When records get broken, it’s usually by small margins.

Progress rarely comes in leaps and bounds.  Instead, most advances are incremental, tiny even.  We don’t see the beanstalk grow or the flower bloom.  But they do grow.

Accordingly, no one could have possibly have imagined what would happen on the inevitable day when one of the most idolized numbers in the poker’s storied history was finally eclipsed.  The number 8,773 was to this game what 56, 714 and 2,130 were for decades to Major League Baseball -- not just numbers but triumphs of accomplishment and targets for future generations.  [SEE FOOTNOTE]

Indeed, for those who remember the time when a whopping 8,773 players jammed into the Rio in Las Vegas entering the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event, many thought that benchmark ceiling wouldn’t be threatened for a very long time, let again broken.  Not unless a future WSOP were to be held in the Superdome.  And, for nearly a decade, they were right.  No poker event anywhere since then had ever come close to overshadowing that numerical elevation.

Tonight, inside the same building where the largest poker tournament in history was held nine years ago, the fifth event on the 2015 WSOP schedule didn’t just shroud the previous record by a tiny surplus.  It obliterated the old benchmark, slapped it silly, and kicked it in the ass.  You think 8,773 was a big number?  Well, nearly two and a half times that number filled the Rio to capacity and then some, turning this past weekend into a poker colossus of unprecedented scale.  When the final tally of the $565 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Event (with multiple entries) was announced at 22,374 entries, there must have been a collective worldwide jaw drop among anyone even remotely familiar with poker events and those familiar with the mind-boggling challenges of pulling off such a monumental feat without many glitches.

Four starting flights helped to shoehorn more bodies around more poker tables than ever before.  But this event wasn’t all that different from conditions in 2006, when multiple starting flights also helped to accommodate some big numbers.  The prize pool amounted to $11,187,000, the biggest payout ever for any live poker tournament with a buy-in less than $5,000.  More players will get paid in this tournament than will likely enter the majority of gold bracelet events held this year, with 2,241 finishing in-the-money, and that same number guaranteed to nearly double their money, since $1,096 is the minimum cash payout.  That's a lot of people who will take home not just cash, but serious bragging rights.

That said, even a record-smashing WSOP event and a relatively seamless registration process didn’t stop some controversy when the prize pool was announced to the three large tournament rooms packed with players during Day Two, and blasted out to several news outlets, and the worldwide immediacy of social media ready to pounce.  

First place will pay $638,880, came the announcement out of the Rio.  The top seven players will each collect more than six figures.  Yet, some critics were quick to rush to judgment, saying they were disappointed with the top prize.  Such criticism, while both honest and credible, is also terribly short-sighted.  Remembering that this event had just a $565 buy-in tournament, the top prize still represents more than 1,100-times the initial investment, far more than most tournaments.  Moreover, far more players from all around the world are now guaranteed to double, triple, quadruple their money – and then some – than any poker event ever held, by a stellar margin.

Ty Stewart, WSOP Executive Director, answered the critics and went to Twitter, responding quickly to questions that were raised, reminding the poker world that nothing like this, not even close to this, had ever taken place before.  “It (should be) an intelligent debate.  There is no roadmap for paying 2,241 players,” Stewart posted.

Perhaps the best summation of the payout structure debate was made by experienced poker writer Aaron Todd, a reporter at CasinoCity.com.  “The person who wins the #Colossus may believe 1st place should get more.  The other 2,240 ITM finishers should prefer this payout structure,” Todd wrote.  He’s right.  Just about everyone in the tournament benefits, except for one player, and the winner likely won’t be lodging any complaints once the winner’s check is presented along with the gold bracelet.

Controversy aside, “The Colossus” won’t be talked about tomorrow, nor a week from now, nor a month from now, nor ten years from now for the amount of the money the winner collects.  The real number to remember is “22,374,” a whopper which should stand for quite some time as a record unlikely to be broken, at least until someone figures out how to pack a football stadium with poker players.

So, what does all this mean – not just for the players at the WSOP, but for Las Vegas, and poker as a whole?  Well, several things come to mind.

Las Vegas has just experienced its busiest poker week in history.  Spillover from the WSOP at the Rio flowed into every other poker room in the city, as waiting lists were 50 to 100 players deep in some casinos.  Every poker table within miles of Las Vegas had a game going, with poker now the hottest topic in town.  Poker has just enjoyed its busiest period in one place in history.  In a sense, everyone won who was here just for the experience.  Casinos enjoyed hosting more players than they’d imagined.  Players found more games to choose from than ever before, assuming they could get a seat.  Other tournaments around town were completely sold old.  Las Vegas became the poker capital of the world once again, and shined as the beacon of aspiration for those who were here and untold thousands more who couldn’t come this time, but will come if and when something like “The Colossus” is ever offered again.  Long after the poker boom of a decade ago faded, the game could really use a week like this, and the WSOP delivered it.

Indeed, the marvel of “The Colossus” can be summed up in a story from a weekly home game in southern Illinois, which took place three months ago.  The host heard about a $500 tournament coming up at this year’s WSOP, which promised the chance to win a gold bracelet and be part of history.  He told his poker playing buddies.  They mulled things over and decided that this was finally the perfect time to come to the WSOP, make the trip to Las Vegas, and cross one thing off the bucket list.  The entire group came, and played.  No doubt, many other small private games around the world had similar conversations months ago and then went for glory.  This tournament undoubtedly produced the largest first-time WSOP field ever, becoming the destination of aspiration for thousands.

That more first-time poker players likely played in “The Colossus” than may have entered the entire 2006 WSOP Main Event speaks volumes as to what our priorities should be – which is managing the growth of the game as best we can, sparking new ideas to bring more people into poker, and then giving all those who play in the WSOP their chance to not just win, but return with memories of a historical experience.
FOOTNOTE:  Joe DiMaggio still holds the hitting streak record for most consecutive games with a base hit – which was 56.  The number 714 represents career home runs by Babe Ruth, a record which stood for nearly 40 years.  2,130 represents the number of consecutive games played by Lou Gehrig, another record which lasted for more than half a century.