Friday, May 31, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The scene for the first couple of days at the World Series of Poker was perfect for tourists and fans who wanted to sightsee.
The halls at the Rio were not yet congested to the point where no one could move during tournament breaks, but a mass of well-known professionals was already out in full force.
A star-studded collection of just more than 200 players started the second day of a $5,000 eight-handed no-limit hold’em tournament Thursday in the Amazon Room. The pros who busted on the first day of that event, which will award $553,906 to the winner, made their way to the Pavilion or Brasilia Rooms to give the first $1,000 buy-in tournament of the summer an inordinate number of familiar faces.
Everyone hopefully enjoyed the environment while it lasted because it’s all about to change. The ratio of pros to amateurs is poised to flip this weekend.
For lower-stakes players, the Main Event comes early this year. Saturday’s $1,500 buy-in “Millionaire Maker” event could attract a field that rivals the annual world championship on the fourth day of the WSOP.
“One of our big goals over the past few years has been to kick off the series with a bang,” WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said recently.
By all accounts, Stewart and his team have succeeded this year. The Millionaire Maker is the talk of local poker rooms.
Card players from around the world are flying in to take part in the unique event. As the name suggests, the champion of the tournament is guaranteed a seven-figure payday.
“That kind of unthinkable (return on investment) of 600 times the buy-in is what the WSOP is all about,” Stewart said.
But it doesn’t happen very often. Only three non-Main Event tournaments in WSOP history have paid out more than 666 times the buy-in, which the Millionaire Maker is guaranteed to do.
All were $1,000 buy-ins. The previous biggest $1,500 buy-in prize came five years ago when Grant Hinkle scored $831,462 by outlasting a field of 3,929 players.
That event was also on the WSOP’s first weekend, as was a $1,000 buy-in event dubbed “The Stimulus Special” the next year in 2009 that brought 6,012 players and a $771,106 first-place prize. The Stimulus Special remains the biggest non-Main Event tournament in WSOP history.
With two starting flights — one at 11 a.m. Saturday and another at 5 p.m. — and one re-entry allowed, there’s an off chance the Millionaire Maker could snap the record. Either way, it’s a lock to surpass the 2,101 players who turned out for the first $1,500 event last year. And creating an early buzz was the primary objective.
“Everyone wins — cash-game players, tournament players, satellite players, the city — when there’s more action from the start,” Stewart said.
The winner will become the 260th person to win $1 million at the WSOP, assuming he or she wasn’t one of the first 259, but not many can lay claim to pulling off the feat in one event. Tournament Director Jack Effel said the Millionaire Maker would amplify the excitement level and issued a warning to the flocks of players planning to drop into town just for that one event.
“I can promise you you’re going to want to stay longer,” he said