This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2015 issue of WGM.
There was barely a dull moment at the 2015 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as records tumbled and thousands of players took their shot at winning poker’s most coveted prize.
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) has produced countless memorable moments in its decorated 46-year history, from the legendary feats of Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson during those modest beginnings at Binion’s to the game-changing performances of Chris Moneymaker and Australia’s Joe Hachem.
Yet rarely have records fallen with such ferocity as they did this year. Already ahead of the game when it was announced that the 2015 WSOP would feature a record 68 bracelet events – three more than last year – the most significant addition to the schedule was the US$565 Colossus with its massive US$5 million guarantee.
Aiming to break the record set at the 2006 WSOP Main Event for the largest live tournament field ever assembled (8,773), the Colossus lived up to its name with 22,374 starters exceeding all expectations.
A little over a week later, Phil Hellmuth did it again – winning his 14th WSOP bracelet to move four clear of his nearest rivals.
Hellmuth is no stranger to the WSOP, but this year’s event attracted plenty of first-timers with the Colossus helping total attendance figures across the 68 events top 100,000 players for the first time with 103,512. The 111 nations represented was also a new high.
And as the Main Event neared its November Nine, it became apparent that this was going to be one for the ages – literally. With the oldest player to have previously made the November Nine being 57-year-old Steve Gee in 2012, 2015 saw not one but two older players reach the final table. In any other year, 61-year-old Neil Blumenfield would have made the record his own after using his years of experience to reach the November Nine third in chips, but joining him when play resumes on 8 November will be 72-year-old Pierre Neuville. The Belgian will also become the oldest ever Main Event champion should he go all the way, taking over from the great Johnny Moss who was 66 when he won it for the third time in 1974.
This year’s WSOP Main Event attracted 6,420 runners – slightly down on 2014 – and featured a flatter payout structure with the top 1,000 finishers making the money. As always, the field included its fair share of celebrities as well as a who’s who of the poker world and plenty of starry-eyed amateurs dreaming of glory. Most would find themselves headed to the rail much earlier than they had hoped although by the end of Day 4, with 661 remaining, there were still plenty of notables in contention including former Main Event champions Hellmuth, Hachem, Jonathan Duhamel, Ryan Riess and Jim Bechtel.
Hellmuth’s run eventually came to an end in 417th at the hands of good friend Daniel Negreanu and it was the six-time bracelet winner who would become the headline story heading into the penultimate day.
One of poker’s most recognizable and popular players, Negreanu looked certain to improve on his 11th-place finish at the 2001 WSOP and make his first Main Event final table but was cruelly eliminated in 11th once again. The image of a devastated Negreanu lying flat on his back with his hands over his face will likely be replayed many times in the coming years.
His absence means the 2015 November Nine is made up of largely unknown players with just one former bracelet winner in 27-year-old Max Steinberg who won a US$1,000 No Limit Hold’em event in 2012 for US$440,000.
However, there is no doubting the pedigree of dominant chip leader Joe McKeehen. The 24-year-old American finished second in last year’s WSOP Monster Stack event for US$820,000 and has two WSOP Circuit Event wins to his name, so he is well versed in what it takes to go all the way. More importantly, his 63,100,000 stack represents 33 percent of the chips in play and is more than double that of his nearest rival.
While his date with destiny is yet to be fulfilled, there were a number of wonderful storylines to emerge during the course of the 2015 WSOP. Hellmuth added to his incredible legacy as the most successful player in WSOP history by winning his 14th bracelet in the US$10,000 Razz Championship – moving four clear of Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey all with 10.
Another former Main Event winner, 2010 champion Duhamel, continued his love affair with big events by taking down the US$111,111 High Roller for One Drop and adding another US$3,989,985 to the nearly US$9 million he won five years ago.
And a couple of players managed to win multiple bracelets in 2015 with Brian Hastings and Max Pescatori claiming two event wins apiece.
But perhaps the best story of all belonged to 40-year-old Christian Pham. The Vietnamese-born Pham, who emigrated to the United States 15 years ago, had planned on playing a US$1,500 No Limit Hold’em event but accidentally registered for the US$1,500 No Limit 2 to 7 Draw Lowball instead – a game he had never played before. Pham only realized his mistake once he had taken his seat and the first hand was dealt but after being told it was too late to unregister, decided to watch and learn as he went. Two days later he had conquered the 219-player field to be US$81,000 richer and a WSOP gold bracelet winner!