The 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event is the third-biggest Main Event in the 48-year history of the WSOP, with 7,721 entrants, up from 6,737 last year, building up a nearly $68 million prize pool. Players from all 50 states participated in this year’s Main Event, as well as players from 83 different countries, but in some circles, this kind of Main Event growth is still surprising.
“I was completely surprised,” said Andrew Barber, who is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and is currently pursuing his PhD in economics at the University of California Santa Cruz. “I think the line I had heard being thrown around was like 6,300 or 6,350. Enough of the events were down, that extrapolating from that, we could expect this to be down.”
Figuring out the why behind these numbers is interesting for Barber. Most professionals come to the World Series and play all or most of the preliminary events before playing the Main Event, so their attendance, according to Barber, isn’t going to affect the numbers. Some other factors certainly will though.
“What is the group that is being induced to play this, that wasn’t playing it previously?” Barber wondered, before adding, “I think the stock market is a decent predictor for entries in the Main Event, if you look at the tournament entries over time and look at the performance of the stock market, people tend to be willing to gamble more when the market is up.”
Barber also mentioned that crypto, which is a digital currency that has seemed to take off in the poker world, was up prior to the start of the Main Event. Stock market and the recent cryptocurrency peak aside, the trends and factors as to why the Main Event is larger this year are likely impossible to understand in the short-term. Barber has noticed one trend though, an influx of an older demographic.
“I joked with Mark Gregorich, that Gregorich was the youngest player and he is like 50.” Barber said with a laugh, which could support his theory that the state of the economy is a driving force behind Main Event numbers.
All things considered though, Barber feels like there is a ceiling to the Main Event.
“It’s hard to believe that there exists a world in which poker becomes more popular, where the number of players grows larger than the number we reached during poker’s peak.” Barber said, in reference to the largest Main Event ever in 2006. “I’m impressed that we are even flirting with the idea of getting back to that mark.”
Next year, the poker world will flirt with that number but for now, the entire Main Event field is focused on the task at hand and the over $8 million that awaits the eventual champion, Andrew Barber included.