The crickets started at around 11.45am.
That’s the point at which the doors opened to the Amazon Room at the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino and the first players flooded to the tables for the start of the 2019 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. They exchanged a glance at their ID and a registration ticket for a stack of 60,000 chips.
And then the crickets started, the sound of those chips riffled in anxiety and anticipation ahead of the biggest poker tournament in the world. It will be our soundtrack for the next two weeks: an unceasing, dull clicking that lets everyone in the vicinity know that poker is being played.
As is customary, the start of proceedings featured an appearance by the one man everyone in this field wants to be: the reigning Main Event champion. “This player is special,” said Jack Effel, WSOP tournament director, as John Cynn stood beside him on the stage, in front of a packed rail of spectators. Cynn took down $8.8 million for his victory last year, outlasting a field of 7,874 hopefuls, and earning him that “special” tag. But Effel explained that this time last year, Cynn was just the same as everyone else sitting down now. That’s why players from more than 100 countries make the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to play this event. “This year, it could be you!” Effel said.
Cynn, taking the mic, concurred. “When I first started playing, I never dreamed of winning the Main Event,” he said. “I just want to say how absolutely crazy and insane this is.”
Soon after, Cynn set the ball rolling, instructing dealers to “Shuffle up and deal!” Eventually, we’ll have our champion. But there will be two weeks of heartbreak first.
The Main Event is the very definition of a marathon rather than a sprint, with the winner not due to be named until July 16. On Day 1, of which there are three, our focus tends to be on the size of the field and assessing whether the uptick in player numbers from the past three years can continue.
In 2016, Qui Nguyen beat a field of 6,737. A year later, 7,221 looked up to Scott Blumstein, before Cynn outlasted 7,874 in an epic. Kevin Mathers, the World Series’ stats authority, predicts 8,000 can be broached this time — and we’ll be given our first indication of size today.
Last year’s Day 1A brought 925 players to the Rio and if a similar number — or maybe even 1,000 — come through the door today we’ll know for sure that we’re in for another big one.
Our PokerStars contingent is small but beautifully formed. All of Aditya Agarwal, Andre Akkari, Arlie Shaban, Liv Boeree, Igor Kurganov, Jason Somerville, Jen Shahade, Kalidou Sow, Ramon Colillas, Maria Konnikova, Muskan Sethi and Chris Moneymaker are confirmed playing the Main Event. We will catch up with all of them this week.
In the meantime, it’s time for everyone to take a breath, sit back and relax. We have a long, long way to go.
WSOP photography by PokerPhotoArchive