Big changes, big expectations for 2008 WSOP

Hellmuth - 11, Chan and Brunson - 10.

As the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino puts on its face to get ready, thousands of poker players from around the world are either in or on their way to Las Vegas with their game faces set for the start of the World Series of Poker on Friday.

Last year's series had its highs and lows. Controversies ranged from the new style of cards that had to be scrapped on the first day to playing outside in the poker tent to the secluded final tables of some events.

On the upside, several events of the 2007 World Series of Poker drew record numbers, Phil Hellmuth won his 11th bracelet and the young pros of the online poker world showed they had talent at the live tables as well.

Several changes have been made for the 2008 WSOP to enhance both the player and the spectator experience, and hopefully along with that there will be the usual excitement of broken records and amazing displays of poker skills.

The 2008 WSOP runs May 30-July 14 and features 55 different bracelet events in almost every variation of poker. With 47 days of poker ahead, let's take a look at how the setup has been changed to improve the spectacle for all this year.

To avoid the issue of long lineups like those at the beginning of the 2007 Series, this year registration opened two days ahead of the first bracelet event. Players could begin registering for Event 1 on Wednesday and avoid the last-minute rush.

To further expedite the processing of player paperwork, the cage and the payout area have been combined, and the cage will be separated from the tournament play area to accommodate more guests.

For the convenience of both the players and those who've come to see them, separate entrances have been established to allow both groups easier access to tournament areas.

There will also be expanded restroom facilities available throughout the Rio convention area and no tournament action will take place in a tent outside. According to officials, the food should be improved this year as well, with national brand-name chains helping out and new options such as a sushi and noodle bar.

For players specifically, a concierge service has been established for players to make hotel, restaurant, show, spa and transportation arrangements for any Harrah's-operated property in Las Vegas. The Rio will also store player information electronically to ensure quicker payouts for repeat winners.

Another change that could drastically alter the atmosphere of the tournaments is a new Code of Player Conduct implemented for the WSOP. The Code clearly defines acceptable behavior during the course of the tournament and reinforces the penalties that will result from violating the code.

Mike Matusow
Better watch your mouth!

Mike Matusow may need to be on his best behavior this year if he doesn't want to lose his chips to tournament officials instead of to his fellow players.

World Series officials have also made changes to the actual tournaments for this year. They are offering a record number of new championships in various poker disciplines and a range of buy-in levels.

On tap for the players are 55 bracelet events that include eight $10,000 World Championship events as well as eight $5,000 events and eight $1,500 events.

"If you've dreamed of becoming a WSOP champion, this is the year to enter," said WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. "With 55 opportunities to win a bracelet, more $1,500 and $10,000 events than ever before, and same day television coverage of our Main Event Final Table, the WSOP stage has never been brighter."

Perhaps the biggest change, or at least the most talked about so far, is the change to the Main Event format. For the first time in the WSOP's 39-year history, the Main Event final table will be delayed in order to have it taped and broadcast in primetime on ESPN the same day the player actually wins the event.

Once the Main Event makes its way down to the final nine players on July 14, play will stop and the players will have 117 days to secure sponsors, get coaching, study their opponents' play and find a good final-table strategy before play begins again in November.

The final nine will return to the Rio on Nov. 9 with the winner being determined in the early hours of Nov. 11 and the telecast of the results airing on ESPN that same night.

There's quite a few days of poker between now and then, however, with plenty of opportunities for players to secure a spot in poker history.

Poker fans could see one of many poker records fall again this year. In 2007 there were several participant records broken, money records broken, and once again the title of youngest bracelet winner was handed to a new player.

The records set last year that could once again be broken this year include:

  • Most total entrants for all events: 54,288
  • Largest prize pool: $159,796,918
  • Largest Ladies World Championship: 1,286 players
  • Largest Seniors World Championship: 1,882 players
  • Largest $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E.: 148 players
  • Largest preliminary event prize pool: $7.1 million for $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E.
  • Largest preliminary event top prize: $2.2 million for $50,000 World Championship H.O.R.S.E.
  • Largest Field of Players (non-Main Event): 2,998 for $1,500 No-Limit Hold'em
  • Oldest player to compete in a WSOP event: 94-year-old Jack Ury in Main Event
  • Youngest player to win a WSOP gold bracelet in the United States: Steve Billirakis - 21 years, 11 days - in $5,000 World Championship Mixed Hold'em Limit/No Limit

The 2007 WSOP also saw 87 countries represented at events, with five different countries represented at the Main Event final table alone.

That international flavor will likely continue to grow as players from all over the world win online qualifiers that pay their way to play in the WSOP Main Event.

Perhaps at the foremost of poker fans' minds, however, is whether Phil Hellmuth will be successful in his crusade for a 12th bracelet.

He nosed past Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, who each have 10 bracelets, by winning his 11th in the 2007 WSOP. Neither Brunson nor Chan can be ruled out to win a bracelet and catch Hellmuth either.

Poker fans who can't make the annual trek to Las Vegas for the poker action need not go without the latest news from the WSOP felt. PokerListings will be on the scene for every minute of cardplay during the 2008 WSOP.

Head to the Live Tournament section to find all the best live updates, player interviews, reports, videos, photos and more from Rio as the first cards are dealt at noon on Friday up until the final chip is raked in at the end of the Main Event.

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