Rise of the High Roller: From $50k H.O.R.S.E. to Players Championship

Michael Mizrachi
Michael Mizrachi winning the $50k PPC in 2010

The $50,000 Players Championship is arguably the most prestigious tournament in all of poker but it’s gone through a surprising number of changes since it began in 2006.

This year marks the eighth straight year that the WSOP has held the Poker Players Championship, although it was originally introduced as $50,000 H.O.R.S.E.

Now that the official prizepool information has been released for this year's event (currently playing on Day 2), it seemed like a good time to take a look back at the event's history.

Hold’em Backlash: $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. Debuts

Chip Reese
Chip Reese won the first $50k H.O.R.S.E.

While the 2005 WSOP was seen as a huge success with skyrocketing attendance numbers, a lot of top pros were critical of the Hold’em-heavy schedule, which didn't include a single mixed-game bracelet.

Also, since the WSOP Main Event now had field sizes measured in the thousands, the top pros wanted a separate event that would showcase a smaller field of the best of the best at higher stakes and in a wider variety of games.

So the prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event was created, the first time a major tour ever featured a designated “high roller” event. ESPN agreed to broadcast it, but only on the condition that the final table be played in TV-friendly No-Limit Hold’em.

That first year attracted a field of 143 of the best players in the world, though the three days scheduled for the event were clearly not enough. Day 2 lasted until the next morning, pushing the final table all the way back to a 10:00 pm start. (Every year since, it has been a five-day event.)

That final table featured an impressive lineup that included Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, Patrik Antonius, T.J. Cloutier, and Jim Bechtel. But it will mostly be remembered for the 7-hour heads-up match between eventual winner David “Chip” Reese and runner-up Andy Bloch, which didn’t conclude until after 9:00 am.

There was universal acclaim for Reese from both the players and the media as an ideal winner for the spirit of the event — Reese was a Hall of Fame cash player known for his mixed-game skills and his welcoming demeanor. Reese’s victory helped cement this event as a true test of the best poker players in the world.

Unfortunately, Reese would die a year and a half later. The WSOP would honor his legacy by naming the trophy for this event in his honor -- the "David 'Chip' Reese Memorial Trophy."

Love-Hate Relationship With TV and NLHE

The Final Table of the H.O.R.S.E. Event
$50k H.O.R.S.E. final table

While the 2006 event was considered a huge success, some players were critical of the switch to No-Limit Hold’em for the final table. In 2007, the WSOP changed the structure so it would be H.O.R.S.E. all the way through.

Unfortunately, ESPN’s ratings took a hit, and they took another hit when it was all-H.O.R.S.E. again in 2008. In 2009, ESPN dropped it from the TV schedule, and it attracted its smallest field -- just 95 players.

In 2010, the event was rebranded as the Poker Players Championship, and it switched to a broader eight-game format. The final table switched back to No-Limit Hold’em, and ESPN added it back to their TV schedule for 2010 and 2011.

In 2012, ESPN dropped it from the schedule (replacing it with the $1 Million One Drop), and the final table played the full eight-game mix.

There will be no TV coverage this year, though the event will be streamed online via ESPN3. The full eight-game mix will be played at the final table. 

Freddy Deeb
Freddy Deeb won the biggest $50k PPC

Eight Years of Statistics

In the eight years of this event (counting this year), the field size has ranged from 95 players to 148, and the prizepool has ranged from $4.56 million to $7.1 million.

The biggest first prize went to Freddy Deeb in 2007 ($2,276,832), the only time the winner has won more than $2 million. The smallest first prize went to David Bach in 2009 ($1,276,802).

In the past seven years, eight players have final tabled this event twice — Michael Mizrachi went even further, winning it in 2010 and 2012.

Only two players have made this final table in back-to-back years — David Singer (2006-07) and Huck Seed (2008-09).

Two players have cashed in four out of seven, and both have also made the final table twice — Andy Bloch and Barry Greenstein.

There have been only a handful female entrants in this event, and none of them have ever cashed.

In 2009, the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. final table set the record for most hands at a WSOP final table — 492 hands.

With Support From Players, Future of the $50K Is Secure

There have been a lot of changes in the poker world since the 2006 WSOP, and a lot of changes in this $50,000 buy-in event, but it is now a perennial fixture on the WSOP schedule.

The legendary Doyle Brunson may have announced his retirement from tournaments, but he still took his seat in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship. And Brunson isn’t the only player who loves this tournament.

Here are a few Twitter comments from some of poker’s top players:

The praise doesn’t get much higher than that.

Be sure to check out our continuing coverage of the $50,000 Poker Players Championship by clicking here.

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