2016 WSOP and History – Buyins and Payouts

Buyin Amounts

[LL] “I just realized that when you said the new WSOP team event could be the cheapest buyin since 1978, you weren’t even adjusting for inflation”, Leroy the Lion noted.

[SS] “I was going to mention that, but I forgot. A dollar in 1978 is worth $3.65 today,1 so the $200 buyin works out to $730. This year’s potential $250 buyin is actually the cheapest in WSOP history, ahead of the $100 buyin for the 1977 Women’s Championship, which is an inflation-adjusted $392.96.

The average buyin for WSOP tournaments has also decreased over the years. It was $1,800 in 1971, which is $10,584 in today’s dollars. The average dropped under $10,000 for the first time in 1979 ($9,294) and under $5,000 for the first time in 1992 ($4,752). After bottoming out at $3,190 in 2004, the average crept up again to $5,638 in 2009.

Then the Big One for One Drop skewed everything. The million dollar-buyin event in 2012 pushed the average all the way up to $21,042. But since it’s such an outlier and so many players sell shares of themselves, it’s not unreasonable to ignore the $1,000,000 and $111,111 events. That brings the 2012 average back down to $4,106, right in line with every year since then, including 2016, which checks in at $4,407 (down $220 from 2015 because of one fewer $10,000 event and one fewer $5,000 event).”

[RR] “So the trend toward more big buyin events has ended?”

[SS] “Yes, temporarily at least. By far the most common buyin is still $1,500 (23 of 69 events this year; 387 events in the history of the WSOP). On the other hand, while there have been more $1,000 events (185) overall, there are only 11 this year compared to 13 $10,000 events (139 overall). $5,000 (160) and $2,500 (152) tournaments have been more prevalent, but expect $10,000 events to surpass them in the next few years.

On the flip side, with the new $888 buyin event this year, seven buyins have now occurred exactly once:

  1. $100: 1977 Women’s 7-Card Stud (Ladies Championship)
  2. $200: 1978 Women’s 7-Card Stud (Ladies Championship)
  3. $777: 2015 Lucky 7’s No-Limit Hold ‘Em
  4. $888: 2016 No-Limit Hold ‘Em Eight Max ($888,888 guaranteed)
  5. $3,500: 1999 No Limit Hold ‘Em
  6. $4,000: 1973 7-Card Stud
  7. $40,000: 2009 No Limit Hold ‘Em (40th Anniversary event)

None of these win my prize for the strangest buyin amount though. Every single buyin has either been a round number ending in zeroes, or a string of repeating digits. The lone exception was the $565 buyin introduced last year for two events2 and extended to three events this year. I haven’t got a clue why they didn’t go with $555 instead.”

[RR] “Well, when you’re texting, 565 stands for LOL, since those are the digits on those letters on the keypad. So maybe they thought it was a happier number.”

Rebuys

[SS] “You know what also makes people happier? Rebuys. It’d be a bummer to drive all the way here for our home tournaments and bust out right away, well before players are available for a side game. The WSOP has allowed rebuys in a small percentage of tournaments since at least 1976, when the $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw had them. Both Pot Limit Omaha events in 1984 allowed rebuys, kicking off the rebuy era that lasted until the WSOP abruptly stopped offering them in 2009.”3

[RR] “Why?”

[SS] “Amateurs were complaining that it gave the professionals, and those with bigger bankrolls, an advantage.”

[LL] “But that’s not really true, is it? Each time you rebuy into an event, your expected value goes down. For example, the first rebuy means you’ve paid twice as much to win almost exactly the same prizes. And you also have a progressively smaller than average stack each time.”

[SS] “I think it was more from a strategic view point. You can play more aggressively if you can afford to rebuy than if you can’t.”

[LL] “I say let them rebuy as often as they want! Better return on investment for those who don’t rebuy.”

[SS] “Well, the WSOP quietly brought back rebuy events this year. For the Casino Employees event, which has no poker professionals, “players eliminated during registration period are allowed one re-entry”.

The $111,111 High Roller for One Drop, the $10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship and the $1,500 2-7 Draw Lowball allow one rebuy; while the $1,111 Little One for One Drop, the $1,000 WSOP.com Online No Limit Hold ‘Em, and the $565 Pot Limit Omaha allow unlimited rebuys.”

Payout Percentages

[SS] “Another thing that makes players happy; our home tournaments pay a higher percentage of the field, usually from a fifth to a fourth. People seem to like that. In fact we like it so much, the last few players usually vote to pay the bubble boy (never mind that that just creates a new bubble boy).

It looks like the WSOP finally agrees. One of the big changes this year is that the percentage of the field that makes the money is going up from a minimum of ten percent to a minimum of fifteen percent.”

[RR] “That will make fifty percent more people happy, I think.”

[LL] “It’s not like ten percent was set in stone anyway.”

[SS] “Exactly right. While ten percent may seem to have been the fixed percentage for a long time, in reality, that’s mostly only been true of the Main Event, and even then only dating back to 2005. Before 1973 (and in 1975), all WSOP events were winner-take-all, so discussing the percentage of players paid makes no sense. But since then, the numbers have ranged wildly. Events have paid from as low as 2% (3 out of 176 players for a 1980 Seven Card Stud event) to as high as 36% (100 of 279 players in a 2005 No Limit Hold ‘Em rebuy event) and even 43% for one small event (3 of 7 players in a 1978 Limit Draw High event).3

Every year before 2012 had at least one event that paid under 10% of its field, and every year has had at least one event pay at least 13% of its field (with most years before 1989 going over 20%, a threshold that was also topped in 2012 and 2014).

The Main Event itself was winner-take-all through 1977, when 33 out of 34 players left empty-handed. The championship event paid between six and twelve percent from 1978 to 1985 then jumped to 26% in 1986, leading to seven straight years above 16%. This dropped almost steadily to 7% in 2001 and 2002 before creeping back up to 10% in 2005 where it remained until 2014. Last year, since they thought it would be cool to pay the top 1,000 places, over 15% actually got paid.”

[LL] “You know who’s going to be unhappy about this change? The guy who cashed in five straight Main Events.”

[SS] “That was Ronnie Bardah, from 2010 to 2014. Matching his 1 in 100,000 feat is now just a 1 in 13,169 accomplishment. In fact, cashing six straight times (1 in 87,791) is now easier than what he did. So, we should give the next record holder an asterisk unless they reach seven straight (1 in 585,277).”

Footnotes:

  1. All inflation figures were calculated using the U.S. Inflation Calculator.
  2. The 2015 WSOP kicked off with the $565 Casino Employees event (up from $500) and added the $565 Colossus, which drew a record 22,374 entrants. The extra $10 per player was worth $223,740 for that event alone! 2016 added a $565 Pot Limit Omaha event.
  3. An oddball 50/50 No Limit Hold ‘Em tournament in 2015 that paid half of its entrants is being ignored for this discussion. The event did not return for 2016.

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2016 WSOP and History – Game Types

Game Types

[SS] “When you think of old-time poker, what game comes to mind?” Stan the Stat asked.

[RR] “Well, Five Card Draw, of course”, Roderick the Rock noted.

[LL] “Sure”, Leroy the Lion agreed. “Way before I was old enough to gamble legally, Bugs Bunny taught me how to draw a poker.”

[RR] “Five Card Stud is also a pretty old game.”

[LL] “It makes perfect sense that the two oldest games are the ones where you have five cards. Using five out of seven cards like in Seven Card Stud and Texas Hold ‘Em is obviously a later development.”

[SS] “And the history of the World Series of Poker reflects this. From 1971 to 1973 at least 40% of each year’s games gave each player just five cards. 1981 was the only other year it topped 30% (4 of 13 events). 1991 was the last year it reached 10%. This year it edges up slightly to just 7% (5 of 69).”1

[SS] “Also, Draw and Stud games, as opposed to Flop games, were more prevalent in the early days. Draw games peaked at 29% of events (2 of 7) in 1973. They’ve been in single-digit percentages since 1993, with the same 7% I just mentioned this year.

Stud games peaked at 53% of events (7 of 13) in 1977, have been in single-digit percentages since 2008, and are coincidentally also 7% in 2016.

Flop games started at 20% of events (1 of 5), reached 50% in 1989, and had crept up to 67% by 2003. When Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event though, the WSOP responded by greatly increasing the number of No Limit Hold ‘Em events, the game most popular among the surge of new players. Flop games peaked at 87% (40 of 46) in 2006 before dropping to 75% (41 of 55) in 2007. This year’s 71% (49 of 69) is the lowest since 2003.

Mixed games debuted in 2000 and have slowly but surely increased since 2007 from 9% (5 of 55) to 14% (10 of 69) in 2016.”

High Games vs. Low Games vs. Hi-Lo Games

[SS] “It actually surprised me that they played so much lowball in the early days of the WSOP. Except for 1972, which had just two events, both of which were high-only, lowball tournaments were at least a third of all events from 1971 to 1975, and again in 1977 and 1986. Low-only events only dropped under a fifth in 1991, and bottomed out at 4% in 2006 before climbing back to 10% this year.

Hi-Lo events debuted in 1976, surpassed Low events in 1995, and peaked at 21% in 2000 before sinking back to 9% last year and 10% this year.

Betting Limits

[SS] “When I played poker as a kid, I didn’t even know that what we played was called limit poker. Those were just the rules of poker as I learned them.”

[LL] “Me, too! After years of playing limit, I didn’t fall in love with poker until I was introduced to no limit. Crandell Addington had a great quote about the difference: ‘Limit poker is a science, but no limit is an art. In limit you are shooting at a target. In no limit, the target comes alive and shoots back at you.”

[RR] “I find limit poker pretty boring, but some people still prefer it, maybe exactly because it’s so much steadier.”

[SS] “As you’d expect, limit poker dominated the early days of the WSOP. Initially only the championship event was no limit. Although no limit games briefly took over in 1975 (60%) and 1976 (63%), limit games were otherwise the majority of the events until 2000. From 2001 to 2004, limit still held the lead but had fallen under 50%. With the Moneymaker effect, however, No Limit Hold ‘Em alone pushed no limit games ahead to stay in 2005 (48%), accounting for over half the events since 2008 (54% this year).

In 1984, a year after Omaha debuted as a limit game, it became the first pot limit event at the WSOP. Pot Limit Hold ‘Em could have been played much sooner but didn’t appear until 1992, two years after the first Pot Limit Omaha 8 event.2 The popularity of pot limit games peaked from 1993 to 1999, hovering between 25% and 30% of all events. About one in six events has been pot limit since 2011, and limit and pot limit events have been roughly even since 2005 (17% and 16% in 2016).”

Footnotes:

  1. In the strange year of 1999, when the total number of events dropped from 21 to 16, there were no five-card events. That’s the only time that has happened.

    Note: Mixed Games are considered “Other” for most sections of this series of articles. Some Mixed Games are actually all Limit or Low-Only, etc., but it was too much work to figure them all out and wouldn’t have materially impacted anything. Maybe if I revisit this in 2017, I’ll go back and add them where they belong.

  2. The big question is: “Why is Omaha usually played pot limit, while Hold ‘Em is better as no limit?” The answer is that Omaha is the most exciting when players are chasing draws after the flop. In a no limit game, players would be correct to shove all in, or at least for much more than the pot, whenever they were ahead. People would be killing an ant with a stick of dynamite, but they’d be correct!

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2016 WSOP and History – Schedule and New Events

[SS] “Less than a month away now…”, Stan the Stat teased.

[FF] “What, the Stanley Cup Finals?” Figaro the Fish suggested.

[SS] “Yeah, that too, but I never watch unless the Bruins are in it. We were in the middle of a poker tournament here when that dream ended in their final regular season game.”

[LL] “Of course, Stan is referring to the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll“, Leroy the Lion jested.

[SS] “A perfect allegory for how the Bruins season: high expectations, then downhill all the way ending with a big crash.”

[LL] “I’m sure it’s a sight to behold not unlike the Running of the Bulls where somewhat less than sane humans get themselves run over by massive, fast-moving objects with no mind for their safety.”

[FF] “I was just kidding too. I know you tick off the days until the World Series of Poker on your calendar like a six-year-old waiting for Christmas.”

[LL] “Actually, have you seen his Poker Powerhouses Pinups Calendar?1 I thought I noticed some drool on Mr. June: Phil Hellmuth posing with his fourteenth bracelet.”

[SS] “Yes, I’m talking about the WSOP, which kicks off on the first of June with the Casino Employees event. The Main Event doesn’t start until July 9 but isn’t the last event to begin for the first time since 2008.2 That honor belongs to the concurrent Little One for One Drop, which starts on July 12. The Main Event plays down to the November Nine on July 18 before taking its now-standard break until mid-fall. The final table returns on October 30 for three more days of play.

I should point out that instead of starting with 30,000 chips,3 everyone will get 50,000 chips. This will also be true for the dozen other $10,000 buyin events.

For the sixth straight year, the number of events has increased to a new record, this time to 69, one more than last year. Mixed Games and Omaha (high and hi-lo) each gained two events, while No Limit Hold ‘Em lost one event, and Pot Limit Hold ‘Em lost two to disappear entirely from the schedule for the first time since its introduction in 1992.

The removal of the $1,500 Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event surprised me, since attendance figures had been healthy. After peaking at 1,102 entries in 2006, numbers had settled into a steady range from 535 (2013) to 765 (2011), with last year (639) right in the middle of both that range and the 68 tournaments at the 2005 WSOP (32 events had fewer entries, including three that were under 100).”4

[LL] “Maybe Pot Limit Hold ‘Em will come back next year when they top 70 events… What are the two new Mixed Games events?”

[SS] “Actually, there are three, as the $1,500 Ten-Game Mix/Six-Handed was dropped, although it was basically replaced by a $1,500 Eight Game Mix Six Max. The other two new events are a $1,500 Mixed Pot Limit Omaha/No Limit Hold ‘Em event, a combination that was used once before, for a heads up event in 2012, and a $2,500 Limit Triple Draw Lowball mix with A-5, 2-7, and Badugi. All three of these varieties are usually played in larger mixed events, but this is the first time they’ve been separated out. It’s a pretty unusual trio, since at least one of the H.O.R.S.E. events is usually in every WSOP mix.”

[FF] “And didn’t I hear something about a team event?”

[SS] “Indeed. From 1979 to 1983, the WSOP had a Mixed Doubles event featuring 7-Card Stud except for 1980, which was No Limit Hold ‘Em. Teams were composed of one man and one woman, who alternated play every half hour. This year’s event features teams of two to four of any gender,5 probably with each team deciding who should play by blind level.6 There’s been some confusion, but I think the $1,000 buyin is per team, not per player. This makes it a $250 buyin for members of four-player teams, the cheapest way to play a WSOP tournament since 1978.”7

Footnotes:

  1. Sorry, like the Poker Greats Playing Card Deck, this doesn’t really exist.
  2. In 2008, the Casino Employees event was last instead of first.
  3. The Main Event had started each player with 10,000 chips until 2005. This increased to 20,000 in 2006 and to 30,000 in 2009.
  4. The least attended events of the 2015 WSOP were the $10,000 2-7 Draw Lowball Championship (77 players), the $50,000 Poker Players Championship (84 players), and the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Championship (91 players). In terms of revenue, the three lowest events were the $1,500 2-7 Draw Lowball (219 players), the $1,500 Seven Card Stud (327 players), and the $1,500 Dealers Choice/Six-Handed (357 players), not including the special Casino Employee event with its $565 buyin.
  5. It will be interesting to see if any all-women teams run deep in the new event.
  6. The official rules of the team event state that “After everyone has played at least one round of blinds, teams may freely tag each other in and out as long as they are not actively in a hand.”
  7. The 1977 Women’s Championship was just $100, while the 1978 Women’s Championship was $200. And yes, if you can sell shares of your action, you can play any WSOP event with as small a risk as you want.

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WSOP: Mixed Games (2000 to present)

[SS] “Our dealer’s choice cash games are a sort of mixed-game event, but we switch games as often as every hand, and it’s not a tournament”, Stan the Stat claimed.

[RR] “And our buyin is a lot smaller”, Roderick the Rock added.

[LL] “And most of the games we play aren’t in the WSOP”, Leroy the Lion contributed. “And that’s despite the fact that we’ve banned wild card games.”

[RR] “After a few hours of Hold ‘Em, I can see why people like the mixed games. Variety is the spice of life.”

[LL] “‘He who controls the Spice, controls the universe.'”1

[SS] “Well, in the World Series of Poker’s universe, mixed games are the new star. The first mixed event was the 2000 Women’s Championship, which paired Seven Card Stud with Limit Hold ‘Em. The following two years introduced S.H.O.E. (Seven Card Stud, Limit Hold ‘Em, Omaha 8, and Stud 8) and H.O.R.S.E. (S.H.O.E. plus Razz). 2008 saw Omaha combined with Pot Limit Hold ‘Em in one event and Stud Hi/Lo in another.

2010 began the megamixes with the Players Championship 8 Game Mix of Limit Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo, No Limit Hold ‘Em, Pot Limit Omaha, and Deuce to Seven Triple Draw, and almost every year since then has seen more mixed events with larger game selections, topped by the 2015 Dealers Choice event, which allowed players to choose from a whopping 19 different games. That’s just about every game that’s ever been played at the WSOP except for 5-Card Stud, Ace to Five Draw, and Chinese Poker:2

  • A-5 Triple Draw (Limit)
  • 2-7 Draw (No Limit)
  • 2-7 Triple Draw (Limit)
  • 5-Card Draw (No Limit)
  • 7-Card Stud (High and Hi-Lo, with and without a qualifier)
  • Badugi (Limit; 4-card low triple-draw game where you need one of each suit)
  • Badacy (split pot Badugi and A-5 Triple Draw)
  • Badeucy (split pot Badugi and 2-7 Triple Draw)
  • Big O (Omaha with five hole cards)
  • Omaha (Limit and Pot Limit)
  • Omaha 8 (Pot Limit and No Limit)
  • Razz (Limit; basically A-5 7-Card Stud Low)
  • Texas Hold ‘Em (Limit, Pot Limit, and No Limit)
Game Name Mixed Games
Game Type Various
Game Limits Limit or Various
High or Low Various
WSOP Years 2000 to present
Buyins $1,000 to $50,000
Largest Field 963 (2011 $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event)
Notable Champions Phil Ivey is the king of Mixed Games, having won four WSOP bracelets. John Hennigan, Mike Gorodinsky, and Tom Schneider have won two open events each, while Nani Dollison took down the Women’s event twice when it was Stud/Hold ‘Em. Vanessa Selbst and Carol Fuchs are the only women to have won open Mixed titles.
Basic Rules Each game type is played for one loop around the table before it changes according to rotation or the next player’s choice in Dealer’s Choice games. For televised final tables, No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em is usually played regardless of what variation was supposed to happen.
History Dealer’s choice home games have existed ever since multiple poker varieties have been available. Mixed Games joined the WSOP with the 2000 Women’s Championship and have become increasingly popular during the 21st century.
Notes Mixed games began by just alternating two poker variants. Events consisting of up to six types are usually known by acronyms such as S.H.O.E. (also called H.O.S.E.), H.O.R.S.E., H.O. (Hold ‘Em and Omaha 8), O.E. (Omaha 8 and Stud 8), H.A. (Pot Limit Hold ‘Em and Omaha). Beyond that, the events are simply known by as N-Game Mix, with the rules specifying the games being played.

Footnotes:

  1. Baron Harkonnen uttered these immortal words in the 1984 film Dune.
  2. A few missing limit variations have also been played: Limit Ace to Five Draw, Limit 5-Card Draw, and Pot Limit 5-Card Draw.
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