By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Olympians have their gold. Actors have their Oscars. Poker players have the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold ’em Main Event.
Starting Sunday in Las Vegas, several thousand players — among them pros, amateurs, celebrities — will risk $10,000 each for the chance at several million dollars, one of the tournament’s prized gold bracelets and poker supremacy.
Or, as Jacquelyn Scott, the 66-year-old amateur poker player who has made six attempts at the Main Event puts it, imagine the Masters for golfers and Wimbledon for tennis players.
“It’s the best. And it’s everyone’s dream,” she said.
It’s also an endurance test that will continue for eight days until the last nine players are left standing. Each will get $1 million and return November 8-10 for the televised final table.
The Main Event marks the end of the 68-event World Series of Poker which started May 27 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino and filled convention center rooms with hundreds of poker tables and hallways with throngs of players, mostly young men (about 4 percent of the entries in last year’s Main Event were from women) who shuffle their stacks of chips at their tables as they ponder their next move. Some wear hoodies and sunglasses, wear earphones and play on their phones, occasionally getting massages at the table after hours spent playing and sitting.
In 2014, there were some 6,683 entrants vying for a top prize of $10 million and if not that, some of the $62.8 million that would be spread among the next 692 players.
This year is a bit different.
The event no longer guarantees a $10 million top prize to the winner but will pay awards to the top 1,000 finishers. The change came after players encouraged World Series of Poker organizers to spread the wealth.
Chad Allan Holloway, editor of PokerNews.com who plans to enter the Main Event, said the new award distribution may not have the same kind of pizazz as a guaranteed $10 million top prize but spreading the wealth could keep players excited about playing and returning to the tournament.
“They’re proud, they go home, they’ve got a good story to tell,” he said of the top 1,000 players who will walk away with some sort of profit.
Based on the 6,683 entries last year, the top winner could still earn an $8 million prize and one of the tournament’s 68 gold bracelets handed out to the winners of each event.
Organizers say the Main Event winner’s bracelet is worth $500,000, and it has drawn comparisons to a Super Bowl or World Series ring. One player auctioned his off on eBay.com in 2008 and garnered $147,500 for charity.
The World Series of Poker has been crowning a card-playing champion since 1970 when seven poker icons, a small invited group of men with names like “Puggy” and “Amarillo Slim,” played cards downtown at Binion’s Horseshoe with the players themselves voting for the eventual winner: Johnny Moss.
There’s no telling who might win this year.
The best of the best within the poker world try each year. Poker pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey have each won millions playing poker but have never won the Main Event. Phil Hellmuth, who has won a record 14 bracelet events from the World Series of Poker, will try his hand(s) at the Main Event again, as he does every year, hoping to repeat his win in 1989 at the age of 24.
Winners have trended younger and European with players playing online to train where online poker remains legal. In the U.S., online poker for real money wagers has been available only in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware after federal authorities shut down multiple online poker sites in 2011 on a date dubbed “Black Friday” by players.
Sweden’s Martin Jacobsen, a young 20-something pro player who got his start playing online poker, won the $10 million top prize in 2014 and is expected to try again this year.
No one has been a repeat winner since 1997 and only four people have won the Main Event more than once since its start. No woman has ever won and it’s been 20 years since a woman reached the final table.
“What makes poker a beautiful game, though, is its ability to make all players equal when they sit at the table. Age, gender, occupation, country of origin, etc. don’t play a role in poker as a game,” said World Series of Poker spokesman Seth Palansky. “The cards, how you play them and your mind dictate your success.”