LAS VEGAS >> Nine card players from five countries have returned to Las Vegas in search of life-changing riches at the World Series of Poker main event.
Some finalists hope the prize money will allow them to turn poker into a hobbyist’s pastime. Others hope to fatten their bankroll for future games.
J.C. Tran, the chip leader going into the final table, plans to retire as a professional grinder if he wins and turn his attention to raising his two young children.
Five Americans, plus finalists from France, the Netherlands, Israel and Canada, topped a field of 6,352 entrants at the no-limit Texas Hold ’em main event in July. They return to the table Monday evening at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to settle the title over two days of play. A champion will be crowned Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
The finale will play out nearly live on ESPN, airing with just enough of a delay to satisfy Nevada gambling regulators that the players don’t have any way to tell what their opponents are holding.
Fans will pack the 1,600-seat theater where magicians Penn and Teller regularly perform. The nine finalists are expected to don hoodies and sunglasses and take their seats on stage after making grand entrances like prizefighters.
The no-limit Texas Hold ’em played at the main event is a game familiar to most casual poker players. But raise the stakes, give elite players four months to prepare and stage the game in front of hundreds of spectators and television cameras, and it becomes a different animal.
Chips mean everything and nothing in poker tournaments. They have no direct tie to the amount of money won or lost; each player already staked $10,000 to enter the tournament in July.
A player must lose all his chips to be eliminated from the tournament, and must win all the chips in play to claim the top prize of $8.4 million and the glory that comes with joining the names of past winners, including Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and Chris Moneymaker.
The top seven finalists will get at least $1 million in total prize money. The ninth place finisher will get no more money than the payout of $733,224 each player received in July.
As the tournament progresses, minimum bets creep higher every two hours, tightening the pressure on players who continually find their chips weren’t worth as much as before.
Tran, 36, is the best-known of the finalists. Six of his competitors are in their 20s, with a 32- and 38-year-old rounding out the pack. Only one of the finalists, Las Vegas club host Jay Farber, doesn’t consider himself a seasoned professional.