The World Series of Poker summer circuit can be a grind, but, hey, at least it’s air-conditioned in the All-Suite Rio Hotel and Casino.
And that’s no small thing, given the 115-degree temperatures on the Las Vegas strip in July.
“I just got into my car,” said Jordan Young, a poker pro from Muskegon, “and I literally burnt myself on my seat belt.”
The WSOP is a marathon schedule of 74 tournaments packed into a sprinter’s time frame of not even two months.
But what keeps so many poker grinders going, through all the highs and lows that come with trying to make a living at a game that can provide so much stress and heartache, is the WSOP Main Event, the mother of all poker tournaments.
It’s $10,000 to enter, with a first prize of more than $8 million.
The odds are so long, but the dreams are fantastic.
“The Main Event is five times more exciting than Christmas, Christmas as an 8-year-old,” Young said, laughing but deadly serious. “The feeling I had when I was 8 doesn’t even compare to how I feel at 30 years old when I’m gonna go play the Main Event.”
The Main Event, which began at the historic Binion’s Casino in 1970 with a modest first prize of less than $30,000 and now is held at the Rio with a first prize that recently forever changed the lives of two local men, begins Saturday and runs through July 22 or 23.
ESPN for the first time will provide live coverage throughout the tournament, where the game is No-Limit Texas Hold’em.
Shelby Township’s Joe Cada won in his debut in 2009 at the age of 21, and Clarkston’s Ryan Riess won in 2013, also his debut. First prize for each was more than $8 million.
“I feel like I get more excited about it every year, I get better every year,” said Riess, 27, who’s actually cashed in three of his four Main Events, a very successful feat given most good poker pros only cash in 15 to 20 percent of their tournaments.
“I love the Main. There’s something crazy about it.”
Riess, a Michigan State graduate, has had a good summer, cashing in five tournaments -- including a top-four finish in the $10,000-buy-in Heads-Up Championship. He was bummed he didn’t get his coveted second bracelet, but it still was worth $125,454.
Young, too, has had a banner year, with four cashes, but one was a big one — a runner-up showing in a $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event that earned him $242,160. But this will be his eighth Main Event, and he hasn’t cashed yet, despite big stacks heading into Day 3 — the day of the money bubble. Often, he played too many big pots, put the pedal to the metal much too soon, and it cost him every time.
Grand Rapids’ Casey Carroll, 29, has made tournament Final Tables this summer, which is impressive, though given the big jumps in pay for each eliminated place, he still came away disappointed, with a sixth ($42,246) and a ninth ($13,026) among his four cashes this year.
This will be his second Main Event, and the first one, well, didn’t go so well.
“I didn’t even make the dinner break,” he said, with a laugh, this week, while back home in Michigan, taking a bit of a break before he flies back to Vegas on Sunday. “I could tell you, I had a dream about it last night, that I made the Final Table. It would just be literally a dream come true. There’s a ton of anticipation, and excitement.
“It’d just be really cool, and if it’s not me, I’ll be rooting on some of my best friends. And hopefully one of us can take it back to the Mitten.”
Michigan is a poker hot bed, thanks to the fact there are so many casinos in the state — and there are so many colleges, with dorms, where card games often pass the time, are perfect for procrastination, and can help you earn some textbook money.
Dozens of players from Michigan participated in WSOP events this summer, whether it was a full-time job, or just a one-shot give-it-a-go during a weekend vacation.
The last Michigan man to win a WSOP event was Cada, who took home a $670,041 in 2014 for his second bracelet, after his amazing good run of cards to win the Main Event in 2009. Cada, now 29, hasn’t had the best summer, though he has it better than most. Given his good fortunes, he hasn’t had to sweat finances. That said, he also hasn’t cashed in the Main Event since he won it, a sore spot that his good buddy, Riess, loves to needle him about.
“I told Ryan, ‘Yeah, you know, I’ve gotta break the streak,’” said Cada, who has five cashes this summer, tops being a 42nd-place finish for $28,160.
“He was really surprised by that. I guess it’s easy to say when you’ve cashed three out of four! Yeah, I’ve gotta break that string.”
WSOP MAIN EVENT
When: Saturday-July 22, with off-days July 18-19
Where: Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
Field: More than 6,000 poker players are expected to participate in the $10,000 buy-in event, including many from Michigan.
First place: Expected to be around $8 million, depending on number of entries.
Local winners: Grand Rapids’ Tom McEvoy (1983; won $580,000); Shelby Township’s Joe Cada (2009; won $8.6 million); Clarkston’s Ryan Riess (2013; won $8.4 million).
New this year: ESPN or ESPN2 will air live coverage throughout the Main Event, on 12 of the days, including coverage of the Final Table on ESPN2 on July 20 and ESPN on July 21-22. Also, the tournament will end this month, as opposed to bringing the nine remaining competitors back in the fall for what had been referred to as the “November Nine.”