In 2006, Jeff Madsen's two-bracelet run - including a heads-up win over Erick Lindgren - was the biggest story just in terms of the game itself. "The Kid" came out of nowhere to make four final tables in three different games, and he came more from a live poker background than the online pedigree that many in the community might have expected from the youngest person ever to win a WSOP bracelet.
The $50,000 HORSE tournament went off for the first time in 2006, with the late Chip Reese claiming his third career WSOP bracelet by defeating Andy Bloch in the longest heads-up match in WSOP history. The tournament had the largest buy-in of any WSOP event ever held and drew an all-star field. The final table was played as No Limit Hold'em, generating a bit of controversy as the game is usually not a part of any HORSE tournament.
The other huge story of the 2006 WSOP was the Main Event. It was almost a full order of magnitude larger than the 2005 Main Event, which itself was the largest poker tournament of all time. An astounding 8,773 players showed up to play the two-week-long tournament, which culminated in amateur player Jamie Gold claiming first prize over highly-regarded professional Allen Cunningham.
Gold generated more than a bit of controversy with his table ethics during the tournament, and later ended up embroiled in a lawsuit over a handshake agreement he'd made with another player, Crispin Leyser, for half Gold's winnings before the Main Event even began. (The lawsuit was eventually settled under undisclosed terms.)
For the first time since the beginning of the poker boom, the WSOP did not allow online poker sites to buy their satellite winners into WSOP events. This policy was seen as a response to the passage of the UIGEA. Many player who won Main Event satellites on Full Tilt Poker or PokerStars simply held onto the cash, or bought into smaller events instead of the $10,000 event. As a result preliminary event participation was up, but Main Event attendance dipped for only the second year in WSOP history.
Last year saw many bracelet events and other WSOP tournaments being partially run in a tent located outside where the Poker Kitchen currently resides. The tent was unpopular for lots of reasons, not least among them the fact that being outside in Las Vegas during the summertime sucks, even with some attempt at air conditioning. It comes as no surprise that the tent was scrapped after the end of the WSOP as a total failure.
Also introduced last year were live streaming internet broadcasts of certain final tables not filmed by ESPN, complete with hole cards just like a television broadcast. What could have been a fantastic product ended up making nobody happy. Players who had to play for a bracelet inside a sequestered area where their cell phones were taken away and they couldn't have their friends and family watch them play. The public had to subscribe to get the final tables, and then had to deal with a one-hour delay from the live action on top of it all.
Vinnie Vinh became a tragic story during the WSOP in 2007. He built huge chip leads on Day 1 of several tournaments, only to go MIA on Day 2 and cash without showing back up. Rumors about the causes for Vinh's problems abounded, as will happen in any community as small as that of professional poker players. Whatever his reasons, Vinh's actions certainly had an impact on those around him.
Then there was Tom Schneider, who won the Player of the Year award by making three final tables and taking home bracelets in two of them. The Arizonan's cashes all came in games other than hold'em (HORSE, Omaha-8/Stud-8, and Stud-8) and proved that the WSOP had truly reversed course from being an all hold'em, all the time schedule.
This year, the story to me so far seems to be the continued shift of the schedule. Last year Harrah's tweaked the schedule to offer more non-hold'em events, but this year they've added $10,000 World Championship events in many of poker's disciplines. So far the Pot Limit Hold'em and Mixed Game World Championships have drawn field composed almost entirely of top-flight pros displaying their skills and fighting for the bracelet and cash. In both events the final tables were composed mostly of world-class players, a big PR score for the WSOP folks.
There will of course be plenty more stories during the remainder of the WSOP, and I'll be on hand with the rest of the PokerListings.com crew the whole time passing them on to you.