Is the WSOP Main Event Overrated?

8 min read

Like almost all poker players, I had a dream: play the Main Event at the World Series of Poker.

Last year, I finally got to make that dream come true. After a third-place finish in the WSOP Tag Team event (playing alongside my father), I decided to try and parlay my win into the big kahuna. The Main.

Dario Sammartino WSOP
This is what we imagine when thinking about the WSOP Main Event. (Image: Katerina Lukina)

Let’s just say things didn’t go as expected.

To the happy surprise of anyone who doesn’t have $10,000 to casually pony up on a poker tournament, I found the experience to be entirely overrated – one of the least fun tournaments I’ve ever entered. And while my experience is admittedly anecdotal, I do believe it’s worth discussing whether or not the Main is all it’s cracked up to be.

Because in my experience, the answer was a clear no.

Stress getting into the Main

My story begins with how I ended up playing the Main Event in the first place. I mentioned I took third place in the Tag Team event, which was obviously a huge win. (There were 641 teams and my father and I each earned $24,756.)

I’d also taken fifth place in the Wynn Fall Classic Ladies Event two weeks prior, adding another $3,189 to my bankroll. And seventh place days before in a Rio Daily Deepstack for $1,185. While those all may sound like good scores, they weren’t Main Event money (the tag team victory was surreal, but since the payouts are split with your teammate, it’s a lot less of a payout than a normal WSOP final table. Twenty-four thousand goes quickly when you’re buying into $10K tourneys). This also resulted in my spending about a month in Vegas living in hotels. You can imagine how that adds up — and fast.

WSOP Tag Team Final Table
Final three at the $1,000 WSOP Tag Team Event. Definitely more thrilling than the Main Event! (Image: AJ Rudolph/Poker Power)

So I started by taking some of my wins to play the WSOP satellites. This was my biggest regret.

The satellites are structured to play like shove-fests. Skill doesn’t have much to do with it. I entered a few of these and felt like I was lighting money on fire. Do not recommend. (To play devil’s advocate, the structure of these events does make it more likely for amateurs and recreational players to clinch seats.)

But, I was so enchanted with the idea of playing the Main that I couldn’t leave Vegas just yet – especially when I was running so hot. So I reached out to some friends who had backers and who referred me with my results. I didn’t offer mark-up, but I did sell enough of my action to get myself a ticket to the most coveted event in poker history.

(That is one huge plus of playing the Main – it’s much easier to sell action given the prestige and opportunity for a big win.)

The actual registration was a minor disaster, for what it’s worth. The bank recommended I get a cashier’s check, which ended up taking an outrageously long amount of time. Then, once I went to sign-up for my flight that day, I was told it would take an unknown period of time for my check to process.

It took three hours. I wasn’t going to enter my Main Event flight three hours late, so I delayed to the next day. One woman told me her friend had to wait three days for her cashier’s check to process. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend this method of payment in the future unless you register well in advance. I was lucky my flight wasn’t on the last day.

Tough crowd

When I finally walked into my Main Event flight the next day, I was all smiles. I’m sure I practically skipped to my seat. I wore a nice new floral blouse and lavender dress pants I had just picked up in Vegas – treating the event as a formal occasion. Plus, I thought it might help my table image if I looked like a recreational lady gambler rather than a studied grinder.

WSOP Main Event Amanda Botfeld
Excited to play the Main. (Image: Amanda Botfeld)

I immediately expressed with excitement to my tablemates how lucky we all were to be there, you know, at the *Main Event.* The response was icy silence. Crickets.

It was an ominous preview of what was to come.

The worst part about playing the Main Event was the extreme tension (which didn’t seem unique to my table). It was very, very serious – and an absolute nit-fest. I saw a player lay down pocket kings preflop. Another folded jack-10 to me face-up on a J♣️ 3♠️ 6♦️ T♥️ board. (Fortunately, I only had seven-high. I had check-raised the turn with my gutshot.)

Everyone seemed so desperate to cash that it sucked all the fun out of the tournament. Here, I was expecting us to revel in the amazement of the opportunity, and my tablemates all seemed miserable. Absolutely miserable.

The tables around me didn’t seem much better. Like mine, they were painfully quiet. No joking or bantering. No enjoyment. No fun.

The level of play was also not what I expected. I had readied myself for battle; three bets and squeeze plays, and triple-barrel-bluffs. I witnessed none of that (did anyone ever bluff at my table? I think not). It wasn’t the kind of drama I’d seen on TV with people putting each other to the toughest decisions possible for their tournament lives. Instead, I was with a bunch of guys desperate to min-cash.

Jamie Gold at the Main Event in 2006, just starting to build his massive chip towers, which nowadays are much smaller, even for chip leaders. (Image: Pokertube)

Absence of prestige

Before playing the Main, I expected lights, cameras, and action. Ambiance to the extreme. In reality, I found myself jealous of the tables from the other tournaments next to us.

Maybe it was because I was on a sleepy Day One flight, but the tournament seemed small – and we were sandwiched between other events that seemed to have way more action, energy, and people. I couldn’t believe for the Main Event we weren’t in our own room. Maybe I was being naïve, but I expected some sort of specialness and distinction. Posters, privacy, something. There were a few more photographers but other than that, there would be no way to distinguish it wasn’t a regular tournament.

What made me the most disappointed and left with crushed expectations atmosphere-wise were the chip stacks themselves. I’d seen the Main Event on TV – and everyone knows that when it comes to chips, that means piles. Massive chip towers for total effect. Think of Jamie Gold and his stacked fortress.

But I’ve received physically bigger starting stacks at local casino dailies. I could grab my tiny tower with one hand. It was depressing. Total buzzkill. Where was the glamour? This was not at all like the movies.

Would I do it again?

Sigh. Probably.

If offered the opportunity again, I wouldn’t turn it down, but only because I recognize it as a value proposition rather than as an enjoyable experience. I busted at the end of Day One after a horrible run of cards, which is maybe why for me it was so sour. Yet I am grateful I didn’t have to slog through four days of that to possibly not even min-cash. It wouldn’t be such a grind if there was more excitement or aesthetics.

I personally think for those wanting to play higher buy-in events, the Wynn Mystery Bounty tournaments are practically unbeatable. Playing at the Wynn already feels prestigious, and two days is perfect to keep everyone fun and fresh. The mystery bounty concept adds obvious intrigue. While the Main was a total downer for me, the Wynn Mystery Bounty was a giant success.

On this note, I definitely think there are better events out there, both in terms of time and money — so don’t feel bad if you haven’t had the opportunity to play the Main. It’s no longer 2005 where there aren’t as many events to play and the Main Event is the be-all and end-all.

And whatever you do, don’t waste your time or dollars playing the WSOP Main Event satellites. They’re not worth it on many levels.

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