POKER EVENTS

Bracelet on a Budget: How to cross the WSOP off your bucket list for under $1,500

By Connor Whiteley
August 03, 2021

With the 2021 WSOP approaching, thousands of hopeful poker players will be flocking to the Rio in Las Vegas for the chance of winning a WSOP bracelet along with a juicy first place prize. While many of those hopefuls will be successful business persons and professional poker players, there are plenty of people who may not have the bankroll to “splash around in a $5k.” For those of you on a budget, there is absolutely a way to take your shot at a bracelet without going broke.

World Series of Poker

There’s always a seat open for you at the World Series of Poker

First, let’s take a look at the schedule. If you go to WSOP’s main website and look up the schedule, they allow you to sort the events by buy-in. This is step one. This year we have one $400 event, four $500 events, and four $600 events. Assuming you only want to play No-Limit Texas Hold’em and you do not work at a casino, we can eliminate two of the $600 tournaments and one $500 tournament. That still leaves us with six tournaments to choose from. so I’ve decided to highlight one from each buy-in.

Event #55 COLOSSUS No Limit Hold’em – $400 | Starts October 29th-30th | 4-day event

The cheapest buy-in at the WSOP is the Colossus. Drawing massive crowds each year, this is a wonderful first tournament to play in. There is so much poker to play, and because of the affordable buy-in, you will see some very attractive prizes. In 2019, the Colossus drew 13,109 entrants and Sejin Park took home $451,272 along with a coveted WSOP bracelet. Talk about a massive field! After a year of lockdown I can imagine there are plenty of players eager to get back to the poker tables, so between the two starting days I would expect another large turnout this year. The Colossus is always a great choice for a budget bracelet hunt.

Event #4 The Reunion – $500 | $5,000,000 GTD | Starts October 1st-3rd | 5-day event

The Reunion will be taking place during the first weekend of the 2021 WSOP. This serves to be a big “welcome back” to the poker community. As live poker is returning, what better way to kickstart this year’s WSOP than with an affordable tournament for bankrolls of all sizes. While this tournament is technically a new event, it is really just the Big 50 renamed.

If the Big 50 is any indication of what an opening weekend $500 tournament can bring, then the Reunion has potential to be massive. In 2019 Femi Fashakin topped a field of a whopping 28,371 entrants to take home a WSOP bracelet and $1,147,499 in the Big 50. WOW! The Reunion could turn out to be just as incredible as the Big 50 was. An absolutely absurd amount of entrants and the chance to become a millionaire, I can’t think of a better way to cross the WSOP off your bucket list.

Event # 8 No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack – $600 | Starts October 4th | 2-day event

So, you min-cashed in the Colossus but your flight doesn’t leave until the 7th? No need to sit around and wait; hop right back in the Deepstack. This tournament is another crowd favorite since you start with more big blinds. If you’re primarily a cash game player then the beginning rounds will feel much more comfortable in this tournament. This event saw the lowest turnout of the three in 2019 at 6,150 entrants, but  that still left Jeremy Pekarek with a bracelet and $398,281.

I believe this year we will see more entrants than in 2019. Since this event starts during the Colossus, we will see people busting out of Days 1 and 2 joining this event. Also, some people may not have the ability to take off a week in case they final table the Colossus, so this 2-day event provides a nice alternative option if you are not only on a budget, but a time crunch as well. Expect to see big numbers and a first prize of over $400,000 this year.

Travel expenses

The main barrier for many people to attend the World Series of Poker isn’t the tournament buy-in, but rather it’s the expenses of traveling to Vegas. For those Cardplayer Lifestyle readers who live within decent driving distance (e.g., approximately 6 hours or less, 450 miles or so), you’ve lucked out as that obviously lowers your upfront costs and increases your flexibility quite a bit. For these rest of you living around North America, if you decide to pull the trigger this fall, here are some cheap ways to get to and lodge in Vegas while competing for a bracelet.

READ MORE: On Poker Budgets and Poker Bankrolls

Flights

There are enough “cheap flights” websites out there for you to scour in order to get your ideal flight. I usually use Expedia or Hopper, and both are good options for finding a cheap flight to Vegas. Here is what I found three months away from the early events. If you are reading this from outside the a major US metropolitan area, just Google “cheap flights” and pour through some of the links that come up; surely you’ll be able to find some affordable options for your city. The examples given below reflect roundtrip prices from Logan International.

DISCLAIMER: I decided not to include Spirit Airlines in my searches because I have had terrible experiences with them. They may advertise cheaper prices, but their hidden fees will get you up to what the other airlines charge. Also, I only searched for nonstop flights because I’d rather not have a layover and they tend to be cheaper or similarly priced to layover flights.

First, a good money-saving trick is to register for the last Day 1 that you can. For example, if I plan on playing The Reunion until the final table, I would register for Day 1C (October 3rd) so I don’t need to fly in until the 2nd. So I’d be looking for flights that depart on October 2nd and return on October 8th.

Generally speaking, regardless of which of the three aforementioned tournaments you’d choose to play, flight options would run anywhere between $400-$420. These flights are not the absolute 100% cheapest, but I took into account the fact that nobody wants a layover, nobody wants to fly Spirit, and we’d prefer not to take red eyes both ways. So you may be able to find a sticker price cheaper, but it won’t be by much, and it will be a much less enjoyable experience.

Thus, there is no real “advantage” when it comes to flights, so if cash is king and you are looking to save as much as you can, don’t make your decision based on the flights.

Lodging

Lodging is what can either make or break a budget trip. There are both very cheap and very expensive ways to stay in Vegas. Let’s keep in mind the different costs associated with your options. Any resort on the Strip is going to have resort fees. These tend to run in the neighborhood of anywhere between $25-$50 per night on top of the room rate. Thus, in some cases, you’d be adding over 50% to the room cost by staying at a resort. If you’re on a limited budget, I recommend staying off-Strip.

With that said, the further away you stay, the more expensive the travel to the Rio will be. I suggest trying to stay within 5-8 miles of the casino. This should keep the Uber budget to about $100-$150, depending on how many days you will be there. Your off-Strip choices are hotel vs. Airbnb. I personally enjoy Airbnb’s more, and found they are usually cheaper. Sure we could find a Red Roof Inn, but in most cases we won’t be saving that much money.

As far as hotels, those same travel sites can yield some decent deals, plus some occasional sales pop up. Just be sure to look at the fine print to see what is/isn’t included in the price (e.g., taxes, resort fees, etc) before booking.

If you’re going to go the Airbnb route, prices will also vary based on the size of the place you rent, proximity to the Strip, amenities (e.g., a pool), etc. For a 4-night stay during the first week of October, I was able to find many good deals ranging anywhere from $250-$300, some of which were even walking distance to the Strip. It will take some time and patience, but those decent prices can be found. I recommend you don’t delay in booking, as prices will tend to rise over the coming weeks as the WSOP nears.

The Totals

The aforementioned examples were meant to reflect what I believe to be cost-effective but still fun trips that you could take to play in any of the three low buy-in bracelet events. Below is my “ranking” of the three possible trips according to approximate price. Once again, prices for Airbnb stays, hotel stays, or flights could vary as we get closer to the dates:

  1. The Colossus – $400 buy-in + $420 flights + $290 lodging + $125 Ubers = $1,235.
  2. The Deepstack  – $600 buy-in + $420 flights + $245 lodging + $125 Ubers = $1,390.
  3. The Reunion – $500 buy-in + $405 flights + $295 lodging + $175 Ubers = $1,375

Beyond travel and accommodation, there’s also food costs + travel to and from the airport. If you’re big on eating out, you’re going to rack up a bigger food bill. If you stay at an Airbnb where you have access to a kitchen, grabbing a few easy things to cook will really save money. Tournaments are long so you’ll need to eat throughout the day. Bringing your own snacks rather than buying what’s at the casino will also be a huge cost saver.

Conclusion

There are many ways to take a trip to Las Vegas for the WSOP, and there are many options for bracelet events you can enter. Take your time and search for deals. Use all the price comparing sites. At the end of the day, time = money, and more often than not, the time you spend researching will end up saving you some money.

The main point of this article is to show that even on a relatively modest budget, you can make it to the WSOP and get to shuffle a stack of those chips. If you’re lucky, you will even get to flip those WSOP cards over and take down a pot. With some real run good, you may even end up cashing or going deep in a bracelet event and the trip will end up “paying for itself”.

Of course, while nobody could ever promise that you’ll win a bracelet, you’ll certainly be able to give yourself a shot at one for under $1,500.

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Connor Whiteley poker author
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Connor Whiteley

Connor Whiteley is a financial services professional and freelance writer who spends as much time as possible on the felt. Previously, Connor was a dealer in various underground Los Angeles poker games, but left the city and those games to raise his daughter with his loving wife Jennifer. Connor is constantly staying up to date […]