The largest Live Poker Tournament Ever

The word "largest" is a little vague-does it refer to the size of the TV audience, the total purse, or the star-caliber of celebs in attendance? Our version of the world's largest live poker game tourney is the one with the most entrants.

That honor goes to the 2006 World Series Main Event $10k buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tourney, with a total number of entries somewhere around 8,770 players. That's an enormous crowd of poker players, each willing to put up a big chunk of change to participate or play a serious poker game to win a free entrance at a site tournament or as part of another promo giveaway. That number of players represents more than $87 million in entry fees paid, and the first prize was set at a nifty $12 million.

Incidentally, that top prize also makes the 2006 Texas Hold'em No-Limit tourney the largest in terms of winnings as well, with its nearest competitor being the 2010 edition, where the highest payout was just under $9 million. The largest live poker tournament ever came right in the middle of the modern poker boom; back in 2006, major corporate sponsors were investing in poker, through commercials, print ads, live broadcasts of tournaments, and even NASCAR-style clothing patches. Before the poker bust of late 2006, online card gaming was a flourishing business, so it isn't likely that the title of Largest Live Poker Tournament will be tested any time soon.

Tournament Result

The 2006 Main Event at the World Series of poker came at the peak of the game's popularity, so the results were big for more than just the top money-winners. Like all the WSOP Main Events of the early 2000s, advertisers won just as big as poker sharks.

But, in the interest of poker news, here are the top ten finishers and their prizes:

  1. Jamie Gold, $12,000,000
  2. Paul Wasicka, $6,102,499
  3. Michael Binger, $4,123,310
  4. Allen Cunningham, $3,628,513
  5. Rhett Butler, $3,216,182
  6. Richard Lee, $2,803,851
  7. Douglas Kim, $2,391,520
  8. Erik Friberg, $1,979,189
  9. Dan Nassif, $1,566,858
  10. Fred Goldberg, $1,154,527

All top ten finishers won at least a cool million bucks, and every player who finished in the top 30 that year won at least $250,000. It was a big money year for the WSOP-the largest in history.

Who else won big that year? You could make an argument that such big-dollar payoffs made WSOP itself a winner. TV ratings for certain poker tournaments on cable were higher for a couple of years after this tournament, and though eventually audiences lost interest and the most of the poker TV tourneys went off the air, for a few years around this 2006 money extravaganza, WSOP was one of the hottest properties in reality programming.

The Rio Hotel & Casino hosted this tournament, the first time the competitions were held outside Binion's in history, and no doubt Rio's continued success in the land-based gaming industry has something to do with the fact that their name was splashed on every surface in front of the TV cameras.

Other winners that year: sponsors like Bodog.com. Bodog sponsored Gold, and several of his celebrity client/friends, to enter the tournament wearing the gear on hats, shirts, arm-bands, and any item of clothing they could fit it on. Though Bodog and Gold would late come under fire for stuffing the main event pool with celebrity names, Bodog.com got a big boost from the constant presence of their logo under the bright lights of the contest stage.

Jamie Gold, Winner of the 2006 WSOP Main Event

Jamie Gold is a unique character in the world of poker. Unlike many other champions, he is not a pure gambler. For most of his career, Jamie Gold was a talent agent, working the phones for names like Jimmie Fallon and Lucy Liu. Gold's first exposure to poker was likely at an early age; his grandfather James Gold was a nationwide champion gin rummy player who no doubt dabbled a bit in poker and other games on the side.

Gold was tutored at championship-level poker by two of his clients: Chris Moneymaker and Johnny Chan, each a former WSOP tournament champ. Gold was working with them to create a poker-based reality program, and mentioned that he liked the game. Tutoring from two of the world's top poker players must have really paid off, as Gold took home the 2006 Main Event bracelet, the largest prize ever paid out, and continued to play at the tournament level, finishing as high as 30th at the European WSOP Main Event. He has never quite duplicated his success in 2006, though his talent agent business has taken off, and his name is still popular among poker fans.

He now mostly plays poker for charity events, including as part of Annie Duke's charity tourney for African food aid and several poker charity events aimed at raising money and awareness for Lou Gehrig's Disease. Gold can be found occasionally playing at PokerStars.com, though his total output of poker volume has shrunk considerably since he failed to make it past the first day of the 2007 WSOP Main Event.

Gold's win in 2006 was something of a fluke. He'd never had much success before, and he has yet to come anywhere near repeating his big win of that year, even laying off his online poker play and concentrating more heavily on his business and playing poker events for charity. An interested character in an entire industry of interest people, Jamie Gold will always be remembered for bringing home the (as-yet) largest prize for any live poker tournament in history: a cool 12 million for the Main Event at the 2006 World Series of Poker championship.

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