In 2012 Guy Laliberté and the WSOP are taking tournament poker to astronomical new heights with the world’s first $1 million buy-in event.
The maximum 48 players have now committed to playing, which begs the question, “Who in their right mind would spend a million dollars on a poker tournament?”
Well, we’re here to answer that question, along with everything else you might be wondering about this super-mega-ultra high roller WSOP bracelet event.
We’re going to go through the list of confirmed players, updating it as more people jump on board, and we’ll make a few educated guesses about who else might be able to afford the most ballingest buy-in in poker history.
In addition to player bios we’ll be looking at the projected prize pool and the event’s One Drop charity component.
NOTE: An official list of participants has now been posted with several changes from the previously confirmed list. See the list of new additions below the bios.
- $1 million buy-in
- 10% of buy-in automatically donated to One Drop
- 48 player maximum
- 3 million starting chips
- 20% of the field will make the money
Confirmed Players for the $1 Million 2012 WSOP Big One
- Who he is: Founder of Cirque de Soleil, Guy Laliberté got his start busking on the streets of Montreal. Since then he’s grown his circus into a worldwide phenomenon that's been seen by more than 90 million people, been named Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young and taken a vacation into space.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: As Canada’s 11th wealthiest man, with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, Laliberte is one of the few players in this event that can eat a $1 million loss without breaking a sweat.
- Fun Fact: Even if Laliberte wins this tournament it won’t fully make up for his online poker losses.
- Who he is: The Owl, the 1978 world champion of poker, President of the Golden Nugget, Bellagio and Mirage. These are just a few of the things Bobby Baldwin has been called. A casino industry fixture for the last 30 years, there’s a reason the biggest cash game in Las Vegas is played in “Bobby’s Room”.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: According to the Casino Journal the average gaming CEO made $750,000 in 2007 and Baldwin has been a top-level executive since the 80s. And just think, he’s probably getting comps to the Bellagio buffet 365 days a year.
- Fun Fact: Despite having limited presence at live poker tournaments, Baldwin is the proud owner of four WSOP bracelets, including the world championship in ’78.
- Who he is: An American businessman with interests in casinos, oil production, convenience stores and real estate, Phil Ruffin is best known as the owner of the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: In 2008 Ruffin was named the 215th wealthiest man in the US, with a net worth of $2.1 billion. Even though the casino industry’s had some tough times we’re pretty sure he’s got a spare million lying around somewhere.
- Fun Fact: At 72 years old Ruffin married 26 year old Oleksandra Nikolayenko, his fourth wife and 2004's Miss Ukraine. Even more impressive? They just had their first child together.
- Who he is: Arguably the most recognizable face in poker, Daniel Negreanu has been among the winningest tournament players in the world for more than ten years.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: With $14.65 million in live tournament earnings Negreanu is number two on the all-time live money list. He’s also the flagship of Team PokerStars Pro, a position which has probably been as lucrative for him as every hand of poker he’s ever played.
- Fun Fact: Negreanu is no stranger to dropping money in poker tournaments. At the 2006 WSOP he reloaded a record 48 times in the $1k rebuy event.
- Who he is: In many ways Tom Dwan defined what it is to be an uber-successful, fearless, talented and young online poker professional. He’s part of a very small group looked upon as the absolute best of their generation.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Estimating Dwan’s net worth isn’t easy but considering he was willing to put $1 million up on two separate occasions for the durrrr Challenge, it should come as no surprise that Dwan was one of the first to commit to the Big One.
- Fun Fact: Dwan doesn’t just play on the internet. He won the biggest pot ever played on GSN’s High Stakes Poker, a $919,600 monster he took from Barry Greenstein in Season 5.
- Who he is: 2010 world champion of poker, Montreal poker poster boy, new BFF of Guy Laliberte. Jon Duhamel played a comfortable and hospitable poker ambassador during his tenure as world champ, and looks to have a staying power not shared by main event winners of late.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Duhamel snatched nearly $9 million for winning the 2010 Main Event, and he also secured a PokerStars endorsement deal that is still in place today. Despite having close to $10 million in tournament earnings it’s extremely unlikely he’ll have 100% of himself in the Big One.
- Fun Fact: Duhamel donated $100,000 to the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation when he won the main event.
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier
- Who he is: Rock star in Korea, recreational kickboxer, Guiness World Record Holder. Real name Bertrand Grospellier, ElkY has been one of the winningest players in poker since 2008.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: ElkY has $8.6 million in live tournament earnings and over $1.1 million online. In addition to a bloated bankroll he has the confidence of every potential staker in the world. It will not be hard for ElkY to sell action for the Big One.
- Fun Fact: He got kicked in the head by Lex Veldhuis just a few weeks ago.
Justin “BoostedJ” Smith
- Who he is: From wheelchair to wealthy, BoostedJ has been winning at poker since an injury put him out of work at age 17. Since then he’s been a reserved but omnipresent part of the poker world. He’s a well-rounded, high-stakes veteran who plays many games and succeeds in both tournaments and cash games, online and live.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Smith has only been playing live tournament poker since late 2008 but already he’s earned more than $2 million. He’s definitely not afraid to play high. He took fourth in the $100,000 buy-in High Roller event at the 2011 Five Diamond in Las Vegas.
- Fun Fact: It appears Smith was involved in the 2011 horror movie Detention as an executive producer. The movie “starred” Dane Cook.
- Who he is: Dan Shak is known in the poker world as a hedge fund manager, but he’s probably known as a poker player by his fellow financiers. Specializing in gold futures Shak has been finding more and more time to play live major poker tournaments.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Shak’s New York City apartment sold earlier this year for $7.5 million and judging by the number of super high roller events we’ve already seen Shak playing, his commitment to the Big One isn’t surprising.
- Fun Fact: Shak has the rare ability to say he beat Phil Ivey at poker. Shak won the $100,000 buy-in event at the 2010 Aussie Millions, defeating Ivey heads-up.
- Who he is: A regular in the highest-stakes cash games in the world, you may have seen Robl on Poker After Dark or High Stakes Poker. Known more early in his career as good2cu, Robl cut his teeth online before becoming a predominately live player in the last couple of years.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: If you’re profitable in the highest-stakes cash games in the world, you likely have $1m kicking around. Robl has also spent time in the past year playing the softer, nosebleed-stakes games in Macau.
- Fun Fact: One of the original members of the "Ship it Holla Ballas" crew, Robl had one of the worst losing weeks of his career while being filmed for the documentary From Busto to Robusto.
- Who he is: The 68-year-old Bright is a day trader/professional poker player and the current chief executive officer of one of the biggest day-trading firms in the US, Bright Trading LLC.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: CEOs of successful trading companies rarely can’t.
- Fun fact(s): In 1974 Bright quit his management job and moved to Las Vegas to be a professional blackjack player. Bright also has a third-place finish at the 2006 WSOP in a $2k NLHE event. Bright has recruited several poker players to work for his trading firm, including at one time Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.
- Who he is: Katz founded the College Loan Corporation in 1999 and has built it into the seventh-largest education-loan provider in the United States. Katz is also the Chairman of the non-profit organization Stop Child Predators.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: Still in the process of paying back a couple of them, we can confirm student loans are a very profitable business for the loan company.
- Fun Facts: Katz has almost $700k in live tournament earnings and is a regular at the WSOP with seven career cashes. He also has a B.A. in Business Administration from the University of Georgia.
- Who he is: One of the all-time biggest winners in live tournament poker and a Poker Hall of Famer. Seidel began his poker career in New York playing the underground games and at the Mayfair Club before moving to Vegas and becoming one of the most conistent winners in poker ever.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: He's Erik Seidel, mostly. He also has $17m in career tournament earnings.
- Fun fact: A former tournament backgammon player, Seidel has eight World Series of Poker bracelets but is more known for the clip of him losing the 1998 WSOP Main Event to Johnny Chan that appeared in the movie Rounders.
- Who he is: The Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-raised Katchalov is one of the most respected players in the game and is on Team PokerStars pro. He has over $7 million in career live tournament earnings including wins at the $15k WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond Classic and the PCA High Roller.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: See $7 million in career earnings. He’s likely backed for some of his action, but his track record certainly helps bring in stakes.
- Fun Fact: Katchalov was just 10 years old when he and his mom left Kiev shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Katchalov also worked as a day trader and has degrees in international business and finance from NYU.
- Who he is: A South Florida native and one of the most successful tournament poker players of the last five years. Mercier has an EPT title, two WSOP bracelets and just under $8 million in career live tournament earnings.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy in: Mercier, like most poker pros, is selling shares for his buy in but with his record he won't have much trouble raising the cash.
- Fun fact: Mercier is a big Miami Heat fan and he had a large amount of money on the Heat winning the 2012 championship. Mercier also stakes well known pros Allen Bari, Dan O’Brien and Brent Hanks.
- Who he is: Not yet on the confirmed list, Lamb has said via Twitter he intends to play. Primarily a live pro, Lamb had one of the best World Series of Poker’s ever in 2011 when he won over $5 million, finished third in the Main Event and won his first bracelet. He was also named WSOP Player of the Year.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy in: With his huge 2011 Lamb can likely afford most of his action. He'll have no problem selling the rest to other poker players.
- Fun fact: Before making the November Nine in 2011, Lamb almost made the November Nine in 2009 before being eliminated by Jeff Shulman in 14th place.
- Who he is: A 41-year-old businessman from Paris with interests in retailing and real estate, Banjout has had some small successes in poker with a cash at the Monte Carlo Millions in 2006. He’s also known to frequent private high-stakes cash games in France
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: He’s rich, we assume.
- Fun fact: Banjout is one of the best backgammon players in the world and finished second in the World Championship of Backgammon in 1997.
- Who he is: A regular in the biggest cash games in London, Newey sold his debt consolidation business, Ocean Finance and Mortgages, for a rumored £200 million in 2006 and is one of the most successful young entrepreneurs in England.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: Newey is a founder of New Wave Ventures LLC and worth an estimated £230m.
- Fun fact: Newey set up Ocean Finance for just £2,500. He’s also a roulette high-roller and once took Star City Casino for £3 million, forcing the company to issue a profit warning.
- Who he is: Not necessarily well known to TV poker fans, Helsinki native Kyllönen has been a notorious high-stakes online crusher for years. Known as Jeans89 on PokerStars and Ingenious89 elsewhere, Kyllönen has won multi-millions of dollars online to go along with his $1.3 million in live earnings.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: According to Kyllönen, a banner year online so far in 2012 convinced him to take a shot at this "once in a lifetime" event. He also plans on paying the full buy-in himself.
- Fun fact: Kyllönen won the 2009 EPT Copenhagen main event in only his second big international poker tournament appearance.
- Who he is: Paul Phua is a big league investment banker from China who is one of the driving forces behind the nosebleed cash games in Macau frequented by Tom Dwan, Patrik Antonius and Gus Hansen. In 2011, Phua also showed up to play the high roller (and juice up the cash games) at the Aussie Millions.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Given he usually, by the sounds of it, loses a bit of money in the big cash games, Phua likely has a bottomless pile of investment money.
- Fun fact: Phua took Phil Ivey’s whole $200k stack at the 2012 Aussie Million cash game and left the table with it.
- Who he is: Another regular in the nosebleed cash games in Macau, Malaysian-born Yong is rumored to be a billionaire.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Business magnates usually aren’t hurting for cash.
- Who he is: 70-year-old John Morgan is an amateur poker enthusiast and CEO of the Winmark Corporation, a retail-franchise operation based in Minneapolis.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Being 390th on the all-time money list for the Heartland Poker Tour might not indicate just how deep Morgan’s pockets are.
- Fun fact: Morgan frequently plays in small-stakes Midwestern tournaments in Minnesota and also has one lifetime WSOP cash – a 35th-place finish in the 2010 Seniors event.
- Who he is: Number one on England's all-time live tournament money winner's list, Trickett has just over $6 million in career earnings. He's also a regular in the highest-stakes cash games in Macau.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: In 2011 alone, Trickett cashed three times for over $1 million - twice at the Aussie Millions (1st in $100k High Roller, 2nd in $250k Super High Roller) and for winning the Partouche Poker Tour main event.
- Fun fact: Trickett only started playing poker in 2005 after a knee injury ended his career as a professional footballer with Hartlepool.
- Who he is: A well known high-stakes poker pro and sports bettor, Voulgaris has appeared on High Stakes Poker as a player and as a commentator for several televised poker shows. While not playing much tournament poker in the last few years, his live earnings still total almost $2 million.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Voulgaris is known as a highly successful sports bettor, particularly adept at picking NBA and CFL games. He picked up his Big One seat via a deal with Quebec Lotto satellite winner Carlos Nahas.
- Fun fact: Voulgaris was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has a degree in philosophy from the University of Manitoba.
- Who he is: The voice of the World Poker Tour and a sponsored pro for Party Poker, Sexton is a long-time poker player with his own set of impressive results. Sexton has cashes at the WSOP dating back to 1984 and won his first bracelet in 1989.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Sexton has alluded to sponsors or backers paying his way into the Big One.
- Fun fact: Sexton was a paratrooper in the US Army before taking up poker in 1977. Sexton was also very good friends with Stu Ungar and was a pallbearer at his funeral.
- Who he is: The Manhattan-bred Schulman began his poker career at just 19 years old and by the age of 21 had won the biggest prize ever on the WPT - $2.2 million - at the World Poker FInals. He also became the youngest WT winner ever. Since, he's eanred his first WSOP bracelet and pushed his career earnings up over $5 million.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: Besides being extremely successful at the poker table, Schulman's general level of gamble seems to show he's can find money when he needs it.
- Fun fact: Also a pro-level billiards player, Schulman appeared on MTV's World of Jenks in 2010.On the show Schulman revealed he suffered from anziety attacks and dropped out of high school but poker helps alleviate his anxiety.
- Who he is: A surprising name of tne player list to some, Rajkumar is considered a poker prodigy within the industry and has over $4 million in career live tournament earnings. His biggest win was for $1.4 million at the 2008 WPT Borgata Open when he destroyed the final table in just 48 hands.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: His career earnings are substantial but he's more than respected enough in poker to get backing to play.
- Fun fact: Rajkumar moved to the US at age 12 and skipped most of high school to enter college at age 15. He graduated at 19 with a degree in applied mathematical science and got a job at Microsoft but left a year later to pursue poker.
- Who he is: Another somewhat surprising name on the player list, Noah "fourUhaters" Schwartz belies his youthful appearance with over $2.5 million in career live earnings. He's also a regular in the high-stakes cash games in Miami and played in the WSOP's first $40k buy-in event.
- How he can afford a $1m buy-in: We'd guess the high-stakes cahs games in Miami are very good value.
- Fun fact: Nicknamed Mclovin for his resemblance to the character in the movie Superbad, Schwartz was a pitcher at Florida International University before a ligature injury ended his career.
Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi
- Who he is: Yet another South Florida native, Mizrachi is simply one of the biggest winners in poker tournament history. Mizrachi pushed his career earnings past $14 million with a win in the $50k Players Championship at the 2012 WSOP - the second time he's won that event.
- How he can afford the $1m buy-in: He had already sold enough action to raise the cash but Mizrachi made it easy when he won the Players Championship for $1.4 million and rolled it over into his Big One ticket.
- Fun fact: All four Mizrachi Brothers – Michael, Robert, Danny and Eric – cashed in the 2010 Main Event and older brother Robert was actually the first to win a WSOP bracelet.
- Who he is: A big-time online cash-game grinder under the nickname "kingsofcards," Marchese has worked his way up to become one of the most respected and feared high-stakes players in the world. Most recently Marchese won the $100k Super High Roller at the WPT Championship for $1.3 million.
- How he can afford the $1m buy-in: We're assuming partly his own money and partly stakes from his numerous friends in the poker industry.
- Fun fact: Marchese was the 2010 CardPlayer Player of the Year with 11 final tables, six six-figure scores and two major wins.
Caesars satellite seat
- Who he is: Hopefully a degenerate Las Vegas local who goes on a ridiculous dice heater, culminating in him entering and winning the Big One satellite.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Increased oxygen levels and free cocktails clouded his judgment, stopping him from leaving the casino mid-heater.
- Fun Fact: He will probably be watching NASCAR when he discovers he’s won.
MGM Resorts International satellite seat
- Who he is: Probably named Jacques, or Soren, or Jan, this player will band together with fellow Euro-high rollers ElkY and Gustav.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: He took a shot at the satellite despite having to put up with boorish Americans in order to cash in the prize.
- Fun Fact: He will probably be wearing a shirt with a popped collar when he discovers he’s won.
Previously Unconfirmed Additions:
- Ilya Bulchev - Businessman, Moscow, Russia Age: 55
- Roland De Wolfe - Professional Poker Player, London, England Age: 33
- David Einhorn - U.S. Hedge Fund Manager, Rye, New York Age: 43
- Antonio Esfandiari - Professional Poker Player, Las Vegas, NV. Age: 33
- Phil Galfond - Professional Poker Player, Potomac, Maryland Age: 27
- Philipp Gruissem - Professional Poker Player, Germany Age: 25
- Giovanni Guarascio - Businessman, Montreal, Canada Age: 55
- Phil Ivey - Professional Poker Player, Las Vegas, NV. Age: 36
- Chamath Palihapitiya - Venture Capitalist, Burlingame, CA. Age: 35
- Bill Perkins - Owner, Small Ventures (Private Equity), Houston, TX. Age: 43
- Brian Rast - Professional Poker Player, Las Vegas, NV. Age: 30
- Tobias Reinkemeier - Professional Poker Player, Brighton, Germany Age: 24
- Rick Salomon - Film Producer, Los Angeles, CA. Age: 44
- Talal Shakerchi - European Hedge Fund Manager, Surrey, England Age: 48
- Mikhail Smirnov - Businessman/Poker Player, Moscow, Russia Age: 39
- Brandon Steven - Businessman/Car Dealer Owner, Wichita, KS. Age: 38
Previously confirmed players that have now dropped out:
- Who he is: Andy Beal started with nothing and built a banking and real estate empire. Noteworthy to us for playing some of the highest-stakes cash games in history against the absolute best in the world, Beal has little to no public presence, meaning we'll be doing our best to get an interview this summer.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: The 39th wealthiest person in the US, Beal has an estimated net worth of $7 billion. $1 million is inconsequential to him.
- Fun Fact: Beal, who fancies himself something of a math geek, put up a $100,000 prize for anyone who can prove or disprove “Beal’s Conjecture”, a generalization of Fermat’s famous last theorem.
- Who he is: Patrik Antonius holds a unique position in the poker world. Equal parts demi-god and superhuman, Antonius has proved that his good looks are matched only by his ability to win at poker.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Antonius has over $3.3 million in live earnings which represents one of the smallest parts of his net worth. Antonius has consistently been among the biggest winners online, profiting almost $12 million over the last five years. He was also one of the main faces of Full Tilt Poker.
- Fun Fact: Antonius was on the winning end of the biggest pot in online poker history, a $1.35 million behemoth against Viktor “Isildur1” Blom.
Gus Hansen *Note won Caesars $25k satellite seat and now will play
- Who he is: Gus Hansen, the Great Dane, old-school Euro tournament crusher and pioneer of the super-LAG style that’s now old news. Gus Hansen was a big part of poker’s growth in Europe, and one of the big names that helps fight the stereotype of the slobby, malcontent grinder.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: A full patch member of Team Full Tilt, Hansen was likely compensated well for his endorsement. Hansen has won over $9.3 million playing live tournament poker but he’s down roughly $3.2 million playing cash poker online. It’s unlikely Hansen is truly rolled for this event.
- Fun Fact: Hansen was voted one of the 50 sexiest men alive in 2004 by People Magazine. We think People needs to get its eyes checked.
David "Viffer" Peat
- Who he is: A regular in the televised high-stakes cash games like High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark, Peat is a former billiards pro who doesn't frequent tournament play. He's not one to shy away from confrontation at the table and has had several notable run-ins with Phil Hellmuth, Phil Laak and others.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: Hard to say, He could be backed or he could be putting up his own money. But if there's a high-stakes game to get involved in, Viffer usually finds a way.
- Fun fact: Peat grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and left school after sixth grade, according to his "swell" on the 2+2 forums.
- Who he is: French businessman and part of the Mimran empire, one of the richest in France with an estimated fortune of €1.2 billion and interests in much of West Africa.
- Why he can afford a $1m buy-in: Um, see above. $1 million is peanuts for a Mimran, apparently.
- Fun fact: Mimran's girlfriend is Paraguayan model Claudia Garanti, who has been featured on several Italian television shows including reality series The Famous Island. He also has some poker chops as in 2006 he finished in 13th place at the PokerStars EPT Grand Final.
- Who he is: That's a good question. By far one of the least expected names on the list, Teska is a poker pro from Bloomington, Indiana who plays online under the nickname "term_." His career live tournament earnings are roughly half a million, with most of that coming from a 4th-place finsih at the 2011 WPT Championship.
- How he can afford the $1m buy-in: There must be some especially soft cash games in the Indiana area.
- Fun fact: It's fun to think about Teska showing up and sitting down at one of these tables, that's for sure.
- Who he is: Back to back world champion Johnny Chan has ten WSOP bracelets and legend-status in the poker world. Chan was immortalized in Rounders, which is basically the poker player’s bible, if the bible was a movie from the 90s with Matt Damon.
- Why he can afford a $1M buy-in: Chan has made more than $8.5 million playing live tournament poker but if the rumors are true, that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to what he makes playing high-stakes cash in Macau. Despite his earnings, dumping $1 million with nothing to show for it will sting.
- Fun Fact: Despite being born in China, and having a legitimate Chinese name, Johnny Chan is often referred to as “Chen Qiangni”, a transliteration of his adopted English name.
PokerListings.com will be on location in Las Vegas this summer so keep an eye on our 2012 WSOP live coverage section for video, news and live updates of the $1 million WSOP Big One.