The Main Event Comes of Age, Revisited

During the 2015 WSOP Main Event, I wrote an article for PokerNews on the trend toward younger winners at the World Series of Poker Main Event over the past decade, and provided an interactive chart of everyone since 2005. That was before 72-year-old Pierre Neuville and 61-year-old Neil Blumenfield made the final table.

Over at the 2+2 Pokercast last week, the hosts attributed a quote to Dan Harrington from 2004, saying that nobody over 40 would ever again win the Main Event. Obviously, that didn’t happen last year, but with the chip leader this year being Cliff Josephy, who’s 51, the possibility exists for Harrington’s prediction to fall.

Josephy doesn’t have the kind of lead that Joe McKeehan had in 2015, and he’s the only player 40 or older as we go into the hiatus for the November Nine. Qui Nguyen, in second place in chips, is 39, however, so there’s a possibility he might turn 40 before the final table starts back up. Not sure whether that qualifies as “over 40” by Harrington’s standards.

If it does, then the prediction is already busted. Jerry Yang was 40 when he won the Main Event in 2007. And that year, by the time the table was down to three players, the title was going to someone 40 or older no matter what, because Yang’s opponents were Tuan Lam (41, in second place) and Raymond Rahme (62, in third). If Darvin Moon had beat Joe Cada in 2009, he would have been 45, and there were two other players at the table who were over 40. Joe Hachem was 39 when he won—the year Harrington made his prediction—so maybe it wasn’t such a good call.

In the years following the boom of online poker, there was likely some effect on the ages of Main Event final tablists, but some research would need to go into determining how much of that was the result of a volume of players of younger ages entering the tournament. There have been 108 players that have reached the official final table of the Main Event from 2005 to now, 16 of them (just under 15%) were over 40. Six of the top 3 finishers from 2005 to 2015 (18%) were were 40 or older: Yang, Lam, and Rahme in 2007; Dennis Phillips in 2008; Darvin Moon in 2009, and Blumenfield in 2015.

Back before the WSOP started, I was asked on a podcast that shall go unnamed what odds I’d put on a player 40 or older winning the Main Event. I took the number of players from last year’s final table that fit the category, divided by the number of overall players, and rounded down to come up with 4:1. It got a bit of laughter from the hosts who are, I believe, both under 40, which I am definitely not. But looking back over this data, I think my off-the-cuff prediction wasn’t too far off.

The chart below has the finishing places for all of the years up to 2015. Positions for 2016 are by chip count at the start of this year’s November Nine. (Updated 2 November 2016 to show the ages of 2016 finishers!) The line with the circles is the winner (or chip leader, for 2016) and the line with the square is the runner-up. You can roll over each year to see names and positions.