When the 2019 World Series of Poker (WSOP) kicked off on May 28th, poker’s most prestigious tournament festival began celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Fittingly enough, that’s the golden anniversary, as the WSOP is home to the iconic gold bracelet awarded to legendary champions like Doyle Brunson and Daniel Negreanu.
This year’s WSOP stretches over six weeks during the scorching Las Vegas summer, offering 80 live gold bracelet events — and nine more online via WSOP.com – before concluding with the world-famous Main Event on July 16th.
And if last year is any indication, the WSOP’s 50th anniversary bash will break records yet again. The 2018 edition drew more than 123,000 entries to set an all-time high, and an astounding $266,889,193 in prize money was pocketed by lucky players.
This year, the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino will host tournaments in every poker variant you can think of, with price points spanning the spectrum from $400 to $100,000 buy-ins.
If you have any sort of passion for tournament poker, chances are good you’ll make the sojourn to Sin City this year to compete for the coveted WSOP gold bracelet. After all, that’s what poker players are supposed to do during the summer season, right?
Well, not exactly…
What if I told you many of the game’s best players and top pros spend all summer in Vegas during the WSOP, all without stepping foot inside of the Rio?
As it turns out, the various casino operators scattered across the Strip and Fremont Street have gotten wise to the WSOP’s wiles.
Rather than simply stand on the sidelines and let Caesars Entertainment — parent company of the WSOP and the Rio — monopolize the poker world for two months every year, venues like the Aria, Wynn, Venetian, Bellagio, and Golden Nugget are fighting back by running tournament series of their own.
Tournament players have every reason to expand their horizons beyond the Rio.
To help you on that front, the list below highlights seven reasons why leaving WSOP tournaments behind can be more profitable this summer.
1 – The Stacks Are Deeper and the Structures Are Better
While most recreational players out there are focused on factors like price point and guaranteed prize pools, the serious grinders are studying their tournament structure sheets.
Depending on how a tournament is structured, the combination of starting stack size and blind level escalation can be either a curse or a blessing.
If you’ve ever played a nightly tournament at your local casino, you know firsthand how a poor structure can wreak havoc on the basic gameplay of no limit Texas hold’em. With a smaller starting stack and levels that regularly skip crucial blinds — jumping from 200/400 to 400/800, for example, while jumping right past 300/600 — any tournament can devolve into a short-stacked “shove-fest” before long.
Conversely, the best tournaments in the world are run by directors who strive to create deep structures, creating as much pre- and post-flop play as possible to allow skill to win out over luck.
The WSOP made a big splash this year by announcing the addition of larger starting stacks across the board, as vice president and head tournament director Jack Effel explained in a press release.
“It is important the modern day World Series of Poker continues to evolve.
People certainly like bigger starting stacks, and we’re happy to oblige while simultaneously adding more value.”
And sure enough, the starting chips have been swelled across the board, as shown in the table below.
WSOP Starting Stack Increases by Buy-In
But as most tournament players know by now, more chips to begin with doesn’t necessarily mean a better structure for players. You can start with 100,000 chips, but that won’t matter one bit if the blinds go up every 15 minutes and skip crucial levels. With a poor structure in place, any amount of chips at the onset can be whittled down to just a dozen big blinds or so before the tournament’s most crucial stages take place.
That’s not to say the WSOP’s new structures are all that bad, though, as you can see by reviewing the blind progression, level length, and starting stack size for a $600 no limit hold’em deepstack event in the table below.
Structure for $600 No Limit Texas Hold’em Tournament at the 2019 WSOP
Starting Stack = 30,000 chips
Blind Levels = 30 minutes
100 / 100
100 / 200
100 / 200
100 / 300
200 / 400
300 / 500
300 / 600
400 / 800
500 / 1,000
600 / 1,200
800 / 1,600
1,000 / 2,000
1,000 / 2,500
1,500 / 3,000
2,000 / 4,000
All of the no limit Texas hold’em tournaments at the WSOP this summer will use the Big Blind Ante format, which means the big blind pays the table’s collective antes ahead of each hand. This process streamlines the preflop ante payment, thus creating more hands per hour, which is a great thing for players.
But while the structure above is decent, to say the least, you can easily find a better one by heading over to the Venetian for their regular DeepStack Extravaganza series.
Structure for $600 No Limit Texas Hold’em Tournament at the 2018 Venetian DeepStack Extravaganza
Starting Stack = 35,000 chips
Blind Levels = 40 minutes
50 / 100
75 / 150
100 / 200
100 / 200
150 / 300
200 / 400
250 / 500
300 / 600
400 / 800
500 / 1,000
600 / 1,200
800 / 1,600
1,000 / 2,000
1,200 / 2,400
1,500 / 3,000
With more starting chips (35,000 to 30,000) to work with and longer blind levels (40 minutes to 30 minutes), players willing to pony up $600 while in Las Vegas will easily extract more value from the Venetian’s tournament structure.
This trend holds true across the summer schedule, too, as the WSOP’s corporate overlords know full well that most recreational players will visit the Rio by default. With a captive audience of sorts, but one which routinely creates record-breaking fields with thousands — and even tens of thousands — of players on hand, the WSOP is content to use slightly worse structures in the name of expediency.
Meanwhile, at places like the Venetian, tournament organizers know they can use improved, deeper structures to lure sharp players in the door thanks to the limited field sizes their series will generate.
2 – The Path to a Win Will Be Much Clearer
Last summer, the WSOP’s average field size topped out at a whopping 1,588 entries per event.
And with two dozen or so tournaments priced at $10,000 and up typically drawing 200 or fewer entries, the average field for most recreational players likely hit 2,500 entries and up.
In a press release boasting about the 2018 WSOP’s record-setting attendance, WSOP.com editor in chief Seth Palansky revealed that nine events attracted more than 4,000 entries.
Event #6: $365 Giant No Limit Hold’em (8,920 entries; 6th-largest field size ever)
Event #7: $565 Colossus No Limit Hold’em (13,070; 4th-largest field size ever)
Event #21: $1,500 No Limit Hold’em Millionaire Maker (7,361 entries)
Event #32: $1,000 Seniors No Limit Hold’em (5,918 entries, largest seniors event ever)
Event #34: $1,000 Double Stack No Limit Hold’em (5,700 entries)
Event #48: $1,500 No Limit Hold’em Monster Stack (6,260 entries)
Event #62: $888 Crazy Eights No Limit Hold’em 8-Handed (8,598 entries; 8th-largest field size ever)
Event #65: $10,000 Main Event (7,874 entries; 2nd-largest Main Event ever)
Event #68: $1,111 The Little One for One Drop No Limit Hold’em (4,732 entries)
Suffice it to say, the average player’s path to winning a gold bracelet at the WSOP represents an endless minefield.
But if you decided to play the $1,100 “Summer Save” at the 2018 Venetian DeepStack Extravaganza last July, you’d have faced a field of just 1,320 entries. That’s still a tough gauntlet to get through, don’t get me wrong there, but the fields at these non-WSOP series tend to follow that 1/3 field size trend.
3 – You Can Save a Pretty Penny on Rake and Service Fees
The beautiful part of casinos competing with one another is that the customer always wins.
In a poker tournament economy where only one major player gobbles up all of the action, players are subjected to exorbitant rakes and service fees which are sliced out of every buy-in.
But when multiple poker rooms are all vying for the same pool of tourney grinders, reducing rake is one of the most effective ways to poach players from competing venues.
Earlier, I mentioned how the WSOP’s corporate ownership from Caesars Entertainment, combined with the series’ reputation among the masses, means they can reliably count on 100,000+ entries year in and year out. Just like glitzy casinos on the Strip know they’ll have regular foot traffic 365 days per year, so they spread 6:5 blackjack and triple-zero roulette to skin the sheep, the WSOP doesn’t have to worry about discerning customers.
As a result, poker’s most prestigious tournament series is also one of its stingiest, charging higher than standard rake and service fees simply because most of its players won’t even bother to check.
Take a look below to see how the WSOP’s most affordable tournaments stack up in terms of rake.
2019 WSOP Rake/Service Fee
$400 No Limit Hold’em
$500 No Limit Hold’em
$600 No Limit Hold’em
$800 No Limit Hold’em
$1,000 No Limit Hold’em
$1,500 No Limit Hold’em
Now compare those numbers with the rake charged by the Wynn poker room during its annual Summer Classic series.
2019 Wynn Summer Classic Rake/Service Fee
$400 No Limit Hold’em
$550 No Limit Hold’em
$600 No Limit Hold’em
$1,600 No Limit Hold’em
If you head out to Las Vegas intent on grinding $600 tournaments, you might budget a bankroll of $6,000 to ensure yourself at least ten entries.
And in the end, taking that bankroll to the WSOP exclusively would mean you’d send $750 straight into Caesars Entertainment’s coffers.
Bring your business to the Wynn Summer Classic, however, and your overall rake deduction on the summer drops to $550.
That’s a savings of $200, or 3.3%, which may not seem like much at first glance. But in the world of tournament poker — where the margin between profit and loss always remains razor thin — keeping an extra 3% of your bankroll out of the house’s hands is always the best play.
4 – Mixed Game Players Will Find Far More Variety at Cheaper Price Points
Of the 80 live bracelet events scheduled for the 2019 WSOP, 35 of them will feature games other than no limit Texas hold’em.
From standards like Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Card Stud to more obscure variants like Razz and Badugi and mixes like H.O.R.S.E., Eight Game, and Dealer’s Choice, the non-hold’em branches on poker’s family tree are extremely interesting, to say the least.
And to be sure, more and more players today are discovering and embracing the world of mixed game tournaments.
Unfortunately for these folks, however, the WSOP’s mixed game schedule is heavily weighted towards the high-roller set.
Of the 35 mixed game events on tap for this summer, 13 of them require a buy-in of $10,000 or higher. Six more can be entered at the $2,500 to $3,000 price point, and the other 16 cost between $1,000 and $1,500.
That means a mixed game player visiting the WSOP must be prepared to fire a four-figure buy-in just to participate. If you’re like me and millions of other recreational poker players, putting a c-note on a single tournament simply isn’t feasible from a financial perspective.
Enter the Golden Nugget Grand Poker Series, which strives to level the playing field by giving mixed game players an abundance of affordable options.
Check out the mixed games that played out during last summer’s Grand Poker Series at the Golden Nugget, and be sure to pay close attention to those low, low prices.
2018 Golden Nugget Grand Poker Series Mixed Games Schedule
No Limit 2-7 Single Draw
Omaha 8 or Better/Stud 8 or Better Mix
Pot Limit Omaha 8/Omaha 8/Big O Mix
A-5 Lowball/2-7 Lowball/Badugi Mix
Seven Card Stud
Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo
Eight Game Mix
Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo
Pot Limit Omaha Championship
Omaha 8/Stud 8 Mix Championship
PLO 8/Omaha 8/Big O Mix Championship
If you’re a mixed game enthusiast looking to enjoy games like Omaha Eight or Better, Big O, or Triple Stud — without breaking the bank in the process — head Downtown to the Golden Nugget for a buffet of low buy-in events.
5 – The Competition Will Always Be Tougher at the WSOP
One reason why pros reliably show up to the WSOP each and every year — even while they know other venues offer better series — is because gold bracelets generate gargantuan prize pools.
The 2018 WSOP saw ten tournaments pay out first prizes of more than $1 million, and the average tournament prize pool topped out at over $3.4 million.
No matter how hard they try, the WSOP’s competitors just can’t achieve those numbers, due in large part to limited seating capacity.
But while life-changing seven-figure scores are certainly worthwhile, bagging a six-figure win will surely mean just as much for the average player. And doing so is much easier when you leave the WSOP confines behind for a secondary series.
That’s because the pros who earn their living playing poker will almost always choose a larger prize pool over a better structure or any other attraction for that matter. This is how they pay their bills, after all, so sacrificing a few bucks in rake to vie for the largest prize pools possible is justifiable in their eyes.
This means WSOP tournaments are chocked full of talented pros just waiting to pick on less experienced players.
On the other hand, sitting down in a tournament at the Venetian, Wynn, or Aria when a high-profile bracelet event is underway ensures you’ll be squaring off against rank and file members of poker’s middle class.
6 – The Rio Is a Dump That Players Only Frequent for WSOP Season
On a non-poker note, the WSOP may be a centerpiece of the poker tournament circuit, but the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino is far from it.
Owing to the immense crowds and lack of mobility on the Strip, Caesars Entertainment elected to base its newly acquired WSOP off-Strip at the nearby Rio back in 2005. And ever since then, visitors have been in for a rude awakening when they arrive for their first WSOP experience.
Between the rundown interior décor, lack of modern amenities like retail shopping and fine dining restaurants, and general dinginess, entering the Rio is a necessary evil for gold bracelet hunters.
And as dumps are prone to do, the Rio is even known for making people sick to their stomachs. Two years ago, the Rio suffered through one of its semi-regular outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, a serious bacterial infection which spreads through water droplets.
In a one-star Yelp review — one of many which contributes to the Rio’s 2.5-star rating on the site — vacationer Albert J. of Chino Hills, California, encapsulated the Rio’s off-putting ambiance:
“The worst hotel I’ve ever stayed!
The furniture and carpet look as dirty as the other room we slept with last night. Dirty or old, you can definitely see many stains on the furniture, carpets and even on the walls. Wall is peeling, so does the desk.
My wife found few bugs in the bathroom, not sure what it is. Maybe small roaches? Tried to call the front desk and house keeping few times but got line busy.
Very unhappy, angry, exhausted, and disappointed experience with Rio.”
Meanwhile, visitors to Las Vegas who stay at the Venetian during DeepStack Extravaganza season will likely enjoy a pleasant experience like Yelp reviewer Jennifer B. of Pismo Beach, California.
“How could anyone give this place less than 5 stars?
From the valet service to the check-in process to the magnificent suites. This place is amazing. Plus, who doesn’t like Venice?
The suite was spectacular! Very clean and nicely decorated. And the view… the view itself was 5 stars!”
All things considered, there’s no shortage of five-star hotels where serious tournament series are held, so why stay at the Rio if you don’t have to?
7 – Variety Is the Spice of Life…
Let’s face facts… poker tournaments can be quite dull, especially when you’re not running so great.
Folding nine out of ten hands while you wait for the right spot can be like watching paint dry. And today’s poker “uniform” of a hoodie and headphones doesn’t exactly make the table a great place for conversation.
Knowing these unfortunate — yet inevitable — facts, it’s in your best interest to make things as interesting as possible while on the grind. Visit new poker rooms, meet new friends, and experience new amenities after bagging or busting.
Las Vegas is an adult playground, after all, so don’t stick yourself in detention by retreating to the Rio for a six-week hibernation period in one of the city’s lackluster venues.
Instead, branch out and see what Sin City’s poker scene really has to offer.
The WSOP has every reason to celebrate 50 years of gold bracelet wins and World Championship performances. From the golden era of Doyle Brunson bagging ten bracelets to Phil Hellmuth’s relentless pursuit of his record-setting 15th WSOP win, legends are truly made at this hallowed hall of poker lore.
Nonetheless, tournament grinders are in the game for one reason and one reason only — to earn a living doing what they love. And thanks to the insidious influence of Caesars Entertainment — a company emerging from bankruptcy that needs to squeeze every dime out of its player base as possible — the WSOP just doesn’t offer the same value as it once did.
By all means, fire off a buy-in or two trying to grab ahold of that elusive gold bracelet — every poker player worth their salt should do so when the opportunity arises. But when in Sin City for the summer, be sure to escape the Rio and explore the Las Vegas tournament circuit in full. Between the improved structures, reduced rakes, and wider variety of games on tap, tournament specialists won’t take long to realize that the WSOP isn’t the center of the poker universe any longer.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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