Swimming With 'Jesus' And Sharks

Chris Ferguson, center, sits between Binion's Horseshoe Casino owner Becky Behnen, left, and her son Benny moments after winning the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe Casino Thursday, May 18, 2000 in Las Vegas. Ferguson, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., defeated T.J. Cloutier, of Richardson, Texas, to win $1.5 million.
This report by Ken Adams is the first in a series for chronicling his run at the 2005 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

For each of the past 18 years I have set aside work, family and everything else for a brief time to travel to Las Vegas for the annual World Series of Poker ("WSOP").

This year the WSOP began June 2 and will continue until July 15. There are 41 separate events – including the Big Deal, the No Limit Hold'em Championship -- and so 41 poker players will realize the dream of winning a World Series title. I am hoping to be one of them, just like the 20,000 other players from the United States and 15 foreign countries. You could say the odds are long.

This year's WSOP will be the largest and richest in history, by far. Poker is red hot. Fueled by the invention of online poker and fancy cameras that make it possible for television viewers to see the players' hidden cards, the old kitchen table card game has become a big money spectator sport.

In 1987 when I went to the WSOP for the first time, only 152 players paid the $10,000 entry fee to compete for the world championship. The winner that year, Johnny Chan, won $655,000 along with the treasured championship gold bracelet.

Last year 2,576 players put up $10,000 each in the championship event. Greg ("Fossilman") Raymer, a patent lawyer from Connecticut, won the championship bracelet and a whopping $5 million for his first place finish. Each of the top four finishers in that tournament won more than $1 million.

This year's tournament organizers are preparing for as many as 6,600 players in the championship event that will begin on July 7 after the 40 other events have finished. The total prize money in all 41 events is expected to top $100 million. Deal the cards.

For amateurs like me who spend most of the year going to work and living ordinary lives, interrupted by the occasional poker game with friends, the WSOP is like a feeding frenzy in a school of sharks.

Tens of thousands of poker players gather under one huge roof for six weeks, playing poker 24/7. Every day there is another tournament event you can compete in. For those who like to play seven card stud, there will be five stud events with entry fees ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. There will be seven Omaha events, with entry fees from $1,500 to $10,000.

The most popular game these days is Texas Hold'em. This year there will be twenty-seven Hold'em events, including six limit Hold'em tournaments, four pot limit tournaments, and seventeen no limit events, with a range of entry fees from $500 to $10,000.