The steps leading into the Rio Convention Center offer the first hint.
There, in an elaborate black and white advertisement, visitors are greeted with a reminder of the biggest difference in this year’s World Series of Poker.
“$10,000,000 Guaranteed First-Place Main Event”
This summer, the WSOP commemorates its 10th consecutive year at the Rio — hence, the $10 million prize — and the next seven weeks are expected to be more extravagant than ever before, complete with live music, indoor blimps and even Frisbee-catching dogs.
But mostly, this year’s WSOP will be about cash. Lots of it.
“This is our Olympics. This is our Woodstock. This is our celebration,” tournament director Jack Effel said during a conference call.
The 45th annual event opens today with the first of 65 bracelet events and culminates with the $10,000 No-Limit Hold ’em World Championship, which runs July 5 to July 14. The final nine players then return in November to battle it out for the eight-figure payout, the first guarantee in Main Event history.
The 2013 WSOP saw a record nine players earn seven-figure cashes, excluding the Main Event, and that mark is likely to fall this summer as tournament officials anticipate a total prize pool of more than $200 million.
In addition, the WSOP probably will surpass the $2 billion mark in total prize money awarded in its history, with $1.6 billion of that coming since the event moved from Binion’s Horseshoe to the Rio for the 2005 event.
Last year’s WSOP drew a record 79,471 participants from 107 countries, and even more could descend on the Rio this time.
“We believe that each summer the Rio becomes the heart of poker, just as the Horseshoe will always be its soul,” World Series of Poker executive director Ty Stewart said. “The move to the Rio ... really allowed us to evolve and expand the vision of what the WSOP could become.”
The WSOP officially gets underway at noon with the $500 buy-in Casino Employees No-Limit Hold ’em tournament. Most eyes will be on the new, three-day $25,000 buy-in Mixed Max No-Limit Hold ’em event, which is one of the largest buy-ins on this year’s bracelet schedule and starts at 4 p.m.
Those events are mere appetizers for the three-day, $1,500 buy-in Single Re-Entry No-Limit Hold ’em tournament, dubbed the “Millionaire Maker,” that opens Saturday and features a guaranteed $1 million to the winner. Last year’s inaugural event drew 6,343 entrants — the largest non-Main Event field in history — and champion Benny Chen walked away with almost $1.2 million.
Other notable events include:
■ The new $1,500 buy-in “Dealer’s Choice” tournament (June 19 to 21), in which players choose between 16 variations of poker. “This is an event that I’ve wanted in the schedule for a really long time, and it’s finally here,” Effel said.
■ The $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship (June 22 to 26), the second-most expensive buy-in. Matthew Ashton pocketed more than $1.7 million for his victory last year.
■ The $1,500 buy-in No-Limit Hold ’em Monster Stack tournament (June 26 to 29), which could eclipse more than 5,000 entries, according to tournament officials. The new event features a 15,000-chip starting stack.
■ The $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop No-Limit Hold ’em tournament (June 29 to July 1), which returns after a one-year hiatus and benefits the One Drop water awareness charity. In 2012, pro Antonio Esfandiari earned more than $18 million, and this year’s winner could take home more than $20 million.
■ The $1,111 buy-in Little One for One Drop Re-Entry No-Limit Hold ’em event (July 2 to 5), which is expected to award the largest prize pool of any $1,000 buy-in event this summer.
“There are a slew of events that will create millionaires this summer,” Stewart said. “That’s a real source of pride for us at the WSOP.”
Of course, no event is bigger than the Main Event. Last year’s winner, Ryan Riess, took home $8.36 million, and the 2014 champion is ensured of at least the second-largest prize in the event’s history. Jamie Gold won more than $12 million in 2006.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Riess said of the massive guarantee. “I think it’s a great to bring more people out.”
Riess bested 6,351 other players to win his first gold bracelet, and this year’s Main Event should exceed that number of entries. Along with live satellites, players can enter satellites online for as little as $1 to earn a seat in the Main Event.
“If you’re asking me for a bold prediction of Main Event entries,” Stewart said, “I’m putting every cent I have on the over versus 2013.”
This year’s WSOP also will also allow laptops at the tables, enabling players to play tournaments online while simultaneously participating in live events at the Rio.
Most of the final tables from this year’s event will be streamed almost live (with five- or 30 minute delays) on WSOP.com. ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP begins July 29 with the Big One for One Drop tournament, and the Main Event will be shown starting Sept. 28 for seven consecutive Sunday nights leading into the “November Nine” final table.
Contact reporter David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.