Tans, pinkie rings and the World Series of Poker hit Vegas

I was walking through the massive hallway at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas two weeks ago and was in total awe of the amount of perfectly-brown sun tans and pinkie rings that were standing all around me.

I was also amazed with all of the bad-beat stories that were flowing on cell phones.

“My aces got cracked,” was one of the most prevalent stories in the hallway at the Rio.

I didn’t have any of those bad-beat stories. I was just at the Rio to watch a little bit of the annual World Series of Poker Main Event, which is currently taking a three-month hiatus after a month-and-a-half run in Vegas.

Unfortunately, my income from the Federal Way Mirror didn’t allow me to throw down the $10,000 entry fee for the Main Event, which is the final of 55 events at the World Series of Poker.

The 2008 World Series was the largest in the event’s history. A grand total of 58,720 entries laid down their hard-earned cash in hopes of winning one of the 55 gold bracelets that were awarded to the champions of each event contested. Those figures represent an 8 percent increase over last year.

This was also the richest World Series of Poker in history. A grand total of $180,676,248 in prize money was awarded this year, making this the richest event in all of sports.

The top prize at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker will be $9.12 million this year, and 666 players got some piece of a $64.3 million prize pool, tournament officials said.

But we won’t know until November who will take home the top prize. For the first time in the history of the tournament, the final table of the Main Event will take a 117-day break before the remaining nine players battle for the $9 million.

The “November Nine” will play Nov. 9-10 in the 1,500-seat theater at the Rio where magicians Penn and Teller normally perform. Delaying the final table play allows ESPN to televise the event pretty much live, which they haven’t done in the past.

The World Series of Poker presented by Milwaukee’s Best Light starts its run on ESPN Tuesday at 8 p.m. This is the first of 17 weeks of consecutive Tuesday-night WSOP programming, totaling 33 hours leading into the coverage of the Main Event final table on Nov. 11.

The $10,000 buy-in Main Event featured a total field of 6,844 players, which was 500 more than last year. It was the second largest field in the history of the Main Event. The largest was in 2006 when 8,773 players entered. Jamie Gold won $12 for winning that tournament.

Tournament spokesman Seth Palansky said the number of entrants was what tournament officials were expecting, about equal to the event’s average for the last five years.

Participation dipped sharply in 2007, nine months after President Bush signed a law that cracked down on Internet gambling in the United States. The law was blamed for the decline because it meant that fewer U.S. players could qualify for the main event through online satellite tournaments.

“It’s inevitable when you play on the global stage that we’re on ... that you’re going to be subject to different fluctuations at different times,” World Series of Poker commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said. “The fact that we broke all of the records we set last year is terrific, but there may be years where we’re up, years where we’re down. Bottom line is that we’re here for the long term and we’re not going anywhere, and I don’t know many poker properties that can say that.”

Also helping the popularity of the World Series of Poker this year was several celebrities plopping down the $10,000 to play in the Main Event. Celebrity players included Jason Alexander, Nick Cannon, Jose Canseco, Larry Flynt, Forrest Griffin, Orel Hershiser, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, Mekhi Phifer, Paul Azinger, Bruce Buffer, Shannon Elizabeth and Ray Romano all played and were all knocked out early.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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