LAS VEGAS -- Outside of the $10,000 Main Event, the $1 million Big One for One Drop is easily the most anticipated tournament of this year's World Series of Poker. And the early stages of the tournament didn't disappoint.
I've seen plenty of poker tournaments in my time covering the industry, but never have I seen a tournament like this. Here are the top-10 notable aspects of the Big One for One Drop.
10. $25,000 satellite drama
The night before the tournament even began, there was drama in the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. A $25,000 satellite to the Big One was held, with the winner guaranteed a seat in the event. Enough players showed up to pay for two seats, but there wasn't any space left, so the prize pool became a seat in the $1 million event for first, $1 million in cash for second, and $400,000 for third.
When the tournament was heads-up, Shaun Deeb and Gus Hansen took an unscheduled break, then came back and made sure that Hansen won the event.
But the better story, in my mind, was Steve Meling, who got into the satellite via a $65 super satellite at Horseshoe Council Bluffs in Iowa. Can you imagine parlaying $65 into $18.3 million? Or even turning it into $400,000 for finishing third? I know I certainly can. Unfortunately for Meling, he came up short of the money, finishing sixth. But he still had the experience of a lifetime.
9. Deep starting stacks
Players in this event started with $3 million in chips, and with the blinds at 3,000-6,000, they each had 500 big blinds. Compare that with the Main Event, often considered to be one of the deepest structures in the world, where players start with 300 big blinds. A major difference between the two, however, is that levels last for two hours in the Main Event, whereas the Big One for One Drop features just one-hour levels. The reason, of course, is so that the players can start with deep stacks while still assuring the tournament lasts just three days.
8. Opening ceremonies
Caesars Entertainment has worked hard to add some theatrics to the World Series of Poker in the past, creating elaborate player introductions for the 2010 November Nine. But never has an entire tournament field received treatment like the 48 players who entered the Big One for One Drop.
Cirque de Soleil performers formed a ring around the ESPN Main Stage, and individual players were called out one-by-one for each table. The group also posed for a group picture before play began. The crowds were five or six people deep to watch the proceedings in the Amazon Room, and the buzz was palpable.
7. Seriously? You can't dress for success?
I like the way Tony Dunst suits up for every tournament. But don't get me wrong, I believe poker players should be free to wear comfortable attire when they're going to be playing all day.
That said, I think players in the Big One for One Drop could have made an effort to wear, say, shirts with sleeves and shoes instead of flip-flops. With six figures from each buy-in going to charity, this event could help change the perception some people have of poker. Showing up dressed like a hillbilly doesn't help.
If you were going to a $100,000 charity dinner, would you dress in a tank top and flip-flops? I didn't think so.
6. AlCantHang's Twitter feed
Poker blogger AlCantHang is one entertaining man. And his take on the tournament on Twitter has been spot on. Here are a couple samples:
Somewhere in the Rio @AllenKessler is complaining about the One Drop structure. "What do you mean there's no 25/25 level?" #3MillyStacks
No @TexDolly in the One Drop event but Rick Salomon is playing? Didn't recognize him without the bad night-vision lighting. #OneNightInParis
5. Swag for players
Caesars went all out for the players for this event, providing a spread of food and beverages within the tournament area. Players also received reusable water bottles and have coolers nearby to fill up, so they wouldn't be wasting plastic water bottles – a nice touch considering the charity.
The best part? Players received a black and blue gym bag adorned with the One Drop logo after one of the breaks. The worst part? Justin Smith had already busted, so it's unclear if he received his.
4. Businessmen vs. professionals
One of the most interesting aspects of this tournament is the dynamic between the professional poker players and the business tycoons who can afford to pay the largest entry fee in tournament poker history. In some cases, the professionals have no idea what the businessmen might be holding. The way their presence changes the table dynamics is fascinating to watch, and I'm hoping there's a good mix of pros and businessmen at the final table.
Brian Rast summed up the dynamic perfectly on QuadJacksTV.
3. Top-heavy payout structures
Poker tournaments are almost always top-heavy in their payout structures, but the payouts for the Big One for One Drop border on absurd. First gets $18.3 million, second is $10.1 million and third is $4.4 million. In order to double your buy-in, you need to finish in the top four. Ninth pays just $109,333 more than the $1 million buy-in, a return of merely 11 percent for finishing in the money.
The reason for this, of course, is that the tournament will pay out nearly 20 percent of the field, compared to just 10 percent, which is standard for most poker tournaments. The payout structure will create an interesting final table dynamic, as moving up the ladder a spot or two won't make that big a difference, since such a premium is put on winning the event.
2. Charity wins
With more than $5.5 million going to One Drop, and many players pledging to donate a portion of potential winnings to One Drop and other causes, it's hard to find fault with this event. And the awareness this event will bring to Guy Laliberte's charity, with the final table broadcast live on ESPN, will be at least as important as the money raised.
1. Businessmen not losing sleep
One of the most talked-about hands of this year's entire WSOP will surely be Mikhail Smirnov's face-up fold of quads against John Morgan. Smirnov studied the hand and came to the conclusion that the only hand Morgan could have was the 10-9 of spades, which would give him a winning straight flush.
Phil Galfond immediately tweeted out the hand, calling it "the craziest hand I've ever seen." No one could believe what they saw. And most poker players were saying it was a laydown that they'd never be able to make.
But Smirnov said that it was easier than it appeared, that he's had hands where it was harder to lay down top pair. And he told the WSOP's Nolan Dalla that he wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
And that's what makes this tournament so interesting. Poker players spend all their time analyzing whether or not they are making the right move. These captains of industry are so supremely confident in their judgment that once a decision is made, it's the right one by default, and then it's time to move on to the next decision.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.