It may not feel like it, but we have come to the final couple of weeks of the 2022 World Series of Poker. The indicator of this is that Sunday will mark the start of the crown jewel of the schedule, the $10,000 Championship Event. The first of three-Day Ones will take to the felt in Bally’s on Sunday and, for the next couple of weeks, will dominate the eyeballs of the poker world.

Longest Running Tournament in Poker History

Not only is the WSOP the longest running tournament series in poker history, the $10,000 Championship Event (the “Main Event” is a moniker that was created for television) is the only tournament that has been contested since the start back at Binion’s Horseshoe in 1970. Over the past 53 years, it has shown that it is tremendously resilient and revered by its combatants – even if some did not necessarily want to win the tournament.

The first event was hardly comparable to today’s massive throng of humanity. Only seven players took part in the event in 1970 and the number of players actually went down to six in 1971. Johnny Moss, who had been voted the “World Champion” after the first event came back to win the title (legitimately this time) by taking down the victory in 1971.

The 1972 event was eight total players, but it was also remarkable in that one particular player DIDN’T want to win it. As told to Joe Levin in Texas Monthly, Doyle Brunson, “Puggy” Pearson, and Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston were the final three, with Brunson the big leader. But Brunson began folding hands, telling Jack Binion he “didn’t want the publicity” that would come along with winning the tournament, before walking out on the event. Amarillo Slim was willing to take the publicity, however, and he became one of the biggest promoters of poker the game has ever seen after his victory.

Brunson would eventually come around, winning back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977 (and become one of only four men to pull off the feat, alongside Moss, Stu Ungar, and Johnny Chan), and the legend of the WSOP Championship Event was on.

Numbers for the tournament would continually grow through the history of the event. The event would top 100 players for the first time in 1982 (104) and top 200 players in 1991 (215). In the Aughts, however, the game would explode.

“The Golden Age of Poker”

The $10,000 Championship Event topped the 500-player mark in 2000 (512), but it would be spurred to astronomical heights with three things: the advent of online poker, advancements in camera technology for television, and an unlikely named accountant. In 2003, with a then record 839 players, ESPN utilized the “hole card” camera to show the viewers what the players actually were holding in their “pocket” – their “hole cards” – during the play of a hand; previously, viewers had no clue what the combatants were up to because individual player hole cards were not known.

It was a singular individual who lit the Roman candle that would become the “poker boom,” however. Accountant Chris Moneymaker, who did not even want to win the online satellite on PokerStars that gave him his seat to the tournament (he was more interested in the cash for finishing short of the seat), utilized a mixture of bravado, inexperience, and sheer luck to claw his way to the top. He would defeat the straight-from-Central Casting presence of Sammy Farha to win the 2003 title and $2.5 million, and poker went mainstream.

Since that time, the numbers have become dizzying. Only a year after Moneymaker’s stunning win, the tournament more than tripled to 2576 runners. In 2005, it doubled to 5619 players. 2006 saw the largest ever field for the WSOP Championship Event with 8773 players stepping to the felt. Alas, storm clouds brewed on the horizon that have been felt even to today.

The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in late 2006 severely affected the 2007 numbers (6358 players), but the tournament showed its usual resilience. The numbers eventually would climb back up to 8569 players in 2019, before the COVID pandemic of 2020 (and an ill-advised move by Caesars Entertainment to hold TWO “Main Events”) knocked the tournament sizes down.

Who To Watch in the 2022 WSOP Championship Event

It is entirely possible that we are going to see a record field for the 2022 WSOP Championship Event. Especially after the travesty of 2020 and the limited field for 2021 (international players were banned from entry into the States of America due to COVID until just before the start of the tournament), the 2022 WSOP has been seeing a sizeable influx of players. In 2019, the Championship Event came up just short of the record with 8569 players – we could very well see 9000 runners come to the line for 2022’s festivities.

Defending champion Koray Aldemir has been tapping on the door of winning a second bracelet through the 2022 schedule, and he certainly will be looking to keep the title belt around his waist. Daniel Zack, to this point, has been the only player to win two bracelets at the 2022 WSOP, so he cannot be overlooked for a run at the Championship Event bracelet. If you are looking for a female contender for the title, Maria Ho (the only two-time “Last Woman Standing” winner) and Vanessa Kade have shown they can work their way through large-field poker.

For some reason, I am keeping my eye on David ‘Chino’ Rheem. He has had a great first half of poker and came up just short against Eli Elezra in a preliminary event. He is also hungry, arguably the top name on the list of players who have yet to win a WSOP bracelet. Rheem may be looking to top his seventh-place finish from 2008.

Day 1A will take to the felt in Bally’s at 11AM (Pacific Time), with Day 1B scheduled for Monday, Day 1C on Tuesday and (naturally) Day 1D on Wednesday. Day 2A, featuring the survivors from Day 1A and 1B, picks up on Thursday, with Day 2B starting on Friday with the Day 1C and 1D fields combining. By next Saturday, the entirety of the 2022 WSOP $10,000 Championship Event will be in the same day, if not the same room, with a long road to the championship still awaiting the players.

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