Officials at the World Series of Poker have their sights set this week on shattering the 2006 Main Event record of 8,773 runners, and they’ve pulled out all the stops to achieve it. Between mega satellites, online qualifiers, and a massive promotion that will grant one lucky player free entry into the Main Event for the next 30 years if the record is broken, the effort to make this year’s WSOP Main Event the largest of all time has been massive.
In the Main Event, everyone is a shot taker, to some extent. The likely life-changing, eight-figure first-place prize will be a lifetime-best score for whomever is fortunate enough to make it to the end. We’ll have to wait and see, but with a likely field between 9,000-10,000 runners, trying to guess who is going to win is a difficult task. And yet, this is First Rounders, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try and do.
It’s a mix of pros and grinders – new faces and bracelet winners – among this group we’re picking, because we think they have what it takes (and maybe because they’re running hot enough) to make their presence felt in the sea of hopefuls in the Main Event.
So, let’s get into it… here is our First Rounders for the 2023 World Series of Poker Main Event.
Jeremy Ausmus, the six-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner and 2023 Poker Hall of Fame nominee, is not just having a good year – he’s having an amazing two years. In case you hadn’t heard, the 43-year-old poker pro from Las Vegas soared up the WSOP All-Time Bracelets list capturing five of his six bracelets in the past 24 months, including his latest one, a victory in the $3,200 NLHE High Roller (Online Event #8) for $360,036. That cash is one of four six-figure scores that Ausmus has racked up in the last month – all of which have been earned at WSOP final tables. As ridiculous as it is to imagine, if the cards were distributed just the right away, we could be talking about Ausmus looking to break through to a double-digit bracelet count.
But Ausmus’ heater is just one part of why we’re taking him first this year. The other reason is that when it comes to the Main Event, he’s been there before. Eleven years ago, in 2012, Ausmus fought through the field of 6,598 runners in the Main Event and eventually fell in fifth place for $2,155,313 – a cash that remains as his career high despite the bracelet wins and a multitude of high roller results. Ausmus has clearly learned so much since then, pushing his lifetime total to nearly $16 million in live earnings. He’s in the midst of a career run and he knows it, and we’re thinking that carries straight through into the Main Event.
There’s no doubt about it, Minnesota’s own Ian Matakis is having the breakout summer of the WSOP. Through the first four weeks of the 2023 WSOP, Matakis has racked up sixteen cashes, including his first gold bracelet in the $500 NLHE Bankroll Builder (Online Event #2) for $120,686. Additionally, Matakis bubbled the final table in two of the toughest fields of the summer back-to-back, on the eve of the Main Event – 7th in the incredibly tough $5,000 NLHE Six Max (Event #65) for a $114,210 payday, and 9th in the $50,000 Pot Limit Omaha High Roller (Event#71) for $199,275. Matakis also proved himself prolific in large-field events by finishing in 15th in the $1,500 Millionaire Maker (Event #53).
To date, Matakis has amassed 17 cashes for more than $656,000 in earnings at the series pushing his total lifetime earnings north of $1.3 million.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Matakis’ run is that, for the most part, he’s strictly a No Limit Hold’em specialist. Sure, he has a few cashes in PLO, but 3/4 of his results are in NLHE events. Without playing any mixed games or Super High Roller events, Matakis (as of Monday morning) holds a significant lead in the 2023 WSOP Player of the Year. The Main Event, as mentioned, is projected to be a record field, and may very well have strong POY implications again this year. If Matakis continues his excellence in these massive NLHE events, he could find himself collecting enough POY points to provide him a place in WSOP history.
Chance Kornuth is having the summer of his career. Having won more than $3.4 million since the beginning of June, Kornuth’s red-hot heater is the perfect precursor to making a deep run in the Main Event. And, like Ausmus, Kornuth has found success of his own in the Main Event, finishing in 16th place just two years ago for $305,000 as well as making a deep run in 2019, when he finished 184th for more than $50,000.
We’ve picked Kornuth before on First Rounders, and all the same reasons apply this time around: the Chip Leader Coaching founder and WPT Champions Club member has proven he’s adept at navigating large fields, has years of experience at every level, and he’s been there before. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Kornuth harnesses the rungood from this summer and channels it into another Main Event cash. And if not, we think he’ll be ok.
Remember the mean-mugging tournament savant from Georgia (the country) who was tearing up the Las Vegas daily tournaments just prior to the WSOP? Well, that’s Georgii Skhulukhiaa and he’s been in the mix at the 2023 WSOP. He’s just not made headlines. To date, Skhulukhiia cashed four times for just over $21,000, not exactly on par with his image of winning three events in five days at the end of March 2023.
But Skhulukhiia is a grinder with a ton of results that include a victory in the 2021 partypoker MILLIONS in North Cyprus for $683,285 and a runner-up finish in the 2019 EPT Sochi Main Event for $182,673. It’s the kind of experience that could allow him to save his summer with a big-time Main Event score and bring back his Las Vegas tournament magic.
And if he were to win, his might be a winner’s photo even more subdued than that of Daniel Colman, which would be very fun in its own right.
Depending on who you talk to, the Chino Rheem of 2023 is not the same poker maniac of just ten years ago. He’s supposedly more focused and even more dangerous on the felt. For example, he’s already accumulated six cashes at the 2023 WSOP including a final table finish in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo for $79,189.
Rheem, a three-time WPT champion, has proven time and time again that he shines brightest when the field is big and the money up top is even bigger. He has five seven-figure scores on his resume including a victory at the 2019 PokerStars PCA for $1,567,100. Perhaps the most important result, especially for our purposes, is his seventh-place finish in the 2008 WSOP Main Event for a career-high cash of $1,772,650. In a year in which we have seen the resurgence of “old school” pros making deep runs and longtime regs picking up fourth, fifth and sixth bracelets, there’s certainly room for the new version of Rheem to make a deep run in the Main, just like he did back in the day.
If you don’t know much about Brazil’s Pedro Gargagnani, you’re not alone. Before this week, the only WSOP results Gargagnani had all came from playing the international WSOP online series. But the 2021 Online Player of the Year has been spotted in Las Vegas, grinding the WSOP. In fact, Gargagnani made the final table of the $5,000 NLHE Six Max, where he finished fourth for $289,819.
Gargagnani (known online as ‘pvigar’) is another crusher in a long line of Brazilian super pros, like Joao Simao and Yuri Dzivielevski, who cut their teeth online and then find success in the live arena. And if he’s in Las Vegas looking to make his first impression on the WSOP, there’s no better time to do it than the Main Event.
One look at the recent results of poker pro Melanie Weisner and it’s clear that when the World Series of Poker is on, so is she. Weisner has 50 career cashes at the summer series for roughly $429,000 with four previous cashes in the WSOP Main Event (2013, 2016, 2017, 2018).
Of those years, Weisner’s deepest run was in 2016 when she finished 127th for $49,108. We think that this is the year that Weisner books her fifth Main Event cash – and we’re thinking it’s going to be the largest WSOP result in her career.
Rayo Kniep tempted fate when he celebrated too early at the final table of this year’s $1,500 Millionaire Maker (see below), hitting the rail in fourth place for a career-high $501,182 cash. But it’s the SpaceX engineer’s enthusiasm for the game that has guided him to a number of close finishes in major events and more than $1.2 million in career earnings since 2017. We’re thinking that Kniep knows what it takes to go deep, and if he’s able to keep his spirits high he’s the kind of player who can make a repeat deep run in the Main Event.