What We Learned: The 2016 World Series of Poker

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It’s hard to look back at the 2016 WSOP as anything but the Summer of Jason Mercier

The 2016 World Series of Poker is a wrap. Okay, yes there’s still the matter of playing down the final table of the Main Event beginning in October, but 68 of the 69 bracelets have been awarded, the Amazon Room is devoid of any poker tables and poker players have scattered around the world to rebuild their bankrolls just in time to do it all over again next summer.

But this past WSOP was packed with storylines and themes including heroes, villains and of course, money – lots of money.

Don’t Bet Against Jason Mercier

In the days leading up to the 2016 WSOP, Vanessa Selbst gave Jason Mercier 180-1 odds on winning three bracelets this summer. Mercier accepted and put $10,000 on himself. While he bricked the first 15 events of the Series, starting with the $10,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Championship, Mercier made it interesting.

Mercier won that event and then immediately jumped into the $10,000 Razz Championship, only to lose heads-up to Ray Dehkharghani. Rather than dwell on a missed opportunity, Mercier then jumped into the $10,000 HORSE event and won that. In the span of five days Mercier finished first, second and first in $10,000 Championship events.

Controversy erupted during that amazing five-day span after Selbst claimed that she had asked Mercier for a buyout the morning after making the bet and her fellow Team PokerStars Pro declined, leaving Selbst on the hook for $1.8 million should Mercier win three bracelets. Selbst eventually sold off most of her action on the bet to Mike McDonald. Throughout it all, Mercier remained focused.

Three days later Mercier finished eighth in the $10,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Championship, the closest he would get to a third bracelet. But he wasn’t done with final tables and jewelry. Fellow poker pro Natasha Barbour, Mercier’s girlfriend, made the final table of a $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event and after she busted out in third place, Mercier greeted her on stage and proposed to her. Barbour accepted.

Mercier ended the summer by winning the WSOP Player of the Year award, beating out Paul Volpe by almost 272 points.

Gimmick Tournaments Might Have Run Their Course

Over the last few years the WSOP schedule has featured an increasing number of lower-buy-in tournaments aimed towards recreational players that have had a marketing hook – a gimmick – attached to them.

The 2016 schedule returned four of these tournaments and a quick glance at the numbers suggest that it might be time to go back to the drawing board. All four of these events saw a slight downturn in attendance this summer over 2015.

The biggest disappointment of the summer has to be Colossus II. After fixing the payout issue – in 2015 winner only got $638,880 after outlasting over 22,000 players – with a $1 million guarantee to first and fixing registration and payout line issues, the event drew just 21,613 – and this is with two additional starting flights added to the schedule this year.

TdYear

Td2015

Td2016

TdGrowth

TdColossus

Td22,374

Td21,613

Td-3.401%

TdMillionaire Maker

Td7,275

Td7,190

Td-1.168%

TdLittle One for One Drop

Td4,555

Td4,360

Td-4.281%

TdSummer Solstice

Td1,914

Td1,840

Td-3.866%

While the marketing gimmicks have shown to be successful in years past, the 2016 schedule may have relied too heavily on them and players appear to have shied away from playing multiple events. On the plus side, the Main Event field size actually showed year-over-year growth, going from 6,420 to 6,737 – a nearly 5% increase.

Former PocketFives #1-Ranked Players Are No Joke

Paul Volpe, Shaun Deeb, Fedor Holz and possibly Cliff Josephy or Griffin Benger joined an elite group of players who have held the #1 spot on PocketFives Rankings and won a WSOP bracelet during their career.

Volpe and Deeb both won their second career bracelet while Holz, the 22-year-old German poker pro who has won $18 million over the past 14 months, won his first bracelet in the $111,111 One Drop High Roller.

Josephy and Benger are another story altogether. Both made the November Nine and will be looking to become the 11th former #1-ranked player to win a WSOP bracelet. Josephy heads to the final table with the chip lead while Benger, who wasn’t going to play any WSOP events until he won a satellite on 888, has the third shortest stack.

Former #1-ranked players cashed a total of 110 times this summer, earning $9,025,917 – with more to come after the Main Event final table is finished on November 1. The busiest of this group was Dan Kelly. He cashed 12 times this summer and pocketed $89,639.

People Still Hate Howard Lederer – And Probably Always Will

In the days leading up to the start of the 2016 WSOP, Howard Lederer released a statement accepting responsibility for his role in the Black Friday fallout of Full Tilt Poker. Everybody recognized what Lederer was doing – setting the table for his return to the WSOP after not playing in a single event since 2010 – before April 15, 2011.

The question was, how would Lederer be greeted at the tables and would players have any animosity toward him? While Lederer made it through the first 67 events of the summer without any real incident, the Main Event was a different story. Late on Day 1, Lederer was moved to a table with Danielle Andersen. She took the opportunity to let the former Full Tilt exec know that his mere presence in poker’s most prestigious event was not welcomed, at least by her.

“To be honest, at first, I was just like speechless. It took me a little. Then I was like ‘I have to say something’. And I’m not the type to be like you’re a scumbag and you’re .. whatever … that’s not my style. Other people can be angry, but like it just brought me a profound sadness and I felt like I had to say something.”

Read: Danielle Andersen Confronts Howard Lederer Over WSOP Return

The WSOP is Still About the People Who Play the Game

The World Series of Poker is where the game’s biggest stars go to cement their legacy. Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Chris Moneymaker and Daniel Negreanu have all made their names while playing for, and winning, a WSOP bracelet. Still, the WSOP is also where recreational players get to do something that you can’t do in any other arena – play against the best.

While Mercier dominated the early part of the summer and Josephy will have the headlines leading up to the Main Event final table, the WSOP is still about players from all walks of life trying to prove they belong. That was never more apparent than in the Millionaire Maker this summer when Lisa Meredith, a kindergarten teacher from the Pacific Northwest, made the final table and had a shot at winning life-changing money. While she ended up finishing third, one spot shy of a seven figure score, Meredith left the WSOP with $500,000 and had legions of fans cheering her on as the final table played out on livestream.

And then there was Bob Brundige. While he didn’t make the Main Event final table, his story captured the attention of people from all over the world. Brundige is dying from cancer and had it on his bucket list to play the Main Event. A good friend of his, Charlie Weis, made it all happen and then got to sit and watch as Brundige not only played the event, but cashed.

Read: Bob, Charlie and a Life-Changing WSOP Main Event Journey