Ever visited the Grand Canyon?  If so, then surely you understand there are simply no words to describe the spectacle, nor convey the captivating sensation of gazing upon one of nature’s greatest wonders.  The sight is indeed, breathtaking. 

The closest thing poker has to a Grand Canyon experience is entering this year’s World Series of Poker for the first time and gawking upon rows and rows and rows of poker tables, thousands of players, and unprecedented anticipation.

No word or photograph can capture what is most certainly the biggest poker event ever staged.  The numbers do provide some idea of the size and scale of this year’s WSOP:  100,000 square feet of floor space; 378 poker tables; 1,000 dealers; thousands of spectators, capacity for up to 3,760 players in a single day [1];  Enough watts of electricity to power a city.

A mix of players were approached on the first of two starting days during the first $1,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em tournament (Event #3), which nearly packed the Rio to full capacity.  They were asked for their initial reaction to this year’s new WSOP setup:

Allyn Jaffrey Shulman (Attorney, Las Vegas, NV) – “It’s just amazing.  It’s exciting.  It’s awesome.  People are coming here to the WSOP from all over the world.  I also notice that things are very classy this year.  The food court is much better.  People can come in and make restaurant reservations.  The first thing I saw when I walked in is how classy and organized things are this year.”

Dwyte Pilgrim (Poker Pro, Brooklyn, NY)“When I first walked in I said, ‘Wow this looks amazing.’  It seems a lot more structured this year.  People have to understand it takes time to get something like this together.  Now, when you’re inside the same room as everyone you can see the competition.  You can always see what’s going on.  Overall, it’s done very well.”

Andrew Black (Professional Poker Player, Dublin, Ireland)“It’s a massive improvement.  When I came in this year for the first time, I was thinking to myself – where is this thing called ‘The Pavilion?’  Then, I found out it’s this very room we’re in right now.  It’s phenomenal.  It’s so much bigger than the Amazon Room, where we played most of it last year….The major thing I notice is just the sheer number of players.  There’s this depth of table after table after table and person after person after person.  There’s just no comparison to how it used to be.  It’s amazing to be part of it, and I’m still a bit shocked, you know?” [2]

Eric Cloutier (Business Owner, Lafayette, LA)“It’s much better this year.  Ten times better.  I think a lot of improvements have been made in the cash games this year, which I am very glad to see.  Everyone thinks about the tournaments, but the cash games have improved from what I’ve seen.”

Jena Delk (Poker Player and Blogger, Merritt Island, FL)“The display of the gold bracelets up there on the main stage is one of the things that impressed me the most.  I don’t remember looking at them in past years, or that they were on display like that.  I’m glad to see that  they made them the focus this year, where all the gold bracelets are on display for the players to see and to be reminded of what we are playing for.”

Tiffany Michelle (Poker Pro, Los Angeles, CA)“I walked in two days ago and I thought, ‘Great job, World Series.’  I’ve been fortunate to watch the World Series evolve.  It’s obvious that a lot of thought has been put into how things are done and where things go.  The poker kitchen is located in a much better place….before, as a player when you were here it was very tough to move around.  It was a challenge to go from one place to the other.  So, I feel much more at peace this year.  Now, I’m not stressed out about getting around as much as I was in the past.  Big kudos to the WSOP, for taking the players’ feedback and making a lot of improvements.”

Doug “Rico” Carli (Poker Pro, Alliance, OH)“It’s definitely an improvement.  There is so much more room to move around.  In previous years, when you had fields like this you could not move.  It would take 15 to 20 minutes just to get to the restroom….I think anyone who comes in and sees this for the first time will be impressed.” 

Matthew Stout (Poker Pro and Blogger, Clifton, NJ)“The World Series has always been one of the more impressive setups just because of the sheer mass of it.  You don’t see a tournament room of this size anywhere else in the world.  Also, with most of the action inside one room, there is less wasted time on moving things around.  In previous years, it took longer to break down tables and keep things in order.  You would sometimes lose five or ten minutes of playing time just because of the configuration.  This should cut down on a lot of the chaos.”
   Many longtime WSOP veterans and former winners were quick to agree.  Even those who have played in the WSOP dating back decades were near unanimous in their reactions to seeing this year’s WSOP for the first time:

Nick Gullo (WSOP Tournament Staff – Satellite Supervisor)“When I entered, I said to myself, ‘Wow, I cannot believe what I’m looking at.’  I can’t believe this World Series takes up a hundred-thousand square feet of space filled from corner to corner and end to end with poker tables and players.  It’s amazing to see this kind of growth at the World Series and witness what’s it’s become.  I never could have imagined it.  No one could possibly have imagined it – no one.”

Amarillo Slim” Preston (1972 World Champion)“I came in this morning and I thought the U.S. Marines had landed.  This is the biggest (expletive deleted) room I’ve ever seen.  I’ve got 40 acres of red hogs, but I sure as hell haven’t ever seen a building like this before.”

Jack McClelland (WSOP Tournament Director from 1984 through 1998)“It looks like they finally got it right.  It’s beautiful.  The setup is near perfect.  I remember when (the WSOP) was my baby for 15 years.  Now, I feel like a proud uncle looking at all this.  I’m very happy.  It looks super.”

Thor Hansen (Two-Time WSOP Gold Bracelet Winner)“My reaction is that the WSOP gets nicer and nicer each year.  This is very good from what I have seen, so far.  I remember when this tournament was just a couple of tables at the old Horseshoe and now to see this -- it’s going to be great this year.”

Chris Moneymaker (2003 World Champion)“It’s incredible how big the WSOP has gotten.  I remember back when I won it.  The ceilings were low.  You could smell smoke everywhere.  You couldn’t even move around because there were so many people.  Now, it’s very spacious.  Harrah’s has done a fantastic job of spreading things out and giving the players plenty of room to play and move around.  It’s really incredible to see how big the WSOP has become.  It’s insane.”

   Moneymaker’s remarks were particularly poignant, since in many ways he can be credited with the poker boom and the transformation of poker into the modern age.  “I don’t think about what my win meant in relation to all this,” Moneymaker added.  “But I guess what happened back then sure did change a lot of lives and bring more people into the game for the first time.  Of course, many of the players are getting better now, too – which stinks.  But everything else about the WSOP getting bigger has been great.”

   Of course, poker players will never completely agree about anything.  One pesky pest in the otherwise praiseworthy discussion was Irish poker pro Padraig Parkison, one of the game’s most maladroit malcontents.  Parkinson sneered, “I tell you the truth.  I don’t like this one bit.  I much prefer to be playing it at a place like Binion’s.  There was nothing like when we were playing it at Binion’s.  Look at this place.  This is just like playing the World Series inside an airport.  But hey, this is what we got to do.  Look at this table they stuck me at.  Look at these bunch of stiffs I get to play with [3].”

   Alas, no one can please all the people all the time – not even the WSOP.

   There’s only one Grand Canyon, and there’s only one World Series of Poker.  It’s a spectacle to be seen and an experience to be savored.  This year, poker history will be made at the Rio in Las Vegas from now through July 17th.  We’ll bet your initial reaction will join the chorus of thousands -- aside from one Irish gadfly -- who are collectively repeating one word more than any other.  That word is, “WOW!”


[1] This figure does not necessarily represent the sell-out capacity, since tables are used for many separate poker events.

[2] “The Pavilion” refers to the main tournament room where all noon events held this year will begin.

[3] At the time Parkinson’s comments were made, he was pitifully short-stacked and exited the tournament a short time later.  Readers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions.