The WSOP Grows One More Time

A Record Breaking Year

The 2006 WSOP broke all records. First of all, it was the biggest field in the history of the main event, with a total of 8773 players plunking down $10,000 to play for the championship. The total prize pool then became over $87 million for the main event alone, and the overall WSOP prize pool for 2006 broke the $100 million mark, making it the richest event not only in poker but in all of sports. Many people argue that poker isn’t a sport since there is limited physical ability involved, although there certainly is some, but with first place now set at $12 million, which was now more than the first place winnings of the top sporting events combined, there was no arguing that big time poker was now in the big time, period.

More and more players were qualifying for the World Series of Poker main event through an ever expanding number of online satellite tournaments. This had been growing more and more each year and if you look back to the turn of the century when online poker first really broke out, to now, you’d see a 17 fold increase in the amount of entrants over just 6 years earlier. There were barely over 500 people who played for the title in 2000, and now it was almost 9000. Most of these additional players came from the online world, regular folks sitting at home in front of their computers who had played in small entry fee tournaments and won.

The World Poker Tour continued to grow and attract more and more interest, leading to more and more television coverage. People would watch at home and then want to get involved. So they would sign up for an online poker account, which in addition to their WSOP satellites, also offered players chances to win seats at World Poker Tour events. Some of these online players would make it to the final table shown on TV, which would in turn inspire more viewers to want to participate.

The WSOP, not wanting to be just confined to a once a year event, looked to get in on the action as well, and around this time started the World Series of Poker Circuit. These tournaments had nothing to do with the annual world series, other than being WSOP sponsored events. The WSOP name had become synonymous with poker excitement and riches, and thus was starting to really increase in value as far as a trade mark goes, which the new owners at Harrah’s were very eager to take advantage of and milk for what they could get from it. So this new series, and a number of lucrative marketing deals with several big companies, had the business end of the WSOP really taking off. The record field of 2006 simply added to it.

In 2005, the tournament had been moved by Harrah’s to the Rio, but the final table was still held at the Horseshoe. This turned out to be one last time for old time’s sake though, as in 2006 the entire main event was hosted at the new and much larger casino, ending an era. However, the new digs were significantly better and a big improvement, and was an entirely appropriate setting for what had now become a grand event on a scale far exceeding anything that had existed previously in the world of poker.

Once again, for the third year in a row, the champion from the year before outlasted all previous champions from other years. A total of 16 past champions participated, including old timers Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim, who both failed to survive the first day. There were so many players that year that the opening day had to be broken down into 4 sessions, as there were not anywhere near enough seats at even the Rio to accommodate everyone at once. On day 4, only Hashem and 1983 champion Tom McEvoy were left, and Hashem outlasted McEvoy to earn the distinction of the last former champion left standing.

More and more celebrities were getting in on the action as well, although most went out early on. Some of the more famous names from outside the world of poker included James Garner of Maverick fame, golfer Paul Azinger, former basketball star Charles Barkley, Superman actor Dean Cain, former porn star Ron Jeremy, college basketball coach Denny Crum, former boxer Lennox Lewis, Spiderman actor Toby Maguire, American Pie actress Shannon Elizabeth, and many others. Professional snooker player Steve Davis ended up outlasting them all, and finished in the money with a 579th place showing.

All participants at the final table the year before received at least a million dollars, but this year that amount became upped to at least a million and a half. Jamie Gold was the most experienced and accomplished player at the final table, and other than fellow pro Allen Cunningham, had more final table finishes than the rest of the field combined. Gold had also been a student of two time WSOP champion Johnny Chan, and showed the world that he learned his lessons well.

Gold was particularly gifted at getting into the heads of opponents and using table talk to confuse and influence them. He would also occasionally reveal one of his hole cards when he folded, which was technically against WSOP rules, but he was not penalized for it that year, although he did receive warnings for it in subsequent WSOP events in later years. Gold even told his competitors that he did not want to finish in first place and instead preferred second, because he didn’t want to have to deal with all the fame this would bring. This was probably just another psychological tactic on his part though, and he didn’t miss a single trick where that was concerned.

One by one Gold busted out his opponents, and in fact personally eliminated 7 out of the 8 participants with him at the final table. He just didn’t win the thing, he ran over everyone. Finally, he hit top pair on the flop, queens versus Paul Wasicka’s pocket tens.

Once again, likeJoe Hashem did in the previous year, a big hand was decided by a player hitting a single over card, a queen again this time, to an opponent’s pocket pair. Although Wasicka was the favorite pre-flop, the queen on the flop ended up doing him in, and the wily Gold instantly became the all time money leader in the history of poker with his unprecedented 12 million dollar top prize.

The win wasn’t without controversy though, as a man named Crispin Leyser claimed that he had a deal with Gold where he would get half of his winnings, and was thus owed $6 million. Leyser sued Gold and had a court freeze the 6 million dollars pending the outcome of the decision, and by all accounts he had enough proof to win. The men ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, although it’s presumed that Gold had to share a good part of his $12 million win, and people have speculated that the settlement was somewhere between 4 and 5 million dollars. Even with this taken into account though, it was still a very good payday for Gold, and he had the bracelet and the title of world champion in his pocket as well.