It is early July, it is the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas. This is what it is: It is the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.

Every year since the early 1970s, poker’s finest have found their way to the middle of the Nevada desert to put down $10,000 apiece and hunt what remains the most prestigious title in the game. And here we are again to cover poker’s undisputed centrepiece. Here we are again to see a World Champion crowned.

Moments ago in the Amazon Room at the Rio, WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel, alongside reigning champion Scott Blumstein, got 2018 Main Event under way. “Every single summer, there’s no place I’d rather be,” Effel said. “It will be a great experience for you.”

Scott Blumstein and Jack Effel start the 2018 WSOP Main Event

Blumstein agreed, like a man would who won more than $8 million here last year. “You gotta believe in yourself and get lucky,” Blumstein said. “That’s the combo for poker…It’s what I did and it worked out.”

Arguably the most significant point Effel raised in his opening speech referred to the tournament structure. “Please make sure you study the structure sheet because the break schedule is a little cattywampus,” Effel said, effortlessly dropping in some deep south slang.

“Cattywampus” is a good word, and it’s good advice from Effel. A few things have changed this time. For the first time since 2007, the Main Event is going to play from start to finish without a single day off. We’re going all the way, non-stop, for this 38th renewal: 13 days straight until there’s a gold bracelet around somebody’s wrist.

Even last year, the first for nine years without a November Nine, there were a couple of days off worked into the schedule to allow players, dealers and staff to regroup. But not this time. There is no let up between today’s Day 1A and Saturday, July 14, when the last three players will return and decide the winner.

Most days begin at 11am and feature five two-hour levels of play, with more than two hours of breaks scheduled as well. It means days edging towards 12 hours in duration, and exhaustion certain to play a part.

WSOP 2018 Main Event bracelet

We won’t know the size of the event until the last player is registered (late entry is open until the end of Level 3) but we can at least begin planning the structure of the days. This year, there will be three starting flights–Days 1A, 1B and 1C, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday–and two Day 2s. Survivors from Days 1A and 1B play day 2AB on Thursday and those left from Day 1C play on Friday.

After that, Days 3 through 7 play out like a normal tournament, with only nine players making it through to Day 8. That then begins three days of final-table play: we go from nine to six on Day 8; from six to three on Day 9; and from three to a winner on Day 10.

Over the past 10 years, the tournament has concluded at around Level 41, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different. The “shortest” WSOP Main Event over the past decade came in 2008, 2009 and 2015, when the tournament finished in Level 39. But both Scott Blumstein and Qui Nguyen had to wait until Level 43 before picking up their bracelets in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

But don’t weep for them. Despite earning the second-lowest hourly rate among World Champions from the past decade, Nguyen was still picked up a paycheck of $93,085 per hour. It’s only when looking at Martin Jacobson’s $121,951 per hour that Nguyen might feel put out. Jacobson finished the job on his $10 million victory in 2014 before the end of Level 41.

It can actually be pretty interesting to examine the hourly rate of players in this event. Champions have earned an average of $105,174 per hour over the past decade, and nobody in the world is going to sniff at that. But a min-cash, which is for many the principal goal of this event, will likely earn you about $600 per hour. In 2008, when a min-cash was $21,230, you’d have got $758. But more recently a min-cash is $15,000 and you’ll need to last 16 levels to get it.

Main Event winners/min-cash and hourly rate

Year Level end Prize Rate Min-cash level Prize Rate Profit Rate
2017 43 $8,150,000 $94,767 15 $15,000 $500 $5,000 $167
2016 43 $8,005,310 $93,085 16 $15,000 $469 $5,000 $156
2015 39 $7,683,346 $98,504 14 $15,000 $536 $5,000 $179
2014 41 $10,000,000 $121,951 16 $18,406 $575 $8,406 $263
2013 40 $8,361,570 $104,520 16 $19,106 $597 $9,106 $285
2012 42 $8,531,853 $101,570 16 $19,227 $601 $9,227 $288
2011 43 $8,715,638 $101,345 16 $19,359 $605 $9,359 $292
2010 41 $8,944,310 $109,077 16 $19,263 $602 $9,263 $289
2009 39 $8,547,042 $109,577 16 $21,365 $668 $11,365 $355
2008 39 $9,152,416 $117,339 14 $21,230 $758 $11,230 $401
Average 41 $8,609,149 $105,174 16 $18,296 $591 $8,296 $259

* Three players eliminated on bubble got $6,135 each ($192 p/h)
** Four players eliminated on bubble got $4,806 each ($150 p/h)

And those are the figures if we ignore the $10,000 it cost to buy in. If we look at profit only, then we learn that a min-casher in 2016 was “working” for $156 per hour.

All of this is worth more than bubbling, of course. That remains the single least sought after spot in any poker tournament. But while those min-cashers might get a life-changing experience from this event, it will be far from a life-changing sum.

It’s lucky nobody does this purely for profit. It’s all about the love of the game, right?

WSOP 2018 Main Event schedule:

The full schedule for the coming days is as follows:

Day 1 flights (five two-hour levels):

July 2 – Day 1A
July 3 – Day 1B
July 4 – Day 1C

Day 2 flights (five two-hour levels):

July 5 – Day 2AB (ie, remaining players from Days 1A & 1B)
July 6 – Day 2C

Field combines for:

July 7 – Day 3
July 8 – Day 4
July 9 – Day 5
July 10 – Day 6
July 11 – Day 7 (play to last nine players)

Final-table play:

July 12 – Day 8 (play to last six players)
July 13 – Day 9 (play to last three)
July 14 – Day 10 (play to winner)

WSOP 2018 Main Event structure:

Level Small Blind Big Blind Ante
1 75 150 0
2 150 300 0
3 150 300 25
4 200 400 50
5 250 500 75
6 300 600 100
7 400 800 100
8 500 1,000 100
9 600 1,200 200
10 800 1,600 200
11 1,000 2,000 300
12 1,200 2,400 400
13 1,500 3,000 500
14 2,000 4,000 500
15 2,500 5,000 500
16 3,000 6,000 1,000
17 4,000 8,000 1,000
18 5,000 10,000 1,000
19 6,000 12,000 2,000
20 8,000 16,000 2,000
21 10,000 20,000 3,000
22 12,000 24,000 4,000
23 15,000 30,000 5,000
24 20,000 40,000 5,000
25 25,000 50,000 5,000
26 30,000 60,000 10,000
27 40,000 80,000 10,000
28 50,000 100,000 15,000
29 60,000 120,000 20,000
30 80,000 160,000 20,000
31 100,000 200,000 30,000
32 120,000 240,000 40,000
33 150,000 300,000 50,000
34 200,000 400,000 50,000
35 250,000 500,000 75,000
36 300,000 600,000 100,000
37 400,000 800,000 100,000
38 500,000 1,000,000 150,000
39 600,000 1,200,000 200,000
40 800,000 1,600,000 200,000
41 1,000,000 2,000,000 300,000
42 1,200,000 2,400,000 400,000
43 1,500,000 3,000,000 500,000
44 2,000,000 4,000,000 500,000
45 2,500,000 5,000,000 750,000
46 3,000,000 6,000,000 1,000,000
47 4,000,000 8,000,000 1,000,000
48 5,000,000 10,000,000 1,500,000

WSOP photos by PokerPhotoArchive.com.

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Howard Swains is a freelance journalist based in London

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