There is still nothing in poker quite like the World Series of Poker.
While the idea of being trapped in an ice-cold aircraft hanger surrounded by socially inadequate online pros while girls in crop tops try to sell you oxygen in a can might not sound tempting, there is no better place to spend your summer. For six weeks every year the convention rooms at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas turn into a poker playground where all of your dreams could come true. This is especially true if your dreams are to lose thousands of pounds, put on a stone in weight and fall in love with a stripper. If you’ve never experienced the WSOP you’re not a true poker player. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. So how do you get involved?
Welcome to Vegas
Playing in the WSOP is easy. Unlike any other major sporting occasion you can simply turn up, pay up and sit down with the legends of the game. Try that at Wimbledon. Actually don’t, we’ve tried and you will just get thrown out. To play in the WSOP it just takes one of the following: money, skill or determination. If you don’t have the former, then you need to hit the online satellites hard. Put aside a bankroll, pick out ones that suit your schedule and your style and grind. There are qualifiers to suit every bankroll and while we can’t guarantee you will win a seat, if you are determined and disciplined you will have a good chance.
If you have the money, and fancy treating yourself, then it’s even easier. We reckon a budget of about £5k should be enough to see you having a proper WSOP experience without needing to sleep in a hotel where rooms normally go by the hour. A direct flight should cost around £800 and is worth the extra cash. Hotels are dirt cheap at the moment so a two week stay shouldn’t cost you more than £2,000, even at somewhere high-end.
Play for keeps
That leaves around £1,000 for spending and cash games, and £2,000 ($3,000) for tournament buy-ins. This will either get you into two $1,500 events, or one $1,500 event and plenty of smaller tourneys at the Venetian Deepstack Series. There are also several $1,000 events on the schedule this year where your money goes further.
Forget the high-profile $10k and upwards events, those are strictly for the sponsored pros and those with more money than sense. This year’s WSOP is all about the lower buy-ins with no less than 26 events with a buy-in of $1,500 or less on the schedule.
The best of these is the Millionaire Maker on June 1 with a guaranteed $1 million first prize. There is also a $1,000 turbo on June 19, a $1,500 six-handed event on May 31 and PLO, limit and pot-limit hold’em $1,500 events. And don’t forget the Little One for One Drop with a $1,111 buy-in that is sure to be one of the biggest events of the year.
The rail way
If you can afford to get yourself over to Vegas, but not afford to play, then there is still plenty for you to get stuck into. During the WSOP there are more opportunities for railbirds than any other tournament. While it might sound a bit geeky there is something magical about watching the biggest stars in the world playing just a few feet in front of you.
Watching the likes of the $50k Players Championship or the $111k One Drop event from the rail is great fun, and there is plenty to do outside of the Rio. The Venetian casino holds daily no-limit tournaments in the $200 range that are always packed out with fantastic structures. And you will find tournaments and cash games for every budget dotted around the town, not least at Caesars, the MGM and at the Golden Nugget downtown.
While you are in Vegas you can also eat and drink like a king, party it up at the biggest clubs in the world or even head to a strip club if you like that sort of thing. Whatever you do you won’t regret the journey, well maybe if you spend too much time at the Rhino. Follow our guide and get yourself out to Sin City this summer. You’re a poker player, you owe it to yourself. See you there.
What to play outside of the WSOP
1. Tournaments: The Venetian
During the WSOP the Venetian card room runs some amazing tournaments with buy-ins from $200 upwards. They are usually packed to the rafters, with superb structures and some big prizes. As far as value for money goes they are hard to beat.
2. Mid-stakes cash: Aria
The plush new room has been attracting the stars and its Ivey’s Room plays host to some of the biggest cash games in Vegas. The games at more realistic stakes are good and if you want to play above $1/$2 this is the place to head.
3. Low-stakes cash: The MGM Grand
This is the opposite end of the strip from the main action, but is home to some of the drunkest, loosest low-stakes games. It’s a buzzing room that attracts a lot of weekend heroes, and players looking to have some fun with a couple of hundred bucks. Make sure you relieve them of it.
Where to stay
If you can afford it this is the best place to stay in Vegas. Huge luxurious rooms, amazing facilities, fantastic restaurants and clubs on site and the likelihood of bumping into half of the UK pros at the blackjack tables.
2. Treasure Island
One of the best value options at the north end of the strip, which is where you want to be. It’s a short cab ride to the Rio, and a short walk to all the other major casinos. Rooms are nothing to get excited about, but the price often is.
There is no casino at the Vdara, but it’s a short walk from the Bellagio and is a superbly priced venue for the location.
Don’t stay: Rio
Yes the rooms are huge, and yes it’s nice to be able to escape at the breaks. But it’s still a 15 minute walk to your room and the queues for cabs really aren’t that long. Also, do you really want to be stuck in a resort that feels like Butlins for a week with the bright lights of the strip glinting in the distance?
Where to eat
1. Picasso at Bellagio
The food is arse-tremblingly expensive, but how often do you eat in a room surrounded by original Picassos?
2. Cut at Palazzo
For steak you won’t go wrong with N9NE at Palms, SW at the Wynn or Carnevino at The Venetian, but this is the best of the bunch.
3. Grand Lux Cafe at The Venetian
This is your fallback eating venue. It serves absurdly large plates of food at reasonable prices in a mock-Viennese cafe setting 24 hours a day.
4. Steakhouse at Circus Circus
This is stuck at the arse end of the strip in one of Vegas’s least compelling casinos, but who cares when the prices are this good. If you can get a better steak dinner for the price you’ve probably woken up in the 1980s.
5. BLT Burger/Carnegie Deli at Mirage
BLT Burger is home to some of the best burgers in Vegas, while Carnegie Deli churns out truly gargantuan sandwiches.
Biggest games in town
One Drop, Two Times
The two biggest events of the summer are likely to be the One Drop tournaments. The first is a huge $111,111 buy-in event that is likely to see a mix of online pros, live veterans and stupidly rich businessmen taking part. It’s only a tenth of the buy-in of last year’s One Drop event, but don’t be surprised if it has close to 50% of the prizepool.
If you’re going out to rail some events, and see some of your poker heroes in action, then this is the one for your diary. The $50k Players Championship might have the reputation, but this is going to be the one tournament every big-name player will want to win. The action starts on June 26 at 12pm so get there early to witness it first hand.
If you’d rather be making history, instead of watching it, then there is also a Little One for One Drop on July 3 with a $1,111 buy-in and unlimited re-entries for the first four levels. It could end up with a bigger prize pool than the Millionaire Maker and is definitely one to target if you are out there.
Thousand Dollar Bills
The cheapest events at the WSOP are the seven $1,000 no-limit hold’em tournaments that take place throughout the schedule. The first is on May 30 and the last is on June 30 with the remainder on June 2, June 9, June 16, June 19 (turbo) and June 23.
Unless you’re going on a very limited bankroll then you can probably manage to play in two events so aim for the early stages where the schedule is stacked full of $1k events.
The Poker Players Championship
The Poker Players Championship kicks off on June 30 and is the best place to catch a glimpse of your favourite stars. The $50k buy-in and the stud-heavy format means this is loved by the old-school pros and the tables are full of big names in the early stages.
Make sure to head down to the Rio for the first day and gawp as Mike Matusow runs around the room shouting, Phil Hellmuth arrives late and Phil Ivey looks so bored you think he might end it all. Ah, the joys of tournament stud poker.
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