Bright lights, a big stage, and high stakes. Those are three things that make World Poker Tour final tables at the HyperX Arena at Luxor Las Vegas a truly unique experience. For the 17 players who will sit at one of three World Poker Tour final tables this week, it has the potential to be a life-altering experience.
While history-chasing Bin Weng and 16 other players make their way to Las Vegas to play down to a champion in the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, WPT Choctaw, and WPT Gardens Championship events, WPT staff have spent the week building a one-of-a-kind final table experience.
Each of the players who are dreaming of winning their first WPT title this week will be making their first appearance in the HyperX Arena. To some of them, the big stage and bright lights could be a lot to take in while trying to focus on making correct decisions all night long. This time last year, Chance Kornuth made his first appearance inside HyperX Arena, on his way to beating Steven Buckner heads-up to win WPT Choctaw for $486,600.
“(Playing in) HyperX was awesome. Just everything about it. You walk in and there’s the trophy and the banners and the upstairs seating area and the elevated stage, the display on the wall with all the chip counts,” Kornuth remembered of his win.
Adding another layer of excitement of what’s going on inside the arena, all three final tables will be livestreamed by WPT on YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, as well as numerous OTT platforms with Jeff Platt and Jamie Kerstetter teaming up to provide commentary.
Nobody has made more WPT final tables or won more WPT titles than Darren Elias. His four wins have all come away from the HyperX Arena but last May he was heads-up for his fifth title against Mark Davis in the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown.
“The arena is definitely a spectacle where there’s a lot going on and they have these tiered levels for people to watch which is kinda different than most poker settings where the spectators, the fans are right on top of you, there’s a lot going on,” Elias said. “It’s a big production, so it’s definitely a different experience than walking into something like the PokerGO studio where it’s a more subtle, subdued, more typical poker final table format.”
That experience Elias mentions can sometimes include things like entrance music, spectators with posters featuring their favorite player, musical performances, and other elements that are designed to take advantage of the facilities inside the arena, which was originally built to house eSports competitions.
“I think when we did one final table there they had a marching band going out before the event. One time everybody had their own entrance music, almost like pro wrestling. So there is a lot of fanfare and added elements that they can do in that arena,” Elias said.
While both Elias and Kornuth are veterans of final tables, they both readily admit that nerves will probably be in play for everybody over the next few days as they adjust to the size of the moment – and the arena.
“The first time you’re walking in there it can be an overwhelming experience, there’s a lot of hoopla and stuff going on beforehand,” Elias said. “But once the cards are in the air, I mean there’s nothing to be really intimidated by, but there is a lot going on in the sense of the other things in the arena before the event.”
The six players who made the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown final table have had the longest wait – 23 days – and in that time some of them may have dived head first into the lab, hired a coach to find areas of improvement, or just headed right back to their day job. Either way, the table they’re about to sit down at is most likely going to be quite different from the one they left. That dynamic is something Elias recommends players figure out quickly once play resumes.
“You have to kinda remember what these players were doing when you were playing in the tournament against them, any kind of prep you’ve done thinking about their strategy,” Elias said. “Also, is this player still the same representation, the same type of player that you were playing against weeks or months ago or have they trained and changed their strategy?”
Kornuth, who prepared for his WPT Choctaw final table and also coached Mark Davis, the player who bested Elias at the WPT SHRPS final table, believes that being ready to play is important, but so is understanding that this might be the only time you get to experience something as unique as playing in the HyperX Arena for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.
“I was very prepared for (my final table) mentally and physically and ready to grind. But I think something about the experience, especially for recreational players and even for professionals, to be like, ‘I get to go to Vegas, I get to go to play in this badass arena, and I get to try to win a WPT championship’. I think it’s just incredible and I thought it was just a fantastic experience all around,” Kornuth said.
One of the elements of playing inside the HyperX Arena is the rail. In tournaments that play down to a champion in the same room that the entire tournament was played in, players are relying on some of their friends who were either local or stuck around after busting earlier in the tournament. For the final tables inside the arena, some players have flown in friends and family from all over the country or world. Kornuth had a fairly large rail of Las Vegas locals for his final table but warns it can become another element a player needs to manage.
“The rail is definitely a distraction for me even though I enjoy it. So it’s a balance of enjoying it and still playing your best at the same time which is precarious,” Kornuth said.
There are also some tough decisions to be made about who and how many people to invite to be on your rail. It’s a rare opportunity to have our biggest supporters come out to Las Vegas and be there for your crowning achievement … or a disastrous result.
“It is a little tricky when you’re thinking about who you’re going to fly out or how much you want your spectators or family to invest when you could be coming into a final table five of six or very short-stacked and be shoving the first hand,” Elias said. “So I’m always a little conflicted when asking if people want to come out and watch.”
There is one thing that Kornuth thinks is important for the lucky players to hold onto, even as they’re playing for the right to have their name engraved on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.
“It’s so important, no matter what skill level you are, to keep a quiet mind and play your best, every decision to the best of your ability and not get pulled out of the moment by the cool experience,” Kornuth said. “Just enjoy it. Don’t be nervous. It’s an incredible opportunity and experience that you might not ever get to have again, so just have fun.”