Sports fans are fanatical the world over but true poker fandom is a less-observed phenomenon. Not so at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
At the WSOP, fans can stroll into the tournament room, take a seat to watch a final table, or roam the rail in search of their favorite TV poker star. And it's all free.
You can spot the pros by the crowd of people grouped in front of their table.
It’s not just famous poker players witnessed from the rail, either. There's always a few celebrities sitting somewhere in the sea of poker tables.
Ray Romano, James Woods, Brad Garrett, and Jason Alexander will go out of their way to talk to their fans and snap a cell-phone photo that will be instantly uploaded and tagged using multiple social media platforms.
No Cheap Seats at the World Series of Poker
Canadian Poker player and fan Paul Schmidt was sitting in the crowd for the $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. final day. He loves how much action he can see up close and for free.
He flew from Toronto to play poker last weekend but is enjoying his time as a fan too.
“If I go to a Raptors game, I’m stuck up in the cheap seats,” Schmidt said. “Here I don’t have to be rich to sit courtside. I just had to get here early.”
Besides table-side watching, fans have more chances to see big names. A casual walk down the hallway can produce chance encounters with the best players in the world.
Daniel Negreanu is famously open to fan pictures and autographs whether he’s just walking around or playing a tournament.
Doyle Brunson can be seen scooting himself around the Rio, sometimes so quickly the common man will do a double-take when he zips by.
Phil Ivey is a tougher find thanks to his intimate knowledge of the back hallways.
WSOP is a Grand Spectacle
The World Series of Poker has grown to be much more than a bunch of players sitting around the table hunting bracelets.
It's expanded into a fan-friendly experience and an improbable spectator sport. Seven weeks of tournaments are on the schedule and WSOP staff makes sure their customers, fans and players alike get the most out of their time in the Rio.
World Series of Poker tables are uniquely positioned to allow maximum access. Not just the main stage final table, but also grand stands set up around feature table areas and seeming miles of rail space in other rooms.
The WSOP has plenty of space for fans to get up and close with the top players.
Crowds fill the main stage seats during big final tables and it can be quite a show if a Brazilian or UK player is in contention. Fans can watch the big names go for big cash under the bright lights, at times it can feel like a championship game with the cheers and shouts.
Players, who were once just a face on television, can now be seen in person, just an arm’s length away playing hands that would never make a broadcast.
Brian and Janice made a spontaneous trip to the WSOP tournament room to witness Daniel Negreanu’s final table. The two weren’t just here on vacation, though. They were on their honeymoon.
Negreanu is Brian’s favorite player and his new wife agreed to postpone a trip to Hoover Dam so he could watch him play, and maybe even meet him. As it turns out it was a successful trip with a greeting from Kid Poker himself along with the now-requisite selfie.
The WSOP fan experience is also a way to draw people into the game, sometimes they become champions. Reigning WSOP Main Event Champion Ryan Riess is one of those who first came to the Amazon room as a fan.
“Before I’d come here and be like ‘Oh, that’s Phil Ivey,’ or ‘Oh, that’s Greg Merson,’ and now a lot of people are saying that about me,” said Riess in an interview with PokerListings.com.