Reflections on the 50th WSOP

Poker is alive and well if the numbers for this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) is any indication. The WSOP kicked off with a bang opening weekend with the Big 50 shattering records for the largest live tournament in history with 28,371 entries.

This momentum carried through the entire series culminating with the Main Event drawing the second-largest number of entries in its 50-year history. 8,569 players vied for the title of poker’s world champion. In the early morning hours of July 17, Hossein Ensan beat Dario Sammartino and claimed the gold bracelet and $10 million.

ESPN did an outstanding job broadcasting live poker which can be a challenge to keep both entertaining and educational. You could learn so much from watching poker live and not just an edited version showing the most exciting hands and situations to hold the audience’s attention.

Nick Schulman, a three-time WSOP bracelet winner and well-respected poker commentator, made a comment about this year’s Main Event, which drew some major criticism. When he said don’t watch the Main Event  to learn how to play poker, a Twitter war erupted which may have resulted in Nick being removed from being a guest commentator for the rest of the event. 

Schulman, an excellent game analyst, gave some expert insight into the game, which he plays at the highest levels. He was spot on about the level of play, and I agree with him. Nick did not back down and went on Twitter to defend his opinion: “The tourney is soft with some incredible players battling.”

Nine New Millionaires

The final nine were playing so much small-ball poker it made the game play very slow. 

One young amateur player named Kevin Maahs from Chicago decided to slow the game to a crawl, which really hurt the live broadcast. I am sure the final nine, except the winner, wish they could go back to that table and replay their hands again.

Most said in their exit interviews it was the most exciting time of their lives and thanked their family and friends for the support. I salute every single player who had to navigate through 8,560 players to get the final nine and a guaranteed payout of $1 million.

I think the money, which for most young poker players, was life changing did effect the decisions being made at the final table. Italian poker pro Dario Sammartino, who finished second, was impressively dressed in a tuxedo and had the most experience of any players at the final table. the crowd favorite. All-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, along with my wife, thought he would win it all.

Sammartino made some great reads of other opponents’  hands but also made some big mistakes that will haunt him when he watches the replay of hands after the event. He had friends fly from Italy to root for him as part of a singing cheerleading group of fans that kept us entertained.

New Poker Champion Crowned

At one point Ensan, who also had a loud group of fans on the rail, had to raise his hand to ask Sammartino’s fans to cool it. The final table players seemed to bond as friends and not as rivals which was a pleasure to watch. They were all living the dream.

In what turned out to be the final hand of the Main Event, Ensan had pocket kings, and his opponent had a flush draw and a straight draw, Pocket kings held up, and Sammartino had to “settle” for $6 million.

It was a great end to a historic WSOP. One thing is for sure–for those of us who love poker, we are ready for the 2020 WSOP.


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