May 23, 2004
There are a few factors that have contributed to this explosion: the popularity of poker on television; the rapid growth of Internet poker (which makes it very simple to have low-entry-fee satellites to the main event -- say, 500 people putting up $20, with the winner getting the $10K main event seat); and a combination of the first two: last year's event being won by online player (he had never played in a live tournament before) and seemingly regular guy Chris Moneymaker, a victory that has been constantly replayed on ESPN over the past six months.
In order to accommodate the 2600 players, the first day of the tournament is actually being broken down into two days, with 1300 players taking part on each day, and the two groups being combined on Sunday. Among the notables who busted out on the first day are the aforementioned Moneymaker, winner of six WSOP events Men "The Master" Nguyen, #3 all-time WSOP prize earner T.J. Cloutier, and one of the best young players and poker writers, Daniel Negreanu. Which means that no matter how bad they do (and one poor guy yesterday managed to bust out of the tournament on the first hand!), those players starting play today can at least tell the folks back home that they outlasted some of the best.
Update: The estimated prize breakdown I gave above turned out to be incorrect, as I was basing them on an outdated table that accounted for a maximum of 1500 players. The final figures include a first prize of $5 million, the top five finishers each clearing at least $1 million, and the top 225 finishers getting the $10K entry fee back (which isn't a bad deal, considering that most of them probably got into the tournament through a satellite tournament, meaning they only put up a fraction of that $10K).
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