The 2022 World Series of Poker saw a new Player of the Year in Daniel Zack, an enforced absence for the most successful WSOP player of all-time, Phil Hellmuth and a rousing rally from a rising star of the game, Daniel Weinman. As poker fans look back on a thrilling Series to watch we caught up with all three men in the first part of our double header in looking back at the first WSOP to take place at Bally’s and Paris in Las Vegas.
Phil Hellmuth was forced out through sickness at the very beginning of the series, while Dan Zack had won two events by the 40th event of the WSOP. Coming up on the rails, Daniel Weinman trod between the tracks to win bracelet gold and threaten the POY lead right to the last week. We asked each man whether the World Series lived up to his expectations and how they dealt with the WSOP’s different stages after very different starts and endings for all.
Phil Hellmuth: “No, it didn’t live up to expectations. After seven final tables in the 2021 WSOP, including a first and two second places – both times I had the chip lead – I know it’s possible for me to win four bracelets in one year. In 1993, I won three bracelets, and they only had like 16 tourneys. In 2011, I had three second places, and 2012 I won two bracelets including the WSOPE Main Event. Thus, my expectations are off the chart! The 2022 WSOP didn’t live up to expectations. However, maybe I’ll play WSOP Europe and do something over the top and have 2022 WSOPE live up to my high expectations!”
Daniel Zack: “I’d say my own personal WSOP far exceeded my expectations. The past few years I’ve had the goal of winning a bracelet and chasing POY, but I’m well aware that neither are probable. Playing a full schedule, I might be a 3-1 or 4-1 dog to win a bracelet each year and POY is a longer shot than that. To win two bracelets and POY feels like a dream. The early stages of the WSOP I was in full grind mode just putting in hours and hopping into each tournament as soon as I busted the last. Towards the end, I was allowing myself a bit more rest and late registration. That said, the pressure of not wanting to blow my POY lead kept me pretty motivated to still show up each day at a reasonable time and put in my best effort.”
Daniel Weinman: “This WSOP blew my expectations away. I haven’t played a full summer in at least five years; I tend to get burnt out in the middle and split the series up into a few trips. However, after the great start with a bracelet and second [place] in the first fortnight, I put my head down and grinded out the entire thing. This WSOP felt like it had two halves. I had so much momentum in the first half, leading the POY race for most of the time, but I definitely lost some steam around the middle. After a gruelling four days of play in the $50k Poker Players Championship, I was spent mentally and physically. I didn’t bag chips or cash a tournament for at least a week after that. I had actually booked a flight home at one point, but Shaun Deeb convinced me to stay out and play the last couple of weeks after the main event and try to win POY.”
This year’s Player of the Year Race went very differently for each of the three men, but while Hellmuth was out of the running early, Weinman and Zack went head-to-head for the prize of a flag on the wall of The Horseshoe in Las Vegas next summer, as well as free entry into the 2023 WSOP Main Event.
PH: “Missing most of the first two weeks of WSOP was rough! I’m pretty happy with the 2022 POY structure, but they need to make a tweak or two. Daniel Negreanu and Shaun Deeb have input into this, and I hope they make a few changes regarding what cashes are worth. There are too many points for highest buy-ins, especially considering that most folks can’t afford to play them. Also, too many points when you finish 40th in a massive field for a small cash. But a few minor tweaks should do it.”
DW: “It was a lot of fun to be a part of the POY race. I’ve watched my closest friends in poker all win in previous years, and never thought I had much of a chance given I don’t usually play too many of the $10k mix events and had never played anything over a $10k. Given the WSOP seemed to add more and more $25k+ events each year, POY always seemed like a pipe dream. The race ultimately came down to myself, Dan Zack, and Deeb, and created a sort of friendly rivalry. We’d sweat – OK, maybe anti-sweat – each other’s final tables and check in each night to see if the others had managed any cashes that day. In the final week of the series, it became apparent that I was going to need to win another bracelet to have a chance. In the $1,979 Hall of Fame Bounty event, I got my chance making the final table and taking an average stack into four-handed play. Ultimately, I made a play that was probably -EV in order to increase my POY chances and lost a flip for near the chip lead to bow out in fourth. Then in one of the final tournaments of the summer, the $10k six-max no limit, I had another chance, but couldn’t get much together on Day 3 and busted around 30th. That was the last live tournament I played, and after busting the final 2 online events, I conceded the race to ‘Donkey Dan’!”
DZ: “It’s funny because everyone was saying that it wasn’t close down the stretch but the pressure of being the front runner really gets to you. Almost two weeks out, many people were pre-congratulating me and all I could think about was how disappointed I’d be if I blew the lead. Dan Weinman had a big run in the Hall of Fame Bounty the last week where he placed 4th and had he won we would’ve been tied, so I was sweating his runs pretty hard. I always love the competition of the POY leaderboard each year and it was a blast being in serious contention wire-to-wire.”
The move from the Rio to Bally’s and Paris was a dramatic one and saw many in the game forewarn their peers of the perils of moving. By and large, however, the move to the Strip has to be looked back upon as a stroke of genius. All three men are in favor of it.
DZ: “I think it was a massive success. I love the new venue, it feels more spacious & being on the strip unlocks so many new food and entertainment options. Super excited that this is where we get to come each year going forward.
PH: “100 out of 100! Everything was well done!! Jack Effel, the WSOP staff and dealers were top notch. The food options were tremendous, and the location fantastic!”
DW: “I loved the move to the Strip. I was never a fan of the Rio, the hotel was a nightmare and the food options were awful. I stayed at Bally’s this entire WSOP and found it very comfortable and super easy to get around. I’m definitely hoping the series stays on the strip going forward.”
Would any of the three men make changes to the organization and structure of the World Series? Any changes are bound to be made early by Jack Effel and the gang with less than 10 months to the kick off.
PH: “Well, nothing from the location to the way it was run. Personally, I would take even more days off. I have been gifted great knowledge about all of the games, but not gifted the stamina that others have. Less tourneys, and more rest, are better for my results.”
DZ: “Hopefully they’ll have the air conditioning up and running from the start next year. Apart from that I’d change some of the scheduling, it seemed the WSOP sometimes overlapped tournaments that had massive player fields creating giant late registration lines. They also didn’t space out certain limit events causing many players who play limited schedules to miss some of their favorite events.”
DW: “It’s hard to complain after such a successful summer, but I do think the POY scoring system needs a bit of tweaking. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dan Zack had a better summer than me, but the race is so favored towards high rollers and 10k mix players, it feels as if no one else really has a chance. The easiest thing I can think of to make the race a little more fair, is to have some sort of field bonuses for big field no limit events similar to the 25k fantasy draft. This gives some of the smaller stakes guys a chance to be in the race. When doing the math afterwards, I came to the conclusion that playing the main event didn’t make much sense if I was solely chasing POY. 2nd place in the main gets less points than a bracelet in the 80-player 10k short deck field. Some adjustment is needed but I’m not sure what the best solution is. The other thing I can think of to make the POY race more interesting is if there was some more financial incentive to go for it. The banner and the $10k Main Event entry is nice, but if the WSOP/Caesar’s were to put something like 1% of the total rake towards a POY Top 10 race, similar to the FedEx cup for golf, I think they’d easily make up for it in additional entries of people chasing the gold.”
All three men are well known to their peers in the game and we had to ask about any sweats or swaps that they enjoyed along the way, as well as those deep runs, comebacks and dramatic finishes that are the signature moments of World Series of Poker history.
DZ: “I don’t really buy pieces anymore and I hardly ever swap. My only swap in the Main was a 1% swap with Brian Kim for the final table only. He was chip leader with 30 left which was pretty wild, since it’s the type of swap you don’t even expect to ‘activate’. It was fun to see a friend make a deep run and root them on. As for comeback wins, my win in the Stud-8 almost wasn’t to be. On Day 1, I lost a big pot and was down to 4k chips from 60k starting stack with about an hour left in the day. I scooped six out of seven hands dealt and had 130k just 15 minutes later or so. That was a pretty wild rush to then lead to an outright win!”
PH: “I didn’t swap much, and didn’t stake folks, or take many pieces of folks. My second-place finish almost didn’t happen. I decided to play $600 Pot Limit Omaha instead of $3,000 No Limit Hold’em. When I busted the PLO, I almost left the building as I was super tired, and super, super, super frustrated. The night before was $10,000 PLO 8 or Better and I left for 45 minutes in the middle of the tourney! I whispered quietly to Felipe Ramos, “I can’t take it anymore,” then left. No tantrums. Just a quiet walkout. Massively frustrated. After my PLO bust out, I decided to fire the $3,000 NLHE. I played poorly at first and was just gambling when I won a big pot with [8c] [2c] versus pocket aces – he slow played them when I three-bet Julien Martini with eight-deuce. My 60,000 starting stack was 93k when I started trying my hardest. Negreanu got torched on Twitter for ‘playing half hearted’ or ‘not trying’. I was guilty of the same thing for the first 90 minutes! I played my best poker on Day 2 and was never all in for like 15 hours between Day 2 and Day 3. On Day 3 I played great but could have played even better. I let my opponent run me over – I do that a lot – then bang, bang, bang, I have all of his chips. But I made a mistake or two three-handed and heads up.”
DW: “My swaps did not go very well, as to be expected when you have a very good summer. I am in a few group chats with Matt Glantz, and somehow missed out on a piece of the $1 million bounty he won, but it was fun to see everyone else getting a little piece of the lottery!”
Daniel Zack will defend his POY title and both Daniel Weinman and Phil Hellmuth will be right back in the mix in 2023 – and quite possibly the WSOP Europe before that. It is clear that the best in the game see the WSOP as having been close to perfection in 2022, so if the World Series of Poker can make a few tweaks, it might be even better next year.