The World Series of Poker Events Guide
The World Series of Poker events explained, with the comprehensive CardsChat guide to the games of the WSOP.
Poker fans and players across the globe know the World Series of Poker (WSOP) as the biggest tournament series in the calendar. With gold bracelets and eye-watering prize money on offer for the winners, these events attract many of the best poker players in the world.
The $10,000 Main Event understandably gets the most attention, but a quick look at the WSOP schedule of events reveals there’s much more to this poker festival than the ‘big dance’.
Ever wondered what those other events are all about, and what some of those poker terms mean? Don’t worry, we at CardsChat are here to clear it up for you!
Anybody familiar with how an online single-table tournament (sometimes called a Sit and Go) works will have an idea of how a Shootout plays out at the WSOP. A Shootout tournament is essentially a series of single-table tournaments, with only the table winner progressing to the next round.
Every individual ‘shootout’ reduces nine players around that table to just one survivor. Even so, it will take several shootout rounds to reach a final table, and the winner of that one will become the champion. The ultimate Shootout winner will be the only player who manages to win numerous single-table tournaments consecutively (Shootout tournaments can last multiple days).
Flip & Go
There are two distinct phases to a WSOP Flip & Go tournament, which begins with what is essentially a quickfire, random lottery to thin the field to its money winners, followed by a more traditional poker tournament.
There is almost no skill involved in the first part – players don’t do much more than flip over their hand to see who wins, hence the name – and it eradicates a drawn-out bubble. The second and final day of play is much more familiar.
In the opening phase, nine players sit around a single table and prepare to see only one hand; they are therefore immediately all-in. Each player receives three cards and the dealer deals a flop. Players then discard one of their hole cards, as in a hand of Pineapple Hold’em. The dealer then deals the turn and river, completing the board. The player with the best hold’em hand is declared the table winner and progresses to the second phase of the tournament. All the others are eliminated. This lottery-style element is the principal attraction of a Flip & Go tournament, especially because a table winner immediately makes the money.
Players can enter as many opening flights as they want, with these very fast single-table games running on multiple days throughout the whole WSOP festival. Day 2 of the tournament is a regular No Limit Hold’em tournament, as all table winners reconvene with a 20,000-chip starting stack, and a normal payout structure.
In the ancient world, a ‘colossus’ was a gigantic statue, renowned above all for its extraordinary size. It’s where we get the word ‘colossal’, meaning enormous. That knowledge should give a firm hint as to what to expect from the World Series of Poker Colossus.
It’s a poker tournament of gigantic proportion, with almost certainly the biggest field of the whole WSOP in Las Vegas. The vast field is all but guaranteed by its scheduling – the Colossus usually begins on a weekend in the middle of the series – and its buy-in – a recreational-player friendly $400. For many amateur players, this is the best chance they will get of playing a World Series event, and maybe picking up a slice of a huge prize pool too.
In the past the Colossus has also been the CardsChat WSOP Team Event – your chance to compete with our pros in Las Vegas!
In 2022 we paid half the buy-in for qualifying CardsChat community members, with a cool $500 on offer for the team member who lasted the longest. Want to take on CardsChat pros like Ryan Laplante, Ashley Sleeth, Dara O’Kearney and Matt Vaughan? Keep an eye on the forums! You can find all the details of the 2022 CardsChat Team event here.
In the casino world, high rollers are the players who play the biggest: the folk with the deepest pockets who want to risk the most. In poker, the term ‘High Roller’ tends to refer to the tournament itself, but the principle is the same.
A High Roller tournament has a significantly bigger buy-in than even the Main Event. At the WSOP in Las Vegas, the High Roller events have buy-ins of $25,000, $50,000 and $100,000. And if you want to play a $250,000 buy-in tournament? Well, that’s a Super High Roller. (It follows, of course, that the players known as high rollers often play High Roller tournaments). High Roller tournaments are usually offered in Texas Hold'em and Pot Limit Omaha, but any other variant could join the schedule - assuming enough high rolling players are interested.
In a freezeout tournament, every player starts the event with the same number of chips, and when those chips are gone, the player is out. That’s it. There’s no option to re-enter and start again.
Many events at the World Series of Poker and beyond offer the chance to try again if things go wrong, but not in a freezeout. Lose your chips and you’re frozen out. The World Series Main Event has always been a freezeout tournament, which adds to its prestige, as players know they get just one chance per year to win it.
In a Dealer’s Choice tournament, the players themselves get to choose what game they play. At the beginning of every orbit, one player nominates the game for the coming round, selecting from a list of 20 WSOP-approved poker variants:
- No-Limit Hold’em
- Limit Hold’em
- Pot-Limit Hold’em
- Pot-Limit Omaha
- Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better
- Big O
- Limit Omaha High
- Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better
- Seven Card Stud
- Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better
- Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Regular
- Pot-Limit Deuce-Seven Lowball Triple Draw
- Limit Deuce-Seven Lowball Triple Draw
- Ace to Five Lowball Triple Draw
- No-Limit Deuce-Seven Lowball Draw
- No-Limit Five-Card Draw High
When the round is complete, the next player at the table gets to choose the game. The term ‘Dealer’s Choice’ comes from the world of poker home games, where the player literally dealing the cards would choose what game was played.
In home games, the list of variants might be much longer, and even include some games invented on the fly. In the WSOP version, the rules are standardized for each variant, and the dealer simply asks the nominated player at the beginning of the round for their choice and then displays the game type on a plaque placed face up on the table.
When only two players are at a poker table, the game is said to be ‘Heads Up’. In a traditional multi-table tournament, this comes at the end, where the last two players are left to battle for the title. However, the WSOP also offers Heads Up tournaments, where entrants play a series of heads up matches to decide a winner.
There may be several hundred entrants to the tournament as a whole, but players only ever face off against one opponent at any one time. At the start, all entrants are placed into random draw and are picked against a random opponent. The winner then progresses to the next round and plays another first-round winner. The process repeats and the field continues to shrink by half each round, until eventually the last two face off for the bracelet. It’s a similar process to a knockout bracket in sport competitions.
Heads Up tournaments at the WSOP tend to involve exclusively No Limit Texas Hold'em, but there's no reason other variants can't also be enjoyed Heads Up.
The term ‘Deepstack’ refers to the number of chips every player gets at the start of the tournament – and Deepstack events typically give a bigger stack than you would ordinarily expect for the buy-in level.
When stacks are deep, particularly in comparison with the size of the blinds during the early levels, players can play more hands and see more flops without jeopardizing a large percentage of their chips. Deepstack tourneys at the WSOP usually involve Texas Hold'em or Pot Limit Omaha, and tend to be priced lower (around $600-800) to attract more recreational players who enjoy the longer play and slower pace afforded by the bigger stacks..
In the most common poker variants – Hold’em, Omaha, etc., – players try to make the best hand possible, in accordance with common poker hand rankings. Aces are high, and pairs, trips, straights and flushes are good. In Lowball games, however, the opposite is true. Players aim to make uncoordinated, low hands – and the worst is best.
Three such lowball games feature in the WSOP schedule, and all rotate in the Mixed Triple Draw Lowball tournament: Badugi, Deuce-Seven Triple Draw and Ace-Five Triple Draw, with entrants playing a round of each one, consecutively. Lowball tournaments are played as either Limit or No Limit games.
They are each slightly different. In Badugi, hands comprise only four cards, and their suits are relevant. The best Badugi hand is of four different suits, with all low cards (ace is considered low). In Deuce-Seven Triple Draw, aces are considered high, and players need to avoid straights or flushes, so the best hand possible is 2-3-4-5-7, offsuit. In Ace-Five Triple Draw, suits and straights don’t count, so A-2-3-4-5, or the ‘wheel’ is the best hand.
The ‘draw’ element is common to all these games. It means that players get to discard cards through three betting rounds, replacing them with new cards from the deck in a bid to improve – or, in this case, weaken – their hand.
While a Deepstack event offers a bigger starting stack than usual, a ‘Monster Stack’ tournament takes things even further. At the WSOP, players get 50,000 starting chips for their $1,500 buy-in in the Monster Stack event, double the size of the starting stack in the $1,500 buy-in Millionaire Maker, for example. Players enjoy Monster Stack events for the same reason they like Deepstack tournaments: they promise much more play for your entry fee.
There are numerous variants of poker, and the WSOP in Las Vegas offers the chance to play them all. There are five disciplines required in a H.O.R.S.E. tournament: Limit Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better, Razz, Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Hi-Lo Eight or Better, with the H.O.R.S.E. acronym coming from the initial of the five games (the "E" is from the "Eight” in “Eight or Better"). The tournament rotates through the five games, orbit by orbit.
There's a similar process in Eight Game Mix and Nine Game Mix tournaments, with the addition of a few games to the rotation.
In Eight Game Mix, players play Limit Hold'em, Limit Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better, Seven Card Stud, Razz, Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight or Better, No-Limit Hold'em, Pot-Limit Omaha and Limit Deuce-Seven Lowball Triple Draw, with the game changing at the end of every orbit.
In a Nine Game Mix, No-Limit Deuce-Seven Lowball Draw is the additional game. In all mixed game tournaments, the dealer indicates which game is presently being played via a name plaque placed face up on the table.
While some WSOP games need a detailed explanation, the Millionaire Maker is just the opposite. The only thing you need to know is right there in the name. This is the tournament that is guaranteed to make a millionaire: there’s a $1 million minimum first prize.
A seven-figure poker tournament prize is exceptional at any time, but the Millionaire Maker has a low buy-in, usually only $1,000 or $1,500, which makes it extraordinary. There are usually two starting flights – Day 1A and Day 1B – and players are allowed one re-entry per flight. Due to a high volume of players these tournaments take several days to play out, but the high prize money and the low entry fee mean it’s very possible that a millionaire can be made from just $1K.
Under most circumstances, poker is strictly an individual game, where only one person plays one chip stack from the start of a tournament to its conclusion. The exception is the Tag Team event, where one tournament stack is shared between two people in a designated team.
Only one team member can sit at the table at any one time, and, once seated, that player must play each hand alone. However, team-mates can tag in and out at any time they are not involved in a hand, assuming control of the stack and playing as long as they wish, before tagging their team-mate in again.
Each team member must play at least one round of blinds during the tournament, which usually lasts around three days, but there are no other rules governing the distribution of play. Any winnings, however, are equally split between the two team members – and there are two bracelets on offer to the winners.
Salute to Warriors
Poker players wishing to give something to charity might consider the Salute to Warriors event at the WSOP. It’s an affordable (around $500) regular No Limit Hold’em tournament in all aspects, but $40 of each entry fee is donated to non-profit corporations who support the United States Armed Forces and their families. The chief beneficiary is the United Service Organizations (USO), with other veterans organizations also receiving some money. The charity donation comes from the players’ prize pool; regular entry fees and dealer payments still apply.
Back in the wild west, a bounty was a sum of money paid to someone for hunting down and killing a bad guy. Collecting a bounty in poker does not need to be fatal, but it does require eliminating an opponent from a tournament.
In a bounty tournament, a portion of the entry fee goes into the regular prize pool and the remainder goes into the bounty pool. Each player starts the event with a bounty on their head, which is paid to the person who knocks them out. It offers an added incentive to go for the elimination, and players can make a profit from a bounty event even if they don’t make the money, provided they knock out enough opponents.
Most bounty events at the WSOP feature a fixed bounty worth about one third of the entry fee, but there are a couple of attractive variations. In the ‘Poker Hall of Fame Bounty’ tournament, only players who have been inducted into the official Poker Hall of Fame have a bounty on their heads. Knocking out a Hall of Famer earns a reward of the dollar equivalent of the year of that player’s Hall of Fame induction. (Knocking out Doyle Brunson, who entered the Hall of Fame in 1988, for instance, earns $1,998.)
The ‘Million Dollar Bounty’ tournament is something different again. At the beginning of the event $300 from each $1,000 buy-in goes to the bounty pool. From Day 2 onwards, players get the chance to draw a random bounty award for every opponent they eliminate. These bounty awards are of varying size, and one is worth $1 million.
Bounty tournaments can be played in any poker format, but the WSOP to date has focused on Texas Hold'em and Omaha games.
Tournament of Champions
The final event on the WSOP schedule is often the Tournament of Champions – an invitation-only tournament with a $1 million prize pool. The only players permitted to play are WSOP Circuit event champions from the most recent season and that year's WSOP bracelet winners. They are all free-rolling; their previous victory books their seat in the game without the need for an entry fee.
In 2022 the Tournament of Champions kicked off two days after the conclusion of the Main Event, meaning the most recent World Champion was able to take their seat.
The Main Event is the centerpiece of any poker festival, usually with a high buy-in and a huge field. At the World Series specifically, the Main Event is the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship and, yes, the winner gets to call themselves World Champion. They will join a celebrated club as winner of the most prestigious tournament in the world game. It’s the one every poker player wants to win, takes several weeks to do so, and comes with one of the game’s biggest prizes.
The WSOP Main Event is also the longest-running poker tournament in the world, held annually in Las Vegas since the early 1970s. There were only a handful of players in those early days, but the tournament has grown sensationally ever since, with 8,773 contesting the largest ever Main Event in 2006, when the total prize pool hit $82,512,162.
Although the Main Event is now only one tournament in a weeks-long series — and the WSOP has also expanded to festivals in other destinations across the world — when people talk about “winning the World Series”, they are almost always referencing the Main Event.