07/15/2010 3:35PM

Drama builds at World Series of Poker

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LAS VEGAS – The World Series of Poker is one of the greatest events hosted in Las Vegas every year.

The strange thing is how many misconceptions there are about it, though these are fewer and farther between with so much coverage given to the event over the past decade, especially with countless replays on ESPN. Back at the turn of the century, when most people said “World Series of Poker,” that was synonymous with the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold’em Championship Event. Now, even the most casual poker follower know that’s just the “Main Event.” This year, there were 56 other tournaments held at the Rio All-Suites Hotel, with a total of 65,647 total entries, an increase of 22 percent over last year in setting a record, as well as more than $118 million in prize money awarded.

This year’s Main Event started Monday, July 5, and drew a field of 7,319 entrants, which was second only to the record 8,773 that played in 2006. The prize pool is $68,798,600, with the champion’s share set at $8,944,138. The field is so large that everyone can’t fit in the Amazon Ballroom (or even the other ballrooms the WSOP uses for tournament play) and they have four different Day 1’s – held last July 5 through July 8 – with the survivors moving to two separate Day 2’s on July 9 and 10. Last Sunday was a day of rest, and then the 2,557 remaining players all returned to the tables Monday.

A total of 747 players finished in the money this year, earning at least $19,263 if they make it that far (nearly doubling their buy-in). The “bubble” was Tuesday night. Harrah’s officials slow down play as that approaches and all tables go one hand at a time and wait for all other tables to complete their hands so tournament organizers can see who miss the cut. This year’s bubble boy in 748th place was Tim McDonald, a professional fisherman from Lexington, Ky., who at least earned the consolation prize of a free entry in next year’s Main Event.

As of this writing Thursday morning, the field stood at 205 spread out over just 23 tables in the now seemingly cavernous Amazon Ballroom. Play was set to resume at noon and again on Friday with the field playing down to the final three tables of 27 players. Those players will return to the felt Saturday and play down to the November Nine that will stamp their tickets for the final table in, well, November. Each of those will become instant millionaires from prize money earned in the Main Event, with other opportunities to earn sponsorship dollars.

If you’re in the area Saturday, I definitely recommend that you check out the scene. However, it’s probably not what you would expect in many ways. A lot of people ask if there’s an admission charge and are pleasantly surprised to find out it’s free and open to the public. The other misconception is that there are thousands of spectators – think more along the lines of hundreds, and if you’ve only watched tournament poker on TV you’re in for another surprise as the action is very slow by comparison. There’s a lot of hands where one person raises and the rest of the table folds. The play tends to get even tighter as the prize money increases.

The thing that still amazes me is that you can walk through the casino at the Rio and see literally thousands of people who seem oblivious to the fact one of the great sporting events is taking place on the same property. Of course, I have that same feeling on the rare Sunday afternoon that I’m walking through a casino instead of watching all the games in a sports book and wonder how all those people aren’t watching football.

As the field whittles down from the 27 players Saturday, they’ll stay with three tables until they get to 18 players and then split them into the final two tables of nine. When each of those tables get down to five players, they’ll combine for a final table of 10 and then play until the first player is eliminated, setting the November Nine.

If you come by, say hi. I’ll be the one typing away on my netbook and checking baseball scores and horse racing results during the frequent lulls in the action.

LeBron decision sparks NBA futures

The big sports news last week was LeBron James deciding to take his talents to Miami to play for the Heat. Teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they made themselves the team to beat in the NBA as Las Vegas sports books installed them as a 9-5 consensus favorite around town. In the process, they also made themselves the team to hate. The M Resort made them -160 (odds-on choice of 5-8) to win the Eastern Conference and offered up +140 (odds of 7-5) for those wanting to bet against them. Likewise, you could lay -250 (odds of 2-5) that any other team will win the NBA title. The two-time defending champion Lakers are in the unlikely position of being the second choice at 3-1, even though they have nearly their whole team coming back as well as coach Phil Jackson. Expect the odds on the Heat to rise and the Lakers to drop. I’d make them both co-faves at 5-2.

World Cup wraps up

Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 last Sunday in extra time to win the FIFA World Cup tournament of 32 teams (note: for the sake of comparison, the WSOP Main Event attracted players from 117 countries). The game was tied 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes plus injury time, so it was actually Netherlands backers cheering as they covered the 1/2-goal spread in traditional two-way betting. In three-way betting, the draw cashed at +230 with wagers on both Spain and Netherlands being graded as losers. Any questions about why this sport hasn’t been fully embraced in this country? At least the game stayed under the total of 2 goals, so that was easy for everyone to figure out. Spain was the 4-1 second choice entering the tournament. The Las Vegas Hilton has already posted odds on the 2014 World Cup, with Brazil as the 7-2 favorite.