Walking through the hallways of the Rio Convention Center during the WSOP is quite an experience. On a good day, you might hear an obnoxious bad beat story that is probably only half true, get harassed by a kiosk retail salesperson, spot a celebrity, and catch Phil Hellmuth signing autographs, all within seconds upon entering the summertime poker sanctuary.
The World Series of Poker brings out a more diverse group of people than an Oakland Raiders football game. And that’s part of what makes the WSOP the greatest poker event in the world.
Young, middle-aged, elderly, men, women, Matusow’s, locals, tourists, and future world champions, are among the many faces you’ll see at the 2019 World Series of Poker.
1. Soon-To-Be-Rich Players
Mixed in that crowd of thousands inside the convention center on any given day this summer are a few individuals who don’t know it but are days or weeks away from striking it rich. The lure of the WSOP is that everyone in attendance is a heater away from going from rags to riches. Somewhere hidden in those hallways is the next Chris Moneymaker or Scott Blumstein.
2. Bad Beat Storytellers
Everyone loves to hear a bad beat story. And by “everyone,” I mean nobody. Yet, that won’t stop Joe Poker Player from seeking anyone willing to listen to his story in the halls at the Rio immediately after suffering a bad beat. The frustrating part of these obnoxious stories, other than the fact the storyteller always acts like they are the only one who takes bad beats, is that they are usually slightly fabricated. You just know that half the time, the complainer is leaving out a major detail about how the bad beat could have been avoided.
3. Table Captains
You all know what I’m talking about here. Every poker table has that one player who seems to think they are also the dealer and floor manager. We call these individuals “table captains.” Table Captain is always first to announce the size of an all-in bet in a hand they aren’t even in. And when a controversy arises, never fear, Table Captain is there to make a ruling, as if their opinion matters.
4. Retired Celebrities
When movie producers delete your number because you’ve posted one too many anti-Muslim memes on social media, retiring to play poker might be your best option. Just ask James Woods. The co-star of the hit 1990s movie “Casino” now spends his time in real-life casinos and is a regular each summer at the World Series of Poker. If you’re a fan of his work, you’ll be glad to know he’s usually willing to sign an autograph or take a selfie.
5. Poker Playing Athletes
Athletes love to compete. That doesn’t change upon retirement. Instead, they seek new ways to get their competitive fix in, such as poker. Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps and former NFL star Richard Seymour are among the athletes who compete at the WSOP.
You’ll be swimming in a sea of fish at the World Series of Poker. That’s especially true for the $1,500 and below events. Sure, the Series brings out the best players in the world. But they only represent a portion of the competitors. Make no mistake, the average WSOP player is no more skilled than what you face at your local card rooms. The yummy seafood buffet at the Rio was, for some unknown reason, removed a few years ago. There’s now an even tastier fish feast inside the convention center during the summer, however.
Poker fish come in all shapes and sizes. But the best way to spot one instantly is to check and see whose belly is popping out of their shirt. If everyone at the table appears to be in decent shape, watch for under-the-gun limpers, players check-raising top-pair into a four-way pot, those who always fold to any bet unless they hit the flop, and Jamie Gold.
7. Dealers From All Around the World
More than 300 poker tables are in operation during much of the day at the Rio during the WSOP. That means Caesars Entertainment has to look outside its own business to find temporary staff. Many poker dealers from other cities come to Las Vegas for the summer. They work hard and aren’t paid what they deserve given the hours and effort they put in. So, please treat them well. That bad beat you suffered wasn’t the dealer’s fault.
8. Probably not Tom Dwan (sad face)
Few would argue poker isn’t a better game when Tom Dwan is around. But we’ll likely have to settle for another durrrr-less summer. The former Full Tilt Poker pro hasn’t competed in any WSOP events for a few years and we don’t foresee that changing in 2019. It’s a shame because he’s such a polarizing and entertaining figure. Maybe someday durrrr will come back into our lives regularly. Until then, we’ll always have those old “Poker After Dark” videos to watch.
Equally depressing side note: Due to legal issues related to his lost civil case versus Atlantic City’s Borgata – an MGM Resorts sister property – we may also not see Phil Ivey at the WSOP this year.
9. Phil Hellmuth
The “Poker Brat” is one-of-a-kind, and thus, deserves his own category. We’ll see Hellmuth regularly next month, usually looking for a camera to put his face in front of, or complaining about a bad beat to someone who doesn’t care. But we all love Phil despite his flaws. Okay, maybe not everyone. Still, he’s one of the most popular poker figures in history and if he extends his bracelet record to 16, it would be great for the game of poker.
10. Drama Queens Seeking Attention
It’s merely a coincidence that I mention drama queens after Phil Hellmuth, I swear. Twitter isn’t the only place where the overly dramatic poker players can find the attention they so desperately seek. It will be tough to avoid drama at the Rio in June and July. Whether it’s Prahlad Friedman accusing players of failing to ante or Doug Polk putting up a billboard outside the casino to mock Daniel Negreanu, if you enjoy childish antics, you’ll be in luck.
11. Costume-Wearing Freaks
Whether it’s Shaun Deeb in drag, Phil Laak dressed as an elderly gentleman, or Phil Hellmuth in a Thor outfit, you’ll certainly spot a few weirdos in costumes at the poker table. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fun-hater. I can appreciate a little goofiness from time to time. But Halloween is my least favorite holiday and I’d like to limit the lameness to October if you all don’t mind. Thanks.
In 2007, Jerry Yang won the Main Event but few poker experts – okay, no poker experts – have ever raved about his play. He simply got lucky at the right time. But he isn’t the only player to have used blind dumb luck to pick up a seven-figure score at the WSOP. While probably 90 percent of all bracelet winners have game, a couple of luckboxes who can, as Phil Hellmuth likes to say, “barely spell P-O-K-E-R,” ship one of those shiny pieces of jewelry.
13. Former Professional Poker Players
One of my favorite things each summer is to search for the pros I used to watch on TV but are no longer relevant or only come out for the WSOP anymore. Players such as Gus Hansen, Erick Lindgren, Chris Ferguson, and Jason Mercier, are non-existent around the poker community most of the year. But you’ll see them at the Rio at least during the Main Event.
14. Low-Stakes Grinders
In the old days, only the big dogs could compete in WSOP events. The buy-ins were too steep for the Average Joe’s. But times have changed for the better and the Series now features numerous events for $1,000 or less. Some say that hurts the prestige of the World Series of Poker. I say it does wonders to grow the game. Give the low-stakes grinders an opportunity to shine on poker’s biggest stage.
15. High Rollers
There are 89 bracelet events this year, a 50-year record, and 19 of them cost $10,000 or more to enter. The WSOP has changed things up a bit in recent years to attract more low and mid-stakes players. But they haven’t forgotten about the high rollers in the process.
16. Online Grinders Transitioning to Live Poker
Making the transition to live poker isn’t always easy. So, you may encounter a few skilled poker pros who forget to do basic things such as posting an ante. They don’t have a computer program to do that for them automatically. Online grinders are often easy to spot. They tend to wear fancy clothing such as sweatpants and flip flops. If you encounter an online grinder at your table and wish to engage in a conversation, talk about your favorite Twitch streamers, and complain about PokerStars rake so you’ll be easily relatable.
17. People Who Need to Check their Privilege
Will Kassouf made a deep run – 17th place – in the 2016 Main Event. But he ruffled some feathers along the way with his “speech play” and constant tanking. In his final hand, as some would say, he was served justice when he ran kings into Griffin Benger’s aces. An irritated Benger announced to Kassouf, “you need to check your privilege,” whatever that means, during the hand. Both players came out looking like big babies in what was one of the most memorable Main Event hands in recent history.
18. Las Vegas Tourists
Sin City is the place to be in the summertime if you love poker. People from all around the world come to town to catch a glimpse of the action or get in on it. After seven years in this city, I can almost always spot a tourist instantly. Their obvious tells are excessive photo taking, purchasing retail items at the Rio instead of a cheaper local store, and driving five MPH under the speed limit in the left lane.
19. Floor Managers and Tournament Directors
At some point, you will either be involved in a pot where the floor is called or someone at your table is. With hundreds of games running much of the day, everyday, the WSOP staff has its work cut out. Be patient and respect the rulings of those who work tirelessly to ensure tournaments and cash games run smoothly.
20. People from All Walks of Life
The WSOP, like its host country, is a true melting pot. Men, women, senior citizens, Europeans, Asians, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Jews, Christians, Muslims…you name a race, religion, gender, or ethnicity and chances are you’ll find that group of people at the World Series of Poker. And that’s part of what makes this series great.
21. Poker Champions
From Johnny Chan to John Cynn, many former bracelet winners and world champions will be in attendance. That’s another reason the WSOP is so exciting. Average Jane’s from random cities get an opportunity to sit down at a poker table with a poker champion. It’s like getting to play LeBron James one-on-one in basketball or catch a pass from Tom Brady.
22. Poker Media
The WSOP is kind of a big deal, as you may have heard, so the series brings out hundreds of media personnel, including yours truly. We’re easy to spot because we are required to wear badges and, not to trash myself and my peers, but we aren’t exactly the best-dressed group of people.
23. Thrice Married Poker Commentators
With the World Series of Poker on the horizon, that means we’re just days away from repeated
bad ex-wife jokes from ESPN commentator Norman Chad. I can’t wait (sarcasm). All kidding aside, Chad truly is a poker legend who doesn’t get enough credit for what he, along with his TV partner Lon McEachern, have done for the game. If they ever step down or ESPN decides to go in another direction, it will be a sad day for the game. I might even miss those horrible ex-wife jokes. Maybe.
24. Old-School Grinders Looking to Prove They Can Still Hang
Don’t think for one second you’re going to intimidate the likes of Humberto Brenes or T.J. Cloutier with your fancy GTO tricks. The old-school pros might be out-numbered in most WSOP events these days, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still compete. Respect your elders. They are wiser than you think, even the ones who refuse to adapt to modern poker strategy.
25. Hometown Heroes
Every local card room has a couple individuals who absolutely crush it. The WSOP is essentially a collection of all the hometown heroes from all over the world. Many of them, however, come out to Vegas for the summer and discover the going is a bit tougher in Sin City, facing some of the greatest players in the world, than out in Biloxi, Mississippi.
26. WSOP Players Patched Up
Poker sponsorships aren’t as lucrative as they were earlier this century, but many players still wear patches at the WSOP. PokerStars patches up its players such as Daniel Negreanu and Chris Moneymaker. You’ll also find logos of poker training sites like Upswing Poker. And our ambassadors (i.e. Ryan Laplante) will be sporting a CardsChat patch at the tables.
27. Masters of the Min-Cash
To some, winning bracelets is far less important than just cashing. Certain players of whom I won’t mention by name (*cough* Allen Kessler *cough*) have a penchant for min-cashing numerous events. But they play a conservative style that prevents them from rarely, if ever, running deep in tournaments. Once the bubble bursts, they’ll be out the door soon.
28. Gym Rats
The game of poker has changed in recent years, and not just on the felt. Many pros, especially the high rollers, are health conscious and instead of stuffing their faces with greasy burgers and chicken fingers, they chow down on a meal fed by All-American Dave at the poker table. Working out and eating healthy is the name of the game in modern poker.
29. Anti-Gym Rats
Not everyone cares to have Jason Koon’s physique. Some poker players still look like they’ve eaten one too many bacon double cheeseburgers in their time. And, what I have to say to that is, good for them! You’ll never find Greg Raymer on the cover of an ESPN Magazine “The Body” issue, but so what? Dude can still crush it on the felt like it’s 2004. Getting buff isn’t for everyone.
30. The Moral Police
There are individuals within this great poker community who try to bully others on social media. They attack those who don’t see things the way they do or charge high markup on a poker staking package. But from what I’ve learned throughout my life, those who bully and question the integrity of others are usually the ones who are morally bankrupt.
32. The Morally Bankrupt
That’s not to say everyone who judges others is complete scum. But a very small percentage of the WSOP crowd is, unfortunately, to be quite blunt – trash. They’ll try to cheat you instead of winning your money fair and square. Or, they’ll berate you for playing poorly as if they never make mistakes. Just ignore these people. They aren’t worth your attention.
33. Gravy-Trainers Digging for Gold
Millions of dollars will be at stake at the World Series of Poker. A handful of poker players will go on a sick heater and go from living in mommy’s basement to owning their own mansion by August. That’s the beauty of the WSOP. But it also brings out the gold diggers on the rail hoping to get their hands on some of that money without doing anything other than pretending to be best friends with the new poker champion.
34. Poker Fans
Not everyone in attendance at the Rio is there to play. Some merely come to watch the action as a spectator. The fans watching from the rail are important to the continued development of the game. So, be friendly to them and thankful they showed up. Fans are good for the game.
35. Headphone-Wearing GTO Bots
Look, I get it that poker players are there to make money. They feel their job is to collect chips, not to entertain. And that’s all fine and dandy except they’re wrong. If you want the game of poker to grow and you want this to be a long-term profession for you, sitting there silently for hours on end isn’t going to help attract the casual fans to the game. There are fewer recreational players at the tables these days and one of the main reasons for that is the online poker situation in the US. But arguably equally responsible are the dull personalities in poker these days.
36. The Newly Married Daniel Negreanu
Daniel Negreanu is no longer on the market. Less than two weeks prior to the start of the WSOP, Kid Poker grew up and finally got married to former poker reporter Amanda Leatherman. Now that he’s a married man, we’ll see if he’s focused enough on his poker game to win his first bracelet since 2013. I’ve been saying he’s due for the past three years.
37. Local Grinders
Not everyone at the WSOP comes from outside Las Vegas. Thousands of local poker pros make the short drive each day to compete in cash games and tournaments at the Rio. Being a local has its perks when it comes to a long summer of poker. Getting to sleep in your own bed each night is an advantage in this mentally challenging game.
38. The B.S. Storyteller
I already mentioned the annoying bad beat storytellers. But there are some poker players who sure love to tell a whopper at the table. For example, the other day at Aria, a player at my table was telling us all how he “won every game except one” betting on the NCAA Tournament. When I asked how many games he bet, he said, “pretty much all of them.” Of course, that’s impossible to do as there are 67 games.
If he won all but one, he’d be a billionaire right now. Being the sarcastic prick that I am, I responded with, “oh, that’s nothing. I bet 10-grand on every NFL game this year and won them all.” He didn’t like that.
39. Shares too Much Information Guy
There are few things that irritate me more than someone telling me their life story without me asking. Or, the poker player who loves telling everyone he’s “got $1,000 on the Warriors.” I typically don’t engage in conversation with this type of person because I know if I do show interest, it’s basically a green light for them to tell me all their sports bets.
Let me give you some advice. As much as I know you’d love to let everyone at the table know you’re an avid sports bettor, nobody cares what teams you bet on. Literally, nobody. Unless someone asks, “who do you have in the Warriors game,” you don’t have to tell us. It’s cool. We’ll make it through our day just fine without that information.
40. The Not-As-Funny-as-He-Thinks Guy
Don’t you just cringe when someone tells you a lame joke and then they start laughing uncontrollably? Me too. Here’s another piece of advice. If you’re the only one laughing at your joke, the joke either isn’t funny or you’re at a table full of GTO robots. Either way, you aren’t going to make anyone but yourself laugh and should just stop.
41. The Political Know-It-All
Now that just about anyone has access to social media, everyone seems to think they know everything about politics. Their views are right and yours are wrong. Just ask them, they’ll tell you. Everyone is a political pundit these days which is funny because I’ve noticed pretty much nobody knows anything about politics. They confuse biased observations with facts.
Fortunately, most of these know-it-all’s refrain from talking politics at the poker table. But there are a portion of poker players who just don’t have any self-discipline.
Deciding whether or not to play that 2-7 in the small blind when facing a three-bet takes time. You have to consider the possibility that the uber-tight under-the-gun raiser and UTG+1 three-bettor are both bluffing, and thus, should probably take at least three minutes to ponder your move. Actually, no you shouldn’t. Just fold your hand instantly like a normal human being.
43. Friendly, Good-Hearted People
I like to joke around certain poker players. So, you may have assumed I just don’t like people or fun. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is most people you encounter this summer at the World Series of Poker will be interesting and friendly. Ignore the dweebs who try to scam or bully people and make friends with those who are genuinely good folk. Those type of people are easy to find at the Rio.
44. People Who Act Different Than on Social Media
You might think James Woods, for example, is quite a vile human based on his Twitter posts. But you’d be surprised to know he’s actually quite friendly and respectful in real-life. You’re going to discover that some of the Poker Twitter bad boys and bullies are rather pleasant at the poker table. And also some of the ones who make you laugh on social media will disappoint when you meet them.
45. Poker Royalty
I doubt we’ll see Doyle Brunson at the WSOP this year, although I would have said the same last year and he surprised everyone. But I do know that mean other poker legends such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, and Erik Seidel, will compete at the 50th annual World Series of Poker.
46. High Roller Gamblers
The WSOP is such a fabulous event that it brings out the high roller gamblers who don’t normally play poker. They love competition as much as the massive guarantees and prize pools found at the WSOP. Don’t waste your time trying to pick on them when they’re in the blinds. They’re here to gamble and aren’t about to nit it up, which is wonderful when you have a monster hand against them because you know you’ll get paid off.
47. The Floormat
The floormat will let you walk all over them. Unless they have a monster, they’ll gladly let you steal their blinds…over and over again. This is the type of player you want to your left, especially in tournament play. You never have to worry about them three-betting you and it’s easy to bluff them out of a pot to win some valuable chips.
48. The Vegas First-Timer
Hundreds of your fellow poker players at the WSOP will be making their first trip to Sin City. These tourists ask a lot of questions, which is perfectly okay by the way, and appear in awe of all the bright lights. For those who fit into this category, make sure you check out my recent article on Las Vegas travel tips for WSOP first-timers.
49. Those Who Constantly Bash the Rio
“It’s so cold in here” and “this place is such a dump” are two phrases you’ll often hear this summer. While I’m not a huge fan of the Rio myself, I’m not going to spend my summer complaining. I have better things to do, like working and playing poker.
50. The Greatest Poker Players in the World
Oh, sure, a good chunk of the players at any WSOP table will be unskilled. But nearly all of the best players in the world come to Las Vegas each summer to prove their greatness, and win a ton of money. There aren’t any bigger or more prestigious events anywhere around the world than at the World Series of Poker.