WPT Prime Championship Defies Expectations with $5M Prize Pool

WPT Prime Championship crushed its original guarantee, turning it into a must-play event for pros and recreational players alike.

Jeff Walsh
Dec 11, 2022

The WPT Prime Championship was thought to be a prelim. An appetizer, if you will, to the Main Course that is the $10,400 WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas with its record-breaking $15 million guarantee.

But by the time the final numbers were in it became clear that the $1,100 buy-in event was not simply a precursor to a larger entree, but it was a meal unto itself – and a big one at that. When registration closed and all alternates were seated, 5,430 entries had created a massive $5,267,100 prize pool. The eventual winner will turn their $1,100 buy-in, into a first-place prize of more than $700,000.

That’s a number that not only crushed the advertised $2 million guarantee but surprised even the most optimistic of forecasts.

“It’s very humbling to see these kinds of numbers,” said Angelica Hael, WPT VP Global Tour Management. “You always hope that ‘if you build it they shall come.’ You have dreams that a partnership made in heaven between WPT and Wynn will really resonate within the global (poker) community. But nobody, I don’t think anybody – from WPT, from the Wynn – nobody expected that final number.”

For those paying attention though, the outright success of the WPT Prime Championship was no surprise in and of itself. It was just a little unexpected as to just how successful it’s been. WPT Prime, the mid-stakes brand successor to WPTDeepStacks which was sunset earlier this year, has been outperforming at international stops for the better part of the year. With events held in Vietnam,  Australia, Cambodia, and Madrid the Prime brand aims to bring all the swagger of the WPT Main Tour for a more moderate buy-in price point (right around $1,100).

It turns out, that’s a sweet spot for many Las Vegas-based grinders and those eager to make a December trip to Sin City. The field this week at the Wynn shattered the WPT Prime record of 1,050 entries of WPT Prime Cambodia and easily eclipsed even the biggest WPTDeepStacks event of 2,023 runners in Sydney.

“It’s breaking the past 20 years worth of WPT records for a mid-major tour with similar buy-in ($1,100),” said Cathy Zhao, WPT Senior Director, Global Tour Management “Not only breaking records but probably doubling records.”

“I absolutely had no idea [about the field size] and I don’t think the Wynn team did either,” Zhao continued “The number [of entries] that we had for Day 1B was what we expected for Day 1C. After Day 1A, we had a great feeling that it might go even better than we thought. But in the middle of Day 1B, we realized that we might have a space issue.”

By the end of Day 1B, it was clear that the event was going to be so big that both WPT and Wynn officials were working overnight to expand the capacity for players. The action was spilling out of the ballroom and into the actual poker room, as WPT began pulling people in from all corners of the organization to help register in an attempt to cut down wait times.

Day 1C started with a packed 137 nine-handed tables in play and another 300 alternates at the time of “Shuffle Up and Deal”. Events that were slated to take place at the same time, needed to be postponed. Special events were pushed back. Not only did the players create a massive prize pool, but the packed house also continued the “electric” energy carried over from the opening events.

“It’s palpable. The ambiance in the room…You walk down the hallway and it’s abuzz. Just joyful people and a lot of positive comments,” Hael said. “We’ve created something together with Wynn. Something truly remarkable and I think it’s resonating within the community. It’s taken 20 years -not for lack of trying, we’ve been knocking on Wynn’s doors lots of times over the course of the year – but maybe the timing wasn’t right. It took 20 years, it had to be our birthday for the partnership to come to fruition. And now we’re having conversations of what on Earth we’re going to do for next year.”

The WPT Prime brand traditionally caters to more recreational players but one look at the chip counts and it’s clear that the pros made a point of showing up and getting a warm-up ahead of the $10K World Championship.

The field was replete with notable names and former WPT champions including Alex Foxen, Scotty Nguyen, Nick Schulman, Dylan Linde, and Faraz Jaka just to name a few.

Season VIII WPT World Champion David Williams, a player who doesn’t traditionally show up for a $1K, was battling on Day 1C.

“I don’t really play a lot of tournaments other than the summer just because it’s for fun,” Williams said “But I knew this event was going to be special. It’s the 20th anniversary of the World Poker Tour and the Wynn is known for excellence. I’m not surprised that’s awesome. People are happy, it’s a big turnout and everything seems to be running pretty smooth.”

Williams echoed the sentiment regarding the vibe in the room from a player’s perspective. He pointed out that the varying levels of play created a more casual vibe which also enticed him to show up as well. And while he was confident that this event was going to reach its guarantee, he didn’t expect what he saw in the Encore Ballroom.

“Obviously, I didn’t expect $5 million but I knew the guarantee was going to be blown away. I told anyone I know who likes poker you gotta come out for this. The $10K is going to be great, but [this] $1K is going to be really awesome. I imagined there will be a lot of people, it will be fun, it’s a good field, a good set-up, and it’s at the Wynn…so I’m not surprised, I expected it to be huge.

“But I don’t think anybody expected this number,” Williams said.