2019 Retrospective: WSOP Big 50 Breaks Record, Ivey Returns in June

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Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey returned to the WSOP in 2019 and made his debut in the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship (photo: WPT)

As 2019 draws to a close, PocketFives takes a look back at the year that was in poker news, going month-by-month through the biggest and most important stories of the year. In June, all eyes were on the 2019 WSOP, which kicked off with a bang that included the largest live poker tournament ever and Phil Ivey’s return.

WSOP Big 50’s Gigantic Turnout

The first installment of the World Series of Poker $500 buy-in ‘Big 50’ tournament was one for the record books, literally. The tournament that was marketed to give comers from all levels a shot at WSOP glory did that and more, becoming the largest live poker tournament in history.

The event attracted a field size of 28,474 entries, crushing the previous record of 22,374 entries set by the 2015 WSOP Colossus. Lance Bradley took a look at the record-breaking event to see how it stacks up against another monstrous tournaments, the number of unique entries versus reentries, and more.

Nigerian-born Femi Fashakin turned a $500 entry into $1.147 million in the Big 50 and will forever be remembered for such an achievement.

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Controversy at the WSOP

The $50,000 High Roller tournament at the 2019 WSOP drew a lot of attention. Understandably so, given it’s huge buy-in and star-studded field. The resulting headlines were less than what was desired, though, as a bit of controversy came about.

With four players left in the tournament, Sam Soverel opened with a raise, Dmitry Yurasov moved all in, Andrew Lichtenberger folded, and then Ben Heath asked for a count. While thinking, Heath tossed in a time bank card and Soverel, who might’ve thought the time bank card was Heath’s actual playing cards, quickly folded his hand. This allowed Heath to think through his decision without having to worry about what Soverel was going to do as the original raiser. Yurasov was not happy with Soverel’s play, as were many people on Twitter, including Isaac Haxton.

Phil Ivey Returns

Guess who’s back? Phil Ivey’s back!

It seems that every summer the poker world is waiting to see if Phil Ivey will return to the WSOP tournament tables or not. In 2019, he returned a week into June, kicking things off with the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship. The poker world was buzzing with his return to the series, but it’d have to until about a week later for him to get back on the WSOP scoreboard by cashing in the $800 NL Deep Stack.

Ivey went on to cash five times at the WSOP in the summer and twice more at the 2019 WSOP Europe festival in Rozvadov. His best finish in Las Vegas was an eighth-place result in the $50,000 Poker Players Championship for $124,410.

Biggest Win of Jason Young’s Life

Jason Young has had his fair share of success on the poker felt, with more than $1.2 million in live tournament earnings and a World Series of Poker gold bracelet to his credit. Despite all of that, it was a victory off the felt that proved to be the biggest win of his life.

After Young and his girlfriend welcomed their daughter, Kaeley, into the world, things took a turn for the worse. His girlfriend abruptly moved to Florida, away from their home in New York, and she took the daughter with her. Young’s restaurant was lost and he fell into big debt. Through it all, Young kept fighting. He was fighting for his daughter and fighting to get his life back in order.

Along the way, poker helped Young get things back together, and the story on Young by Lance Bradley is an absolute must-read.

Chidwick, Engel, Schwartz All Wins Bracelets

The conversation of who is the best player without a WSOP gold bracelet lost three key figures in the summer of 2019. That’s when Stephen Chidwick, Ari Engel, and Luke Schwartz all claimed their first pieces of WSOP hardware and can no longer be referred to as the “Best Player Without a Bracelet.”

To make things even more exciting, all three won their first gold bracelet on the same day.