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Poker players navigate COVID vaccine rules as WSOP returns

Updated September 30, 2021 - 8:34 pm

The best news for the World Series of Poker on Thursday was that it felt like the World Series of Poker.

The WSOP returned to in-person play at the Rio Convention Center for the first time in more than two years, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament series runs through Nov. 23.

Though some confusion rippled through registration lines over the procedure to satisfy the WSOP’s vaccine mandate, players’ minds were mostly on the chance to gather together again at poker’s biggest event.

First-time WSOP players Jonny Lin and Raj Singh became fast friends while waiting in line.

“You can already feel a buzz around here,” said Lin, 35, from Columbus, Ohio. “There’s so many people eager to play, eager to come back after a pandemic, and just ready to sit down with other poker players and just have fun playing in a giant tournament.”

Lin and Singh said they came to the WSOP to play in the $500 buy-in The Reunion No-limit Hold’em event, which starts Friday and has a $5 million guaranteed prize pool.

Singh, 50, from New York, said he probably wouldn’t have come without the mandate.

“This makes me a whole lot more comfortable knowing everyone here is vaccinated,” he said.

Players were encouraged to streamline the mandate process by uploading their vaccination cards to the CLEAR app and going straight to the main registration cage. Players could bring in their physical vaccination cards instead, but some players didn’t realize that meant going to a different registration area.

One player in line was surprised to find out there was a mandate at all and quickly left. The mandate was announced Aug. 27.

WSOP vice president Jack Effel acknowledged the confusion when introducing the $1,000 buy-in COVID-19 Relief No-limit Hold’em charity event Thursday evening.

“If you had some bad experiences at the cage or wherever, I apologize,” he said.

Besides the charity event, the WSOP kicked off with a $500 event for casino employees and a $25,000 HORSE event that brought out some of poker’s top high-stakes players, including six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu.

(The WSOP awards trophy bracelets for tournament victories. HORSE is a rotation of five poker variants — Limit Hold’em, Omaha High-Low, Razz, Seven-card Stud and Seven-card Stud High-Low.)

The Reunion figures to bring out large crowds with starting flights Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“This is the World Series of Poker,” Lin said. “You want to come here, you want to get the bracelet, you want to get the prestige. And for somebody who’s joining the $500 tournament, if you win something like that or get to the final table, that’s pretty life-changing money.”

Effel kept his message to the players simple.

“I’m just proud that we’re all able to be together again today,” he said, “and for the next 54 days to be able to do what we all love.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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