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September 2, 2014

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The top 25 things to watch at the 2014 World Series of Poker

Biggest tournament series of the year includes 62 events and possibly 80,000 entrants this year

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Steve Marcus

The championship bracelet is displayed during the final table of the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament at the Rio Monday, Nov. 4, 2013.

It’s that time of year again when the majority of conversations at the Rio involve pot odds or prop bets, bad beats or bracelet counts.

The 2014 World Series of Poker begins today at the Rio with the first two of 65 tournaments over the next six weeks where a coveted championship bracelet will be awarded. Between changes, players, tournaments and storylines, it’s tough to keep track of everything important happening in the series’ 45th year.

The Sun is here to help, combining all of those categories and more into a convenient top 25 list of what to watch for at the Rio below.

25. New chairs spread across all of the approximately 475 tables in the Rio convention center may not seem like a big deal to onlookers walking through. But to the players, the upgrade is significant. They’re sitting in them for upwards of 12 hours per day sometimes, after all. It’s time to find out if comfort breeds success.

24. Frisbee dogs are among the handful of attractions WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart said the WSOP planned to use to “make poker fun again” on a preview conference call. Expect to witness some interesting displays in the time before the daily “Shuffle up and deal” command including frisbees, which Stewart described as a natural fit given their similar shape to poker chips, flying over tables with canines waiting to fetch. Think of it as the WSOP’s version of a halftime show.

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A rendering shows the VooDoo Skyline thrill ride, which is expected to be operational this summer.

23. The VooDoo Zipline, stretching from one tower of the Rio to the other, opening the same week as the start of the WSOP is no coincidence. Poker players have let their minds run wild with possibilities ever since the attraction strung 490 feet above ground that sends thrill-seekers flying through the air at 33 miles per hour was announced last year. Those looking to blow steam after busting out of a tournament or pick up cash on a prop bet to conquer a fear of heights will make for a strong customer base.

22. Fantasy poker grows in popularity every year. While the pros risk thousands of dollars on their drafted teams, the WSOP has teamed with the Global Poker Index to make for a more affordable game. Fantasy Poker Manager allows fans to draft free teams through their web site or phone apps.

21. A surprise could be on the horizon with a tournament mixing online and live poker. That was Stewart’s not-so-secret response when asked about the possibility of a “hybrid event” on the conference call, which he admits has been discussed.

20. The WSOP millionaires club will have a handful of new members by mid-July. Stewart predicts the 2014 WSOP will produce more players making at least $1 million than any other series in the past. That’s a high standard as the WSOP has made a total of 303 millionaires in career earnings.

19. The mix-maxed no-limit hold’em tournament provides a marquee event right from the beginning, as the $25,000 buy-in event begins today at 4 p.m. It’s the third year of the uniquely-structured tournament, which starts action with nine players per table before adjusting to six-handed on day two, four-handed on day three and heads-up on the final day.

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Jennifer Tilly.

18. The Rio hits a milestone of 10 years hosting the WSOP this summer. The poker community loves its anniversaries, so look for some tributes to the inaugural Rio series that produced such moments as Joe Hachem winning the Main Event, Jennifer Tilly prevailing in the Ladies Event and Johnny Chan securing his 10th bracelet. Stewart said that while Binion’s Horeshoe will always be the WSOP’s soul, the Rio has turned into its heart.

17. Keven Stammen bullied his way onto the Players to Watch list by winning the biggest non-WSOP event of the year. Stammen won the World Poker Tour World Championship in Atlantic City, N.J. — its first year outside of Las Vegas — last month for $1.35 million. The 29-year-old has one previous WSOP bracelet from when he won $506,786 in a $2,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament in 2009.

16. The Millionaire Maker, a $1,500 buy-in tournament guaranteeing the winner seven figures, was a smash hit in its debut last year. The biggest non-Main Event field in WSOP history of 6,343 players registered for the tournament. Can it possibly be topped in 2014? It won’t take long to find out, as the tournament is scheduled to begin Saturday and run through next Tuesday.

15. Number of entrants across all events hit an all-time high at 79,471 players last summer. It was the ninth time in the last 10 years that the WSOP increased from the previous summer and set a new record. Nothing is assured, but it seems as if the WSOP is bound to continue its expansion.

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Phil Ivey takes part in the $111,111 One Drop High Rollers No-Limit Hold'em event during the World Series of Poker on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, at the Rio.

14. Phil Ivey has garnered attention for the wrong reasons lately, battling a couple casino lawsuits for alleged baccarat misconduct. He could use a return of form at the poker table, where no one in the world wants to sit with him during a tournament. Ivey remains among the best in the world and strong at every poker variant.

13. Daniel Negreanu joins Ivey as a member of poker’s old guard who’s still at the top of his game. Negreanu became the first two-time winner of the WSOP Player of the Year last year, as he claimed the 2013 honor to pair with his win in the award’s inaugural year of 2004. But both his bracelets last year came internationally, in WSOP Europe and Asia. He hasn’t won in Las Vegas since 2008.

12. The Poker Player’s Championship has begun to get overshadowed by other tournaments, but top professionals still put the utmost importance on winning the Chip Reese Trophy. The $50,000 buy-in, eight-game mix tournament runs five days and begins on Sunday June 22 this year.

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Owais Ahmed, left, and Scott Seiver compete at the final table of the $50,000 buy-in, Poker Player's Championship during the World Series of Poker at the Rio Wednesday, July 6, 2011.

11. Scott Seiver might quietly be the best tournament poker player in the world. The Las Vegas resident has worked his way up to No. 2 in the Global Poker Index with consistent success. The 29-year-old is 20th on the all-time tournament money list with $10.7 million in earnings despite having just one WSOP bracelet and no single cashes of more than $2.1 million.

10. Live streams with hole cards allow diehard fans to bypass the usual wait for full tournament coverage on ESPN. For the second straight year, WSOP.com will show the majority of final times online. Thirty-two events will receive “primary stream” treatment, which features hole cards and a full commentary booth, starting with each of the first two tournaments — the $500 buy-in Casino Employees Event and the mixed-max event this week.

9. Mike McDonald currently leads the race for the prestigious Bluff Player of the Year award. Ranked No. 9 according to the Global Poker Index, the 24-year-old “Timex” dominated anywhere in the world he plays except at the Rio where he’s endured baffling non-success. He’s not only perhaps the best player without a WSOP bracelet, but only has $201,345 career earnings in the tournament series and one final table.

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Vanessa Selbst plays in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 12, 2012.

8. Vanessa Selbst might have moved past her standing as the best female player in the world to simply the best player in the world. Ranked No. 2 by ESPN and No. 4 by Global Poker Index, she’s at least close enough that a successful WSOP could spring her into the distinction. Selbst recently made waves by becoming the first female to commit to the $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop Tournament.

7. The Dealer’s Choice Event is the newest on the schedule and should be a sight to behold when it begins on Thursday June 19. The $1,500 buy-in tournament will play out a lot like friendly home games across the nation. Players rotate choosing what variant of poker will be played every orbit around the table out of 16 options.

6. Ole Schemion will make one of the most anticipated World Series of Poker debuts in years at some point over the summer. The 21-year-old German professional is rated as the top player in the world according to Global Poker Index with live poker earnings of $5.2 million in the last three years on the European circuit. Now he’s finally eligible to compete in America.

5. Ryan Riess added pressure to his already-demanding position as defending Main Event champion by declaring himself the best player in the world during the merriment of victory last year. With only one cash for $20,890 since his $8.36 million windfall last November, the onus of backing up his words will fall to the 2014 WSOP.

Ryan Riess Wins 2013 WSOP

Ryan Riess, 23, a poker professional from East Lansing, Mich., poses with stacks of cash after winning the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament at the Rio Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Launch slideshow »

4. The influence of legal online poker will boast such a major effect all summer that it could merit a top-25 list of its own. For one small example, look at the stimulus real-money poker on WSOP.com will provide the Main Event. Stewart said at least 100 seats would be up for grabs in poker’s world championship through online satellites.

3. Phil Hellmuth always draws some of the largest rails of fans, but this year is even more meaningful for “The Poker Brat.” It’s the 25th anniversary of his 1989 Main Event victory, when he beat Chan heads-up to become the youngest player at the time to ever emerge as world champion. Hellmuth is the all-time WSOP bracelet leader with 13, but said he wanted to win 11 more before retiring in an interview with Poker News. He turns 50-years-old this summer, so Hellmuth better not waste any time.

Antonio Esfandiari Wins Big One for One Drop

Guy Laliberte and Antonio Esfandiari during the Big One for One Drop at the Rio on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Launch slideshow »

2. The Big One For One Drop returns with a second $1 million buy-in tournament in three years on Sunday June 29. The thought of risking seven figures on a single poker tournament isn’t any less crazy than it was in 2012, but by all indications, the event will increase in size. The tournament will be capped at 56 entries this year instead of 48 like two years ago. Only 21 spots remain with the rest already claimed by a combination of poker pros and businessmen.

1. The Main Event will never get deposed as the biggest annual moment in poker. The $10,000 buy-in event, which begins July 5 this year and runs 10 days, is the tournament every poker player dreams of winning to get crowned world champion. The motivation runs even higher this year with a guaranteed first-place prize of $10 million. For the seventh straight year, the Main Event will play down to a final table of nine players in July before they reconvene to determine the winner in November.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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