The stock question regarding poker is: Luck or skill, which is it? Well, given a reasonable field, skill seems to still come in handy.
The first event of the 39th World Series of Poker over the weekend was a $10,000 buy-in in pot-limit hold 'em and the cost of admission kept the field to a cozy 352 players. In part because of that, the final table featured at least five well-known professionals so there must be something to this skill thing. The final table big names were Andy Bloch (finished 2nd), who was part of the famous MIT blackjack card-counting team; Kathy Liebert (3rd), one of the most accomplished woman players in the world; Mike Sexton (4th), a commentator on TV's World Poker Tour; Phil Laak (9th), the "Unabomber" and TV regular, and Patrik Antonius (7th) from Finland. The winner was a lesser-known but still formidable pro, Nenda Medic, who collected more than $794,000. Former pitcher Orel Hershiser, who went to the elite eight in the national poker heads-up championship earlier this year (he lost to Bloch), was in the field but didn't cash.
Don't expect such luminaries at the final table for Event 2. It's a much cheaper buy-in, just $1,500, attracting a record field of 3,929 (record for live non-Main Event tournament). From that kind of land-rush crowd, often it's an amateur who emerges from the pack although last year, Phil Hellmuth won his 11th World Series bracelet in a similar event in a field of more than 2,600 players.