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'Better than nothing': Michigan poker stars look ahead to first virtual Main Event

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Las Vegas is tacking COVID-19 and mask-wearing seriously. You can't even enter the outdoor Fremont Street stretch without a face covering or showing an ID for contact-tracing purposes.

Still, the World Series of Poker announced Friday it will hold its prestigious Main Event virtually in 2020, with the exception of two final tables and a heads-up match with the final two players — one international player and one from the United States.

Ryan Riess

The WSOP summer circuit of dozens of tournaments was held virtually this year. The circuit typically brings tens of thousands to Las Vegas every year, including thousands into the $10,000-buyin Main Event. Instead this year, the Main Event will be almost exclusively online, starting with the international field Sunday, Nov. 29, playing on GGPoker.com, and a United States field Sunday, Dec. 13, playing on WSOP.com.

The final nine players internationally will play in-person Monday, Dec. 7, at King's Casino in the Czech Republic. The United States final table is scheduled to begin Monday, Dec. 28, at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. ESPN will provide live coverage of the final tables.

The winner of each bracket then will meet Wednesday, Dec. 30, at the Rio.

“There must be a world champion in 2020,” said Ty Stewart, the WSOP's executive director. “Poker’s history is too important.  It’s a unique format for the Main Event, but this is a unique year. We want to keep players’ health and safety top of mind and still deliver a great televised showcase for the game we love.”

Prize money for each of the international and domestic brackets will be paid out separately, with $1 million up for the grabs for the heads-up match.

Michigan, of course, has made a strong showing in the Main Event, especially in recent years.

Shelby Township's Joe Cada won in 2009, Clarkston's Ryan Riess won in 2013, and Cada and west Michigan's Nic Manion made the final table in 2018.

Cada in 2009 and Riess in 2013 each won more than $8 million.

Cada, 32, now a four-time WSOP bracelet winner, has a strong online-poker background but doesn't play as much since selling his condo in Canada. He said he's not overly sold on the format, given there already was supposed to be an online Main Event this year. He said he probably won't take part, marking the first time he's skipped the Main Event since winning.

Meanwhile, Riess, 30, said, "it's better than nothing." He's had 22 small cashes in online tournaments since the WSOP went virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but is mostly a live cash player.

"I love it," Riess said. "Hopefully we can have a somewhat normal WSOP next summer. Fingers crossed."

All players will be tested for COVID-19 prior to the final tables, and anyone who tests positive will be disqualified and receive the final-table minimum payout.

This is the 51st year of the Main Event, with only players in Nevada and New Jersey eligible to compete in the United States because of online-poker prohibition throughout most of the country.

The pandemic has shut down most poker rooms around the country, including at the three casinos in downtown Detroit. Poker rooms that have reopened have limited seating and installed plexiglass dividers.

Grand Rapids' Tom McEvoy was Michigan's other Main Event winner, in 1983.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984