The 2023 WPT World Championship Festival is now in the books, and the poker world saw many epic moments take place. Numerous champions were crowned throughout the festival’s three weeks, and the World Poker Tour proved time and again that they are one of the industry’s premier organizations. In fact, the 2023 WPT World Championship Festival was so chock full of highlights that it was hard to narrow down our list to just the top 10. With that said, let’s look back at some of the top moments from this epic series.
1. Once In a Lifetime Opportunity at Premier MUG
The 2023 WPT World Championship Festival at Wynn Las Vegas kicked off on December 1st with the Premier Meet Up Game (MUG). Players had a unique opportunity to play low-stakes NL Hold’em against Hall of Famers, elite pros, poker vloggers, and poker celebrities.
The stars are all out, all 28 $1/3 and $2/5 tables are full, and wait-lists a mile long!
WOW! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/W20p6s6F9j
— Robbie Strazynski (@cardplayerlife) December 1, 2023
Some of those participating in the MUG included Phil Ivey, Todd Brunson, Gus Hansen, Tony Dunst, Brad Owen, Andrew Neeme, Linda Johnson, and Ethan “Rampage” Yau. In case you missed it, the best way to get a feel of what this special event was like is to read Cardplayer Lifestyle Founder Robbie Strazynski‘s report on what he dubbed the “MUG of Dreams“. For many, this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
2. Building Community at the Ladies MUG
The Ladies MUG took place on December 9th and was a truly memorable event for all in attendance. Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor Christina Bradfield attended the event for the second year in a row and gave her first-hand account of what the event was like for those in attendance.
Mimosas were had, prizes were given! 🥂🎁
— World Poker Tour (@WPT) December 10, 2023
The women who participated made memories and strengthened friendships while playing against professional players and champions of women’s poker. Jamie Kerstetter, Angelica Hael, Tara Smith, and Ivonne Montealegre were among those in attendence. Where the Premier MUG was about chasing dreams, the Ladies MUG was more about building community. As Bradfield states in her article, “If this Ladies MUG was someone’s first exposure to live poker, I know with 100% certainty they’ll be back for plenty more.”
3. Players’ Party at Area 15
The WPT Thank You Party was held at Area 15 on December 11th. DJ Sub Zero kept the party going all night as poker pros, WPT officials, and WPT World Championship qualifiers mingled.
Thanks so much to all of the players who came out!
— World Poker Tour (@WPT) December 12, 2023
Daniel Smyth wrote about his experiences at the party for CardsChat and praised the professionalism of everyone from the World Poker Tour at the event.
Many believe the World Poker Tour is on another level compared to other tournament series. Events like the Thank You Party go a long way to leave the type of impression that guarantees player loyalty.
4. The Return of the $1M Buy-in Big One for One Drop
The Big One for One Drop made its triumphant return after a nearly five-year hiatus. Now hosted by the WPT, the 2023 edition of the Big One drew a field of 17 entries, each of whom paid $1 million for the privilege of taking a seat in the tournament. The six-handed final table included Isaac Haxton, Dan Smith, Mikita Badziakouski, Mario Mosboeck, Nick Petrangelo, and Santhosh Suvarna, but only the first four of those players made it into the money.
Ultimately, it was Badziakouski facing off against Austrian pro Mosboeck for the title. Badziakouski overcame a 2:1 chip deficit heads-up to win the title and the $7.1 million top prize.
Standing with Mikita Badziakouski and @mariomosboeck right before they battled HU for almost TWELVE MILLION between them…. unreal. 🤯
— Lynn Gilmartin (@LynnGilmartin) December 21, 2023
The Big One win is the largest score in Badziakouski’s pro career, boosting him over $50 million in lifetime career poker tournament earnings (Smith also notably topped that mark with his third place finish). More importantly, the event raised just over $1 million for the One Drop Foundation, which aims to provide clean drinking water and sustainable living conditions for communities facing extreme barriers.
5. WPT Celebrity Invitational: Neil Patrick Harris Takes “Legendary” Bad Beat
On December 19th, the WPT x Daniel Arsham Celebrity Invitational played out, but most everyone watching the event will remember it for a single cooler. Daniel Arsham is the designer of this season’s WPT Championship Club trophies and served as host for the event. Arden Cho, Eileen Davidson, Patrick Bruel, and Emmy award-winning actor Neal Patrick Harris joined him at the event.
Most recently known for his role as The Toymaker in Doctor Who, Harris was easily the biggest star participating in the event. Like his iconic characters on TV and stage, Harris busted the event in a dramatic fashion. He moved all-in on a flop of Q-10-10, holding A-10. Unfortunately for him, he ran into the pocket queens of Arden Cho. Cho’s queens held, and Harris went back to Hollywood.
Entrepreneur Adam Weitsman was the event’s eventual winner, eliminating Patrick Bruel heads-up. Weitsman’s prize was a blue Porsche sculpture designed by Arsham.
6. Dancing Stormtroopers
How is the World Poker Tour like the Super Bowl? Both have halftime shows. At the WPT, the shows are an eclectic mix. You could have anything from a honeycomb beatboxer to dancing stormtroopers.
No, we’re serious. There were dancing stormtroopers! While this may seem a bit “off the wall,” it fits perfectly in the crazy world of poker. Wouldn’t the game be better if we had more dancing stormtroopers?
— Bingo Buddy 🐲 #DieWithZeroRegrets (@Bing0Buddy) December 9, 2023
7. WPT Prime Championship Doubles Guarantee
Live poker tournaments are booming, and “Exhibit A” of this wonderful phenomenon could easily be the 2023 WPT Prime Championship. The event more than doubled its guarantee and nearly doubled its field size for 2022. Slated with a $5 million guarantee, a field of 10,512 entries more than doubled the prize pool to $10.19 million.
Calvin Anderson seized the opportunity and masterfully navigated his way to a victory in the event, earning a career-best $1.36 million. As WPT CEO Adam Pliska explained, “The astounding increase in the WPT Prime Championship exceeded expectations, and further fortifies the event as a pillar of the WPT World Championship festival at Wynn Las Vegas.”
— Matt Savage (@SavagePoker) December 20, 2023
8. Bin Weng Continues Hot Streak in the $25k High Roller
To say that Bin Weng has had a breakout year in 2023 is an understatement. He had over $5.6 million in earnings heading into this year’s WPT Championship Festival, including two WPT victories. He added a third WPT victory to his resume after taking down the $25k High Roller for $958,279.
— Wynn Poker Room (@WynnPoker) December 19, 2023
Weng has enjoyed a stellar 2023 on the World Poker Tour. He won the WPT Showdown Championship in April and followed that up with a victory in the WPT EveryOne for One Drop in July.
For the year, Weng has $6.64 million in tournament earnings. He also won his first WSOP Circuit ring back in February. Few players are hotter than Weng at the moment, and one has to wonder if this hit streak will continue into 2024.
9. WPT World Championship Main Event
In a story that has more long-term importance than who won the title, the WPT World Championship Main Event had a massive overlay. The event featured a much-hyped a $40 million guarantee, but despite exceeding last year’s attendance by 30%, the tournament’s total prize pool ended up being “only” $37.58 million. This created an enormous overlay of $2,417,000.
Even so, instead of tinkering with the structure or abandoning the guarantee, the World Poker Tour paid the overlay and continued business as usual, considering it to be “an investment in the future of poker.”
Adam Pliska took the classy step and called for a press conference immediately after the overlay announcement. He confidently answered every question posed and relayed the company’s official stance that “they feel that the event was a success because it gave value to the players.”
“The most important thing…we want players to say that this was the best player experience.” – @WPT CEO Adam Pliska
“We’re not going anywhere. We’re building this up. We’re going to continue to make positive changes.”
— World Poker Tour (@WPT) December 16, 2023
The WPT Championship Main Event overlay should be the example that all other casinos, poker rooms, and tournament series should follow if they hope to retain loyal customers. Pliska and the WPT stepped up with the class in their actions and proved why many place the World Poker Tour on a pedestal among other organizations. It’s no wonder that the company’s official theme song is dubbed “Rise Above”.
10. Dan Sepiol Wins WPT World Championship
While there was a massive overlay, the 2023 WPT World Championship was still the 2nd largest $10k event of the year by a huge margin. The event saw 30% growth year-over-year, and the final table was among the strongest we’ve seen in recent memory.
Chris Moorman, Andrew Lichtenberger, Ben Heath, Dan Sepiol, Artur Martirosian, and Georgios Sotiropoulos took their seats at the final table, with each player guaranteed to take home at least $1 million. Eventually, it was Sepiol defeated Sotiropoulos after a back-and-forth heads-up struggle. Sepiol won the championship trophy and $5.28 million.