You probably know James Taylor as a keen analyst of science and public policy. What happens when he turns his keen powers of perception on a game of chance and strategy?
The first week of June ushers in the World Series of Poker, a six-week Las Vegas event that serves as a siren call for poker players around the world. Between now and mid-July, thousands of professional poker players and ambitious amateurs will match wits while seeking to win some of the $250 million up for grabs and one of the coveted championship bracelets in the 89 separate events.
There is a line in the iconic movie, A Christmas Story, in which the narrator says, “Christmas was on its way! Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, around which the entire kid year revolved.” Kids set their annual calendar around Christmas. I set my annual calendar around the World Series of Poker. I am brimming with excitement as the lovely, glorious, beautiful World Series of Poker is on its way – around which the entire James Taylor year revolves.
Anybody with even a casual interest in poker should make the trek to Las Vegas at least once to watch or participate in the World Series. Hundreds of poker tables fill up every available space in the sprawling Rio hotel convention center. Spectators can stand within just a few feet of the tables to watch the action. During my first trip to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 2010, I stood literally two feet behind former world champion Joe Hachem, looking over his shoulder and seeing his cards for every hand he was playing. In real time, I was able to think along with one of the greatest poker minds in the world as he decided how to play his cards.
During the occasional 20-minute breaks – and sometimes even while hands are being played – many of the famous poker players you watch on television are happy to engage in conversation and take photos with you. I have found Phil Helmuth, Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu, and Cyndy Violette to be especially pleasant and gracious with poker fans.
There is no entrance fee to watch the action. Going to the Rio during the WSOP is like being given free tickets directly behind home plate for Game 7 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Well, except that players at Yankee Stadium don’t come over and chat with you while they are in the on-deck circle. And almost nobody reading this column has any possibility of playing in the baseball World Series. But anybody can play in the WSOP. All you have to do is pay the entry fee.
It costs $10,000 to enter The Main Event, which is aired on ESPN. The most common entry fee for the 89 events is around $1,500. But several events cost $1,000 or less, with the least expensive coming in at $400.