2008 WSOP: Preview and Predictions
The 2008 World Series of Poker is just around the corner. In a mere five days, the series will begin with a $10,000 pot-limit hold'em world championship. There are 12 such "world championship" events on this year's schedule. Just 10 of these events are open to all-comers since two of them have participation restrictions (ladies-only and seniors-only).
Perhaps the biggest change to this year's schedule is an increase in the number of $10,000 buy-in events. Historically, there has just been one such tournament: the Main Event, of course. Three years ago, the number of $10,000 buy-in tournaments increased to two with the addition of a pot-limit Omaha championship. This year, eight of the 55 bracelets will require players to risk $10,000 on a shot at clasping one on their wrist.
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An increase in the number of high buy-in tournaments should serve the WSOP well. Many of these tournaments will be unlikely to lure a massive amount of participants.
Prediction: Average field size will decrease significantly making a bracelet more attainable.
For two reasons, this year's series will restore some of the prestige to what it means to win a WSOP bracelet that has been lost in recent years due to a saturation of low buy-in no-limit hold'em tournaments. First, the average buy-in for tournaments on this year's schedule is much higher. Unpopular games like 7-Card Stud and Omaha Hi-Lo are represented with a $10,000 buy-in tournament. I would be surprised if more than 250 players participate in either of those events. Among other tournaments unlikely to draw a field larger than 500 players include a $10,000 heads-up event, a $5,000 7-Stud Hi-Lo event, a $10,000 limit hold'em event, and the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event.
Secondly, new to this year's offerings are a number of tournaments that start at 5:00 p.m. rather than noon. In fact, nearly 40% (21 of 55) of the bracelet events will start at 5:00. Most of these events are of unpopular poker variants and fall on days when a no-limit hold'em tournament launched at noon. A $5,000 pot-limit Omaha with rebuys event, a $5,000 2-7 Lowball with rebuys event, and a $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event are just a few tournaments with a 5:00 p.m. start time that will be unlikely to draw more than a couple hundred players. Anyone with an unlimited bankroll and a burning desire to win a WSOP bracelet has as good of a shot in 2008 as anytime since the poker boom.
Prediction: The $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament will see a surge in entrants.
In its inaugural year, the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament lured 143 players. Last year, its second running saw an increase in participation of just five more players. I expect this year's event will have a sharp increase in participation. Many young online poker players have been refining their mixed game skills in the past year. Additionally, the $50,000 buy-in could lure some extra European players who don't regard risking that many dollars on a tournament as terribly unreasonable given current exchange rates. I would not be surprised to see the H.O.R.S.E. championship eclipse 200 players this year.
Prediction: The Main Event will see an increase in entrants.
Last year's Main Event suffered a 28% drop-off in participants from 2006. There were a few reasons for this, most of which were in some way connected to U.S. anti-gambling legislation. I believe last year was an anomaly and that this year's tournament will resume the pattern of drawing more participants than the year before. To be more precise, I'd expect a 10-15% increase in the Main Event field from last year when Jerry Yang triumphed over 6,357 foes.
Prediction: Main Event winner will be unlike those before him (or her).
Every winner of the Main Event since 2002 has basically fit this description: a 30-something male with a traditional career who plays poker as a hobby and who most people had never heard of before. I expect that this year's winner will break that trend. Today, there are simply too many players with names that are recognizable to serious fans of the game. I wouldn't be surprised to have at least some loose familiarity with up to 800 of the participants in this year's tournament. People more involved in the poker world than myself might know hundreds more. While this number of players might only represent 10% of the field's participants, it's not unreasonable to suggest that they account for around 30% of the equity in the tournament. With that in mind, I anticipate this year's winner will be someone under 30 or someone with a name (or online screenname) recognizable to serious poker fans at the time of this article's publication, or both.
Prediction: Players at Main Event final table will display near-optimal decision making.
It's worth remembering that this year's Main Event final table will not conclude until November 9th. This radical change to WSOP procedures will be interesting to monitor. One thing that will very likely occur is amateurs at the final table who receive coaching from pros in exchange for a percentage of their action. With four months to prepare, even a complete donkey who fluked their way to the final table could be trained to be a serious contender under the right guidance. There are far too many pros who will eagerly offer their services to unknowns at the final table. In the 2006 WSOP, Jamie Gold and Johnny Chan appeared to have reached a similar arrangement overnight. Given four months, it is inevitable that weaker players will be coaxed into giving up a small part of their action in exchange for intensive coaching from one of the game's top players.