The doors opened into maroon-colored silk walls, plush carpet, security guards in crisp purple suits and ties, alert and at attention with earpieces that looked like a VIP was about to enter. Wait, was I the VIP? I hugged myself inside. I’m back! It’d only been a year since I attended the first WPT World Championship at the Wynn. However, as time seems to go now, last year felt blurred but immediately came sharply back into focus when I headed down the opulent hallway that would take me to Day 1D of the 2023 WPT World Championship Main Event.
Sweeping staircases would take me later to one of the ballrooms that held the players battling for chip stacks in the tournament. (Honestly an elevator did but the staircase was utilized by most.) The names of the rooms themselves sounded classy; Brahms and Beethoven Ballrooms, and the main room, the Encore Ballroom. Chandeliers adorned the ceilings and I looked around relieved by poker players’ regular attire of hoodies and comfortable shoes because I wasn’t wearing a gown and pearls that the rooms subtly suggest.
WPT World Championship Main Event: Keeping it Classy
Class is a characteristic that is hard to define, but once you see someone or someplace that possesses it, it’s hard to overlook. The WPT has that and then some, and it radiates from CEO Adam Pliska on to the people he hires and their partnership with the Wynn. Many people try class on with superficiality, wearing clothes or adopting an attitude that they think befits it. Class goes deeper; it’s also having a kind soul and generosity of spirit.
Grateful for the historic surge of growth in WPT Prime & WPTWC. Thanks players for your support. We feel it and it matters. Inspired to keep pushing the company to do more in an effort to make the best run festival ever, Forever improving. 0 regrets. Just the beginning. @WPT
— Adam Pliska (@pliska007) December 16, 2023
As I was walking down the hallway I was able to chat with Lynn Gilmartin, the classy and talented anchor of the WPT. She commented to me about how she’s feeling going into Day 2 as a player. “I’m so excited. It all feels very surreal. I was determined to have a deep run again this year after having the most sensational run of my life last year.” She added, “Also the excitement that I felt from all of my friends and fellow group of players…it was the highlight of the whole thing.”
— Lynn Gilmartin (@LynnGilmartin) December 17, 2023
I was fortunate to meet many friends and colleagues in these hallways as the day went forward including Adam Pliska, Matt Savage (WPT Executive Tour Director) and Angelica Hael (WPT VP of Global Tour Management). I went upstairs on the “staircase” (elevator) to the Beethoven ballroom, and one of the first people I saw was Fedor Holz, the first of legions of professional poker players I encountered who, combined, account for hundreds of millions of dollars earned in live poker tournament earnings. The mix of professional poker players, recreational players and WPT Qualifiers was fun to watch.
WPT World Championship Main Event Day 1D: Poker’s Biggest Stars Come Out to Play
2022 WSOP Main Event Winner Espen Jorstad sat just a few tables away from Scott Blumstein, the 2017 WSOP Main Event Winner. The last time I truly was able to talk to Scott was when my parents were sitting next to his when he was playing at the final table of the WSOP. Rounding out the trio of WSOP Main Event Winners I saw on Day 1D was Qui Nguyen (2016).
Ashley Sleeth who just came in second in this year’s WPT Ladies Championship and Olga Iermolcheva who came in second last year in the same event, were also playing upstairs. Olga’s been having a banner year with Poker After Dark: Game of Gold premiering and being a success and coming in third in this year’s WSOP $1500 No Limit Hold’em Shootout event. She mentioned “I like this tournament, (there’s) a lot of chips, a lot of fun players, and my birthday’s coming up soon. Last year I was at the final table of the Ladies’ Championship and it was my birthday.”
She got into poker when a friend from school invited her to a poker game and it was “love at first sight” and “every time I play a tournament I think how beautiful this game is, how interesting it is.”
While upstairs I also got to speak with Martynas Racinskas, a WPT Global Qualifier from Lithuania. He spun a $55 sign-up ticket into a seat at the WPT World Championship Main Event worth $10,400. He’s married with a wife and kids, and hopes to be home Christmas Eve “with a championship trophy”. He’s also thrilled to be in Vegas this time of year when it isn’t 115 degrees out.
On my way back downstairs I ran into Johan “YoH ViraL” Guilbert and Joey Ingram, the latter of whom said to me “I’m super excited, (it’s) basically the only tournament I’ve played this year.” He added “It’s special to me. I’ve been ready, I’ve been preparing, and been excited watching poker and getting fired up.”
Officially locked in for the @WPT $10k buy-in Main Event 🔥
Couldn’t miss this one! Wish me luck pic.twitter.com/dBGR7VYTbn
— LEGION | Joey Ingram 🐉 (@Joeingram1) December 15, 2023
The enthusiasm ran deep in the players and the people sweating/railing their friends and family playing the event. Noah Piderit was waiting nervously yet excited in the hall, his brother Caleb playing in the Main Ballroom. They’d just moved to Vegas from Miami, FL and this would be Caleb’s second year playing the WPT World Championship. He turned 21 last year and ran deep in last year’s WPT Prime Championship placing 68th. Noah’s father Eric came to join us along with honorary uncle Andre Kim. Eric was so excited about the WPT that he led me in an impromptu dance outside the ballroom.
Inside the Encore Ballroom, a large $300/$600 cash game was running concurrently with the tournament. Held on the main stage, elevated with a view of the entire ballroom, yet somehow a cozy environment was set up for the cash game players which included Garrett Adelstein, who’d taken an extended break from poker after “the J4 hand” with Robbi Jade Lew.
He filled us in on how it feels to be back playing the highest stakes in front of thousands of viewers. pic.twitter.com/6hm1sSFUgq
— World Poker Tour (@WPT) December 17, 2023
Jamie Kerstetter, highly esteemed commentator and poker player, Creative Producer for WPT Global, facilitated the game and expressed her excitement to me about the action to come. This event, of course, was an encore to the phenomenal Ladies MUG that Jamie helped organize and host a week earlier.
I also spotted Kyna England, wearing a beautiful cobalt blue sweater with an Ace of Spades on it made by her mother Therese. Allen Kessler was also present and was wearing a t-shirt with his own face emblazoned on it.
2023 WPT World Championship Main Event: A Roaring Winter Fire
The whole day felt like I was seeing friends and colleagues everywhere I went. It amazed me that with the class, the elegance and international flair, there was also so much warmth. Warmth coupled with familiarity and excitement. Hugs were had right in front of the glitzy and glamorous WPT trophy display.
The final tally for the 2023 WPT World Championship Main Event is 3,835 players, the largest field in WPT history. There will be 480 places paid and the minimum cash will be $18,700. First place will receive $5,678,000 including a $10,400 entry into the 2024 WPT World Championship and the top six players will all receive over $1 million dollars.
I already can’t wait for next year’s stars to come out and for another sizzling winter poker festival!
Today’s flight saw 1,523 entries for a total of 3,835 entries between all four flights!
With a $40,000,000 prize pool, 1st place will be taking home nearly $5.7 million dollars including a seat to the 2024… pic.twitter.com/AhqwM5eSqa
— World Poker Tour (@WPT) December 16, 2023