World Poker Finals
2005 Jason Kirk  

Among the oldest tournaments included in the World Poker Tour schedule each year is the World Poker Finals, held at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT. This tournament series has been running since 1992. It was a much different time in the poker world, with the two largest events drawing only 146 and 137 players - and those tournaments featured a buy-in of a mere $25! The total prize pool among the 42 events was only $884,725, and the majority of the events held were either limit hold'em or seven-card stud. Still, there were some big names among the winners of tournaments at the inaugural WPF. John Bonetti, Ted Forrest, "Eskimo" Clark, and Mike Sexton all took home titles that year. 1992 was the beginning of a wonderful New England poker tradition.

Much like the World Series of Poker, as time went by the WPF began to hold events in many different varieties of poker such as Razz and Omaha, in addition to the more popular hold'em games. Unlike the WSOP, however, participation in the WPF actually went down after initially holding steady around 2,400 players each year. The organizers were forced to drop the buy-in of the no-limit hold'em main event from the original $10,000 to as low as $2,500 in an effort to attract more players - in the first three years, this tournament had only 13, 23, and 16 players put up the cash required to enter. In 1996, the biggest event of the WPF wasn't even a no-limit hold'em tournament - it was a $6,000 buy-in seven card stud tourney. This event still drew only 16 players; in fact, the 1996 WPF drew the smallest total field in the history of the event, with only 1,836 players taking part in the 14 tournaments held that year.

In 1997 things began to turn back around. The total prize pool over the 16 tournaments held that year topped $1.1 million again, 2,717 players turned out at Foxwoods to play, the biggest event was once again a no-limit hold'em tourney (41 players paid $3,000 apiece to play), and a previously little-known name popped up twice in the winners' circle. Taking his place among familiar champions like T.J. Cloutier and John Bonetti was Daniel Negreanu. He took 1st place out of 376 players in the $100 limit hold'em tourney, and then parlayed part of his winnings into 1st place of 64 players in the $1,500 limit hold'em event.

By 2000 the number of players at the WPF topped 3,000 for the first time, the total prize pool was a record $1.7 million. In 2001 the WPF grew even more, with $1.955 million up for grabs. Daniel Negreanu, Amir Vahedi, John Juanda, "Miami" John Cernuto, and Scotty Nguyen all won events that year. The tournament series' breakthrough year came in 2002, though, when the World Poker Tour brought the $10,000 buy-in championship event back to Foxwoods for the first time since 1994. The prestige of the new WPT boosted the prize pool to a new record total of $2.7 million. Helping out the WPF even more was the fact that Howard Lederer won the tournament in impressive fashion, coming into the final table as the short stack and hanging on to finish off the dangerous Layne Flack once play was heads-up.

Since the WPT got involved, the prize pools have increased each year - from $2.7 million in 2002 to $10.2 million in 2004. Attendance has also skyrocketed, from 3,594 in 2002 to 7,782 in 2004. The no-limit hold'em championship event won by Tuan Le had 674 participants last year, an unprecedented number in the WPF's history. There is of course no way of predicting how many players will show up for the 2005 incarnation of one of the biggest tournaments on the WPT, but anyone who expects a downturn is sorely mistaken. The WPF has been growing steadily for three years and shows no signs of slowing down.


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