is about more than just poker. Las Vegas is one of the hottest party destinations in the world. And when you have thousands of poker players, many of whom are single and under 30 or still act like they’re under 30, all living near the Vegas Strip for the summer, you can expect some regrettable behavior.

Las Vegas party
Poker, strip clubs, booze, and gambling can make for a fun summer in Las Vegas — for some maybe too much fun. (Image: laepiclasvegas.com)

31. Where are the best places for poker players to stay for the summer?

If you’re coming to Las Vegas this summer to play poker, it’s best to stay as close to the Strip as possible. The Rio is but a two-minute drive from the Strip. Check Craigslist or social media sites to find homeowners renting out a property to poker players for the summer. You’ll find some decent deals if you search around, and landlords familiar with the WSOP schedule. There are Air BnBs in Las Vegas, too, but do note that a lot of communities in town don’t allow them.

32. What’s a good celebratory dinner spot?

If you ship a WSOP event, the first thing you’ll probably want to do is celebrate with a nice steak dinner. Our favorite steakhouses include Gallagher’s at New York New York, THE Steak House at Circus Circus, Golden Steer Steakhouse just west of the north end of the Strip, and Delmonico at Venetian.

33. Where are the best cash games during WSOP?

Many poker players come to Las Vegas each summer to play cash games and avoid tournaments. Card rooms in Sin City are packed during the WSOP, so expect to wait a while for a seat. Make sure you download the Bravo app to check on wait lists and always call ahead to get on the list so you aren’t stuck twiddling your thumbs for two hours at the casino. The juiciest cash games during the summer are at the Rio, Wynn, Bellagio, Aria, and Caesars Palace.

34. What are the best spots to blow off some steam after a rough day on the felt?

After your aces get cracked, sulking in your misery is pointless. Go have a few drinks or hit up the strip club instead and forget about those nasty bad beats. The VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub atop the Rio is a great place to kick back after a tough session. If you want to get away from the Rio, and who could blame you, there are dozens of strip clubs and nightclubs within a short drive just behind the Strip.

35. Is Las Vegas as wild and crazy as it seems?

Yes and no. It all depends on what you make of your experience in Sin City. If you are disciplined and focused on your poker game, you’ll avoid the debauchery. Many poker players who come to town get caught up in the party lifestyle so much so that it affects their game. You can always get a place in Summerlin or in the southwest side of town where it’s quieter and you won’t be as tempted to go out drinking when you should be resting up for your next tournament.

36. Can you walk to the Strip from the Rio?

Technically you can, but people who have crossed the concrete bridge over the I-15 by foot swear it’s an experience to remember, but one you don’t want to soon have again. If you’re staying on the Strip and can’t spring for an Uber or rental car, you better be in shape and not have any health conditions. It’s really hot in Las Vegas over the summer and the walk is longer than it appears. The Rio used to have a free shuttle to a couple of Strip hotels but cancelled that service about a year ago.

37. Can you get around town without a car?

Public transportation in Las Vegas isn’t as plentiful as in New York City or Chicago. But it’s easy to get a rideshare, and the bus system is also fairly reliable. Depending on where you’re staying, you shouldn’t have a problem taking the bus to the Rio, although the ride might be lengthy if you’re staying far away from the area. There are bus drop offs right outside the Rio, convenient for those don’t drive.

38. Where are the best non-WSOP tournaments in Vegas?

While the WSOP tournaments have more prestige than anywhere else, there are plenty of great events all over town throughout the summer. Low and mid-stakes grinders flock to casinos such as Golden Nugget, Wynn, Aria, and Venetian during the series for some profitable tournaments.

39. What is traffic like in Las Vegas?

The city of Las Vegas recently announced a three-year major road construction plan on the Strip beginning in June. That’s bound to cause some additional traffic delays especially for those heading to the Rio for early-morning tournaments or leaving the WSOP in the wee hours of the morning. But the road construction shouldn’t cause delays away from the Strip area.

40. What’s the parking situation at the Rio and on the Strip?

Say what you want about the dinginess of the Rio but the parking situation is unbeatable. There is a massive parking lot right outside the convention center and it’s always free even if you aren’t staying at the hotel. On the Strip, parking fees can be quite expensive. You’ll pay a premium at most hotels unless you are a regular gambler at the casino. Tropicana, The Strat (formerly Stratosphere), and Circus Circus still offer free parking, however.

The Tournaments

The 50th annual World Series of Poker has a record 89 bracelet events in store. It all begins May 29 with the $500 Casino Employees Event and $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty. There are plenty of exciting tournaments on the schedule right up until the Main Event final day on July 16.

John Cynn WSOP Main Event
John Cynn, 2018 WSOP Main Event champion, showing the look of someone who just won $8.8 million. (Image: wsop.com)

41. Will anyone even care about the Colossus?

Despite the addition of the $500 Big 50 early in the series, the Colossus is still around. But the buy-in has dropped from $565 to $400 and it doesn’t begin until June 26. Last year’s disappointing tournament – just over 13,000 – may have forced the WSOP to bump this event to the middle of the series where it will likely get less attention.

42. Why so many online bracelet events?

It might seem strange to some that a live poker series is featuring nine online bracelet events. But there is a reason for that. Seth Palansky, VP of Corporate Communication for Caesars Entertainment, told CardsChat News that the decision to add so many online events was based on “feedback and criticism” from the players. He said that offering so many of these type of tournaments will help the WSOP.com events stand out.

43. Is the $1 Million Big One for One Drop coming back in 2019?

No, and you also won’t find the $111,000 One Drop High Roller which was previously hosted in the non-Big One for One Drop years. However, the $1,111 Little One Drop tournament is back. That event kicks off July 6, which is Day Two of the Main Event. So, you can expect to find a few Main Event bust-outs at your Little One Drop table.

44. What’s the coolest new bracelet event?

The $1,000 Mini Main Event starts on July 1 and lasts two days leading up to the real Main Event. Players start with 60,000 in chips and play 30-minute blind levels. It should attract a large field with many players hoping to win enough to buy into the Main Event.

45. What’s the most important non-Main Event tournament on the schedule?

This is a subjective question but it’s hard to argue the answer isn’t the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. The PPC, a five-day event that begins June 24, is a competition of numerous poker games. To win this one, you have to be skilled in multiple poker variants. Michael Mizrachi is a legend in this event. He won it last year for the third time and also finished fourth in 2016.

46. What are the best events for under $2,000?

For just $500, you can enter the inaugural Big 50, a $5 million guaranteed tournament that begins May 30. First place will take home at least $1 million, enough to enter this tournament every summer for 2,000 years. The $1,500 Millionaire Maker – June 7 – has become one of the most popular annual events and also guarantees at least $1 million to the winner.

47. Which tournament will attract the largest field?

The answer to this one is almost certainly the Big 50. Any $500 buy-in tournament that guarantees a $5 million prize pool is going to attract a massive field. Expect at least 10,000 entries and more likely closer to 15,000, if not more. It’s going to be an exciting start to the 50th World Series of Poker. But also a hectic one. We might suggest bringing a

48. How many events will Daniel Negreanu enter?

Negreanu always plays a grueling WSOP schedule. And he’s already said he plans to grind even harder this summer and that includes entering the cheap tournaments such as the Big 50. There are 89 bracelet events on the schedule, so we’ll set the over/under at 56.5 unique buy-ins for Kid Poker. And we’re heavily leaning towards betting the over.

49. What’s the top charitable event?

Event #71, $500 Salute to Warriors on July 2 will raise money for a great cause. Proceeds, $40 from each entry, go to the USO and other veterans organizations. This tournament is a win-win for everyone, even those who don’t cash. It’s inexpensive compared to most poker tournaments and your buy-in will help support military veterans. Plus, you might win a large sum of cash in the process.

50. What’s the biggest change to the 2019 WSOP?

One of the main complaints players had in the past was about unfavorable blind structures in lower buy-in events. In tournaments such as the $565 Colossus (now $400), players started with just 5,000 chips. That doesn’t give you much play. But at this year’s WSOP, the advantage will return to the pros and skilled players as starting stacks are going up across all events, even the Main Event, which is increasing from 50,000 chips to 60,000. In $1,500 tournaments such as the Milly Maker, players will start with 25,000, a huge difference compared to the 7,500 opening stack size in years past.


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