Sports

'Unbelievable' World Series of Popker drew a full house

Tracy Golden has been in plenty of card rooms during his lifetime and thought he’d seen pretty much everything during his 15 years as the poker manager at Federal Way’s PJ Pockets Casino — big wins, big losses, nice players and not so nice players.

But what Golden witnessed last month when he walked into the brand-spanking new convention center at the Harrah’s Rio Casino in Las Vegas was something he’s never seen before. It was a specially-built 60,000 square-foot room that housed 200 oblong poker tables with 10 players sitting around each one of them clicking, stacking and throwing away their poker chips.

“It was just unbelievable,” Golden said. “It was just crazy. You could have easily fit three entire football fields inside of the convention center.”

Golden was in Sin City playing Texas Hold’em at the pinnacle of the sky-rocketing sport of competitive card playing — the World Series of Poker.

Today marks the culmination of the 45-day long World Series, which included 42 different events, capped with the most prestigious poker tournament of them all — the Main Event.

The eventual winner of today’s World Series of Poker Main Event will pocket a cool $7.5 million, while second place will “only” receive $4.25 mill. In fact, every one of the players at the final table will become instant millionaires — thanks to ninth place paying out $1 million.

The extra-gigantic payout at the 2005 Main Event is thanks to a record-setting number of players who plopped down the $10,000 entry fee.

The Main Event started with 5,661 players and the opening round of play was spread out over three days, with roughly 2,000 players in each session. The number more than doubled last year’s then-record total of 2,567 in the Main Event.

Three of the entries happened to list Federal Way as their hometown — Terrence Ding, Yoo S. Kim and Dai Suk Suh. Ding was actually in the top third of the field after the first day of play, turning his opening $10,000 in chips into $43,475. Kim and Suh also had pretty solid first days with Kim accumulating $25,750 and Suh more than doubling his money to $24,800. But all three were knocked out of the tournament in round two Sunday.

The booming popularity of poker, fueled by play on the Internet and numerous television poker events, helped to expand awareness of the World Series and substantially increase its attendance. The growth forced Harrah’s Entertainment, which purchased the World Series brand name last year, to move the event away from its downtown Las Vegas home at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino into its new location at the Rio.

“The World Series of Poker is a sporting event like no other,” said Gary Thompson, the tournament’s director of communications. “It offers more prize money than any other sanctioned sporting event, and it gives amateurs the opportunity to compete alongside the legends of the game. For a baseball fan, it’s like stepping into the batter’s box against Roger Clemens and knowing that, if you can hit his fastball, you can walk away with millions of dollars.”

The entire 36th World Series of Poker has been the most popular ever, with nearly 20,000 participants taking part in the 42 events with a prize pool exceeding $75 million.

Golden played in two events early at the World Series in Las Vegas. As the poker room manager at PJ Pockets, Golden was able to enter the Casino Employee No-limit Hold ‘em tournament June 2 at the World Series, which had a $500 buy-in. He also paid $1,500 to play in a Limit Texas Hold ‘em event on the fourth day of the event.

“I busted out of both of them,” he said with a laugh. “But it is just crazy how popular poker has become. It is just so big now. I’ve been the poker room manager since 1990 and it was a lot tougher then to get even one game going. Now there are so many new faces coming in because they saw it on TV. That makes it a lot easier to manage a poker room.”

ESPN has been filming the World Series competition and is planning to produce 26 one-hour episodes of the tournament with an additional six hours of coverage documenting the circuit events. Coverage is slated to begin Tuesday night.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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