The Primer, a three-day affair, took place between June 29 and July 1 and provided an intensive intermediate-level crash course for about 200 players interested in polishing their poker skills before heading into battle at the Rio a few days down the line.
If you're thinking "poker school," think again; the WSOP Academy has about as much in common with those 10 a.m. free poker lessons your neighborhood casino offers as the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament does with those $4 MTTs you've been grinding.
This is some next-level teaching - an interactive and intimate opportunity to both learn from and interrogate a number of prominent poker all-stars while engaging in some old-fashioned cardplay yourself.
This year's Main Event Primer featured a Dean's List of well-decorated pros, including Academy regulars Annie Duke, Mark Seif and Greg Raymer. Also present were Paul Wasicka, Alex Outhred and former FBI agent Joe Navarro, whose seminars on the subject of tells have become something of a calling card for the Academy.
Navarro, who spent 25 years with the Bureau "studying and interpreting the behavior of spies," has in recent years turned his attention to the poker world, and the results have been hailed as revolutionary.
Navarro's has eclipsed Mike Caro's iconic Caro's Book of Poker Tells as the go-to guide on the subject, and his seminars build on his encyclopedic knowledge base by providing practical, real-life examples while allowing attendees a substantially more "hands-on" approach to the subject than can be provided by any textbook.
Alongside the poker tells seminar, the Primer offered attendees the opportunity to hone their chops at a number of other seminars, including Wasicka's "Cash Game Strategy," Duke's "Pre-Flop Strategy" and "Advanced Post-Flop Strategy," Seif's "Advanced Tournament Strategy," and Raymer's "Winning the Bracelet." All provided the same intimate, laid-back discussion with some of the game's most respected minds that forms the meat and potatoes of the Academy's structure.
Invaluable as the seminars are, however (and they are), they weren't the only offering on the Primer's menu. Days 1 and 2 each featured live hand demonstrations in which the Academy was divided onto a number of poker tables, with each of the instructors taking a turn dealing to each table and providing analysis and criticism of each student's play.
This interactive element is perhaps the Academy's greatest strength, giving each group of students a top poker professional to more or less interrogate in a real-life poker setting. Theory, after all, is one thing, but putting the ideas into practice can often be substantially more difficult.
Evenings at the Primer featured another opportunity to apply the day's concepts, albeit with less instructor help and more on the line. The Academy staged three freerolls over the course of its three days, giving away a number of big-ticket prizes that included two seats into the Main Event and a number of return tickets for other WSOP Academy events.
Academy instructors played as bounties in these events and, once eliminated, often stuck around to roam the floor, consulting with students who needed an edge and commiserating with those who'd taken a loss.
It's in the tournament setting that the varying levels of student expertise become apparent, although the majority of players we came across seemed more than comfortable playing tournament poker, even if the idiosyncrasies of live play took a few rounds to master.
We'll spare you the details on how the PL.com reporter fared, but suffice it to say our representatives in the Main Event got there paying straight cash. The knowledge gathered over the three days at Caesars, however, probably represents significant value even for those not lucky enough to snag one of those two Main Event seats.
The Primer isn't exactly cheap - anyone interested in sharing the experience will have to plunk down $1,999 USD for the privilege - and it isn't for everyone - beginners need not apply, and those already making a living at the game will probably find better value elsewhere - but for the committed intermediate-level player interested in bringing his or her game up to the next level, it's hard to imagine a more valuable or entertaining experience.
Learn more about the WSOP Academy on their Web site.