To say that things have changed a lot since the start of the poker boom is like saying that water is wet. So much has changed, both at the tables and away from them, that it sometimes feels like we’re living in a completely different universe than the one that gave us the phrase “Chris Moneymaker, World Champion.” But there are reminders of days gone by.
This week marked the beginning of the 50th annual World Series of Poker. On one hand, it’s exceedingly easy to treat this as a given. Of course the WSOP is underway — it’s late May, dummy. It’s the biggest poker tournament festival in the world and it’s been there since before we were born, and it’ll probably always be there so why are you making a big deal about it?
On the other hand, there are so many ways we could have ended up anywhere but here. In the face of heavy competition, family infighting, corporate takeovers, and more, the WSOP has not just persisted — it has managed to change its shape without losing its form.
Tournament poker’s formerly manageable calendar exploded about 15 years ago. It transformed from a California- and Vegas-centered collection of occasional festivals into a never-ending, highly lucrative global tour. But while the money has grown bigger elsewhere, no tournament title yet created has managed to attain the cachet of a WSOP bracelet.
Poker players from around the world dream of the same moment. In their minds they pose for the camera, surrounded by their closest supporters, a band of gold and jewels wrapped around their wrist or fist, winning cards held in the other. It’s such a universal aspiration that if someone in your family loves poker and you want to give them the gift of a lifetime, your task is already cut out for you: you buy them into the WSOP. (And then maybe a bunch of other cool stuff happens too.)
Jeremy Hilsercop realized his dream yesterday when he played Day 1A of the “Big 50,” this year’s signature event marking the festival’s 50th anniversary. He didn’t advance to the second day of play, but that didn’t matter. He was there. He was in the game.
Brian Green has been in the game for the last 20 years. He’s no doubt imagined himself posing for his winner’s photo as often as anyone else. Last night, as a reward for outlasting players like Daniel Negreanu and his good friend Ali Imsirovic, Green finally lived the dream.
The next seven weeks will see tens of thousands of players from around the world test themselves against each other. It’s the nature of the game that the vast majority of them will fall on the “I was there” side of the spectrum. But the same nature means that somebody has to win.
In any given tournament, it could be you. Surrounded by your friends who journeyed to Vegas with you all those years. Clutching the band of gold and jewels. Holding up your winning cards. Writing your name into the same annals as the greatest ever to take a seat at the table.
It’s why you play. And it’s why the WSOP is still going strong 50 years later.
WSOP photography by pokerphotoarchive.com