World Series of Poker 2019 Main Event Betting Odds

by James Murphy in Entertainment  / May 21, 2019

  • The World Series of Poker is bigger and more popular than ever.
  • This is the 50th Annual World Series of Poker.
  • The $10,000 buy-in ‘Main Event’ begins on July 3, 2019.

The annual World Series of Poker is the without a doubt the best known gambling tournament in the world. It was one of the major beneficiaries of the ‘poker boom’ of the early 2000’s that saw the popularity of Texas Hold’em explode and the number of participants at the ‘WSOP’ skyrocket. Although the World Series of Poker technically begins May 29 with over 89 separate events representing every imaginable form of poker the real focal point is what has become known simply as the ‘Main Event’. More specifically, the ‘Main Event’ is a $10,000 buy-in no limit Texas Hold’em tournament that is considered the pinnacle of accomplishment for a professional poker player. The exact pot and cut for first place is determined by the actual number of participants but in 2018 there were 7,847 entrants contesting a total prize pool worth $74,015,600 US. The eventual winner was was 34 year old professional poker player John Cynn who earned the hefty $8,800,000 US top prize and the coveted gold bracelet synonymous with WSOP victory.

Cynn is a first rate poker player but that doesn’t negate the fact that his odds of repeating as WSOP main event champion are slim and none. At one point, repeating as champion was reasonably common. The legendary Johnny Moss won the event in 1970 and 1971 and for good measure won 3 of the first 5 events. Another legit legend, Doyle Brunson won the main event in 1976 and 1977. The late Stu Ungar was a walking traffic accident in many ways but arguably the most naturally gifted poker player ever. He won the main event in 1980 and 1981 and added a third title in 1997. Another poker icon, Johnny Chan was the last to do it in 1987 and 1988. It hasn’t been done since and the odds against it ever happening again are astronomical.

It was simply a different world when Moss, Brunson, Ungar and Chan went ‘back to back’. The 1982 main event won by Jack ‘Treetop’ Straus was the first time the field exceeded 100 contestants (104). Johnny Chan faced 152 and 167 respectively during his two consecutive wins. Ungar’s third WSOP win in 1997 saw 312 entrants. When Chris Moneymaker won in 2003 he became something of a ‘rock star’ since he’d won his way into the tournament online. He also played a part in changing the fundamental makeup of the World Series of Poker forever.

Moneymaker was part of a field of 839 players in the 2003 main event but by 2004 the number of participants had grown to 2,576. It would more than double year over year when 5,619 players entered in 2005 and would experience another huge jump in 2006 when a record 8,773 entrants took a shot at the big prize. Numbers began to recede beginning in 2007 with only 6,358 contestants but the popularity poker enjoyed during the ‘boom years’ produced a permanent increase in popularity for the WSOP. The lowest participant total during the past decade has been 6,352 but the past two years have attracted over 7,000 players. Last year’s 7,874 was the second biggest main event field in history.

ASTRONOMICAL ODDS FOR EVEN THE BEST POKER PLAYERS

When I first started to work on the odds for the 2019 WSOP I thought it would be fun to come up with the odds of a rank amateur winning the main event. This would be an interesting number to throw out before I went into the odds on the various professionals to win the main event. Say you’re an average to above average recreational poker player. I give you an envelope with 10 G’s in it to cover your entrance fee, hand you a plane ticket to McCarren International Airport and arrange for your food and accommodations while you’re in Las Vegas. What are your chances of coming home with the WSOP Main Event bracelet and $8 million dollars?

Just trying to figure out the framework to even start to determine these odds is exceedingly difficult. We know that you’ll be one of 7,000 or so contestants but that doesn’t mean you’ve got a 1 in 7,000 chance of winning. If everyone sat down at the table and the outcome was determined by looking for an $8 million check taped under your seat it would since it would be a completely random event with no skill involved. It doesn’t work that way, however and that’s where this gets tricky. To even start to wrap your head around the odds of anyone–pro or amateur–winning the WSOP main event you have to open one of the most enduring argumentative ‘cans of worms’ in gambling–the role of skill vs. chance in poker.

SKILL VS. LUCK IN POKER

There’s so much on this out there it would take a series of posts to even summarize the most popular theories. Just Google ‘luck vs. skill in poker’ and you’ll find countless articles on the topic from a diverse range of sources. The most interesting are usually serious mathematical studies along with theories advanced by experienced poker players. Certainly luck plays a part in any type of skill based endeavor. You can make a compelling case that LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world but he’s watched the NBA playoffs on TV. Certainly, part of the failure of the Los Angeles Lakers this season was bad coaching or personnel decisions but they caught plenty of bad luck. No matter how good you might be at anything, your performance is always influenced to some extent by random circumstances beyond your control.

Specific to poker–or any gambling activity–it’s foolish to say it’s entirely skill. Nothing in life is entirely skill. There’s a great quote attributed to the Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity.” That’s a good philosophy to have in life but even *that’s* not true. Some people are the beneficiaries of nothing but good luck despite little or no ‘preparation’. Others suffer from the vagaries of bad luck despite every best effort to the contrary. At the same time, it’s equally foolish to say that poker–or anything else–is entirely luck. If poker was entirely luck, the top players wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. You can expand that rationale to anything else you want to.

I’ve often counseled people that were continually anxious and worried about everything in life that as humans we don’t choose our circumstances but we do choose how to respond to them. I might have stolen that from someone but you get the idea. This is one explanation of the role of luck versus skill in poker. Everyone is subject to the randomness of the cards they are dealt and those their opponents are dealt. The skillful players knows better how to respond to leverage strong hands and minimize the damage of poor hands.

SKILL VS. LUCK IN THE WORLD SERIES OF POKER

One of the more interesting theories I read about the role of skill vs. luck in poker is that skill is important but until a player reaches a certain threshold of play the game is more of a function of luck. This appears to be consistent with the Law of Large Numbers and definitely makes intuitive sense. One argument I read came up with ‘1,500 hands of poker’ as the threshold where skill starts to prevail over luck. That precise number is subject to debate, but the concept that a skillful player will demonstrate their superiority over a lucky player the more frequently he does whatever he does.

Another theory–and one that I definitely subscribe to–is that the role of skill versus luck is situational in most things. Another way of looking at this–to win the main event at the WSOP an inexperienced amateur would need more ‘lucky breaks’ than would a top professional. Like so much else, this sounds true on an intuitive level but is difficult to quantify. Beyond the ‘luck vs. skill’ debate there’s certainly plenty of variables in poker and specifically tournament poker. The cards that are drawn, how your opponents react to them and how they react to your decisions are just the tip of the iceberg. The table draw is beyond a player’s control. If a top player gets draws a table to start the tournament and is staring at Phil Ivey, Daniel Negranu and a few other high level professionals he’s less likely to advance than is an amateur player that draws a table full of recreational players that just want to say they entered the World Series of Poker. There’s also external factors in ‘real life’ that prevent any player from maintaining focus and playing their best game.

BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED FROM

All of this is interesting but it doesn’t help us come up with a number for the ‘average amateur’ in the World Series of Poker. I’ve heard a few other theories for how to figure this out. One seems a bit simplistic but is at least a starting point–the average player has a 1/8000 chance of winning assuming 8000 entrants. The professional player would have a higher chance and a less than average player a lower chance. One problem with this is that the concentration of players in the WSOP skews toward a higher level of skill. There are some players happy to put up $10k for the ‘experience’ but not enough to balance out the skill levels.

We could venture down these statistical rabbit holes indefinitely but that doesn’t get us any closer to coming up with a price. Since I’m not trying to get a Math Ph.D we’ll employ some ‘educated guessing’ and reverse engineer a number from the previous years’ future odds to win the WSOP. I’ve seen a couple of suggestions that a bad poker player would be better off to take the $10,000 and buy Powerball lottery tickets. That sounds plausible but since we’re working toward a probability ratio for a competent amateur poker player our ‘best guess’ will be somewhere between these two extremes.

Long story short, I determined that the odds ratio of a specific top level pro winning the WSOP would be 1 in 10,000. The future odds I had to work with were a starting point but since it’s commonly known that no casino would hang a number like that at ‘true odds’ I had to massage these results. Obviously, this number is subject to a number of factors not the least of which being the number of entrants in the tournament. That left me to calculate the odds of a specific amateur to win the WSOP:

1 in 100,000

Odds of an individual amateur poker player to win the WSOP Main Event

This number could use a bit more work but it does serve as a good starting place to emphasize the long odds of winning the WSOP main event for a capable amateur poker player. My initial thought was that it should be higher but at 1 in 100,000 it represents a probability of 0.001% which sounds plausible. Compared to other unlikely events it also puts it in line with an individual’s chance of dying in an earthquake (1 in 110,000) and makes it less likely than dying from a bee sting (1 in 89,000) or a tornado (1 in 60,000).

We’ll transition now from ‘true odds’ to betting odds. Note that the odds listed below–like any other type of betting odds–won’t reflect the ‘true odds’ of something occurring.

2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT BETTING ODDS

NUMBER OF ENTRIES IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT

Over 7875.5                         -125
Under 7875.5 +105

NUMBER OF ENTRIES IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT

Over 8000.5                         +210
Under 8000.5 -250

WILL THE NUMBER OF ENTRIES IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT SET A NEW RECORD?

Yes                                 +750
No -1500

Current record number of entries in the World Series of Poker main event was set in 2006 with 8,773 entries.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS IDENTIFYING AS FEMALE TO ENTER THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

Over 675.5 female players           -125
Under 675.5 female players +105

AMOUNT OF 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT FIRST PLACE PRIZE

Over $8.25 million USD              -125
Under $8.25 million USD +105

AGE OF 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT WINNER?

Over 26.5 years                     -150
Under 26.5 years +130

CITIZENSHIP OF 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT WINNER?

USA                                 -150
Europe +250
Canada +750
South or Central America +1250
Australia +1500
Any Other Residency Location +2500

NUMBER OF AMERICAN BORN PLAYERS AT THE FINAL TABLE OF 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

Over 4.5                            -150
Under 4.5 +130

NUMBER OF FEMALE PLAYERS AT THE FINAL TABLE OF 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

Over 0.5                            +600
Under 0.5 -750

HIGHEST FINISH BY A FEMALE PLAYER IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

#27.5 or better                     +300
#27.5 or lower -350

NUMBER OF FEMALE PLAYERS AMONG THE TOP 100 FINISHERS IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

Over 6.5                            +210
Under 6.5 -250

THE FINAL FLOP OF THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT WILL HAVE?

More Red Cards                      -115
More Black Cards -115

RANK OF FINAL WINNING HAND IN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT?

Two pair or better                  +150
One pair or lower -180

OFFICIAL TEMPERATURE AT LAS VEGAS MCCARREN AIRPORT WHEN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT CHAMPION IS DETERMINED?

Over 102.5 F/39.1 C                 +210
Under 102.5 F/39.1 C -250

OFFICIAL RELATIVE HUMIDITY AT LAS VEGAS MCCARREN AIRPORT WHEN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT CHAMPION IS DETERMINED?

Over 16.5%                          +180
Under 16.5% -210

WILL ANY MEASURABLE PRECIPITATION HAVE BEEN RECORDED AT LAS VEGAS MCCARREN AIRPORT IN THE PREVIOUS 24 HOURS FROM WHEN THE 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT CHAMPION IS DETERMINED?

Yes                                 +750
No -1500

TO WIN 2019 WORLD SERIES OF POKER MAIN EVENT

Daniel Coleman                      +3500
Adam Adler +3500
Chris Moore +3500
William Reymond +3500
John Cynn +3500
Tony Miles +3500
Michael Dyer +3500
Nicolas Manion +3500
Joe Cada +3500
Aram Zobian +3500
Alex Lynskey +3500
Artem Metalidi +3500
Antoine Labat +3500
David Peters +4000
Danny Wong +4000
Nicholas Sliwinski +4000
Arshand Hussein +4500
Anders Nygren +4500
Sam Farha +4500
Philip Nguyen +5000
Geoffrey Herzog +5000
Shawn Sheikhan +5000
Brian Hansen +5000
Max Greenwood +5000
Randy Holland +5000
Per Hildebrand +7500
Niall Farrell +7500
Julian Gardner +7500
Tony Bloom +7500
Henrik Olander +7500
Donnacha O’Dea +8500
Aaron Gordon +8500
Clonie Gowan +8500
Felix Osterland +9000
Ronni Borg +9000
Phil Ivey +9000
Justin Bonomo +10000
Andrei Akkari +10000
Chris Bjorin +10000
Adrian Mateos +10000
Mikita Badziakouski +10000
Mustapha Kanit +10000
Stephen Chidwick +10000
Tiffany Michelle +10000
Daniel Negreanu +12500
Phil Hellmuth +12500
Johnny Chan +12500
Eric Seidel +12500
Gus Hansen +15000
Kristen Bicknell +15000
JC Tran +15000
Phil Laak +15000
Chris Ferguson +15000
Mike Matusow +20000
John Juanda +20000
Men Nguyen +20000
David Pham +20000
Scotty Nguyen +25000
Dan Harrington +25000
Layne Flack +25000
Greg Raymer +25000
TJ Cloutier +50000
Joe Hachem +50000
Huck Seed +50000
Chris Moneymaker +50000
Dewey Tomko +50000
Mike Sexton +50000
Jennifer Harman +50000

All bets are action regardless of player participation

James Murphy

James Murphy is a preeminent authority on the international gambling industry and has made frequent appearances in the mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNBC and NPR. He has previously worked as a radio and podcasting host where he broadcast to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice. Murphy also serves as an odds making consultant for sports and ‘non-sport novelty bets’ covering the entertainment industry, politics, technology, financial markets and just about everything else.

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