His debut at the 44th annual WSOP tournament, which began its seven-week stretch at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, is the culmination of a long time hobby for the Olympian, which has included some serious practice over the years.
Last year in particular, Phelps was reported to play in weekly $25,000 games on the website Chipist, and the 27-year-old is also rumoured to have once earned $100,000 in a cash game at Caesars in Las Vegas. But, Wednesday’s tournament is the swimmer’s first in a WSOP-sanctioned event, indicating how seriously he is now considering poker since his retirement from the sport that made him famous after last year’s Summer Games.
“I always wanted to come out and play,” Phelps said. “This has been the first year I’ve been able to since I retired. I just came out and I wasn’t going to play today, but I got talked into it. I’m just having fun.”
Fun or not, over $200 million is on offer at 62 separate events at WSOP, with buy-ins ranging from $75 to $100,000. Phelp’s himself made his debut at event no. 3 – a $5,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament after being talked into it by his buddies: poker pro Antonio Esfandiari and ex-NFL star Jeff Cross.
According to WSOP communications director Seth Palansky, the presence of Phelps, Cross and others, is what makes WSOP so unique.
“The reality is LeBron James is in the NBA, and you can’t play basketball with LeBron James if you wanted to. In poker, you can play against these guys,” Palansky told Fox5.
Meanwhile, Phelps said he’s looking to play in more events over the summer series to see how he holds up against the pros.
“I’ve never been out here, and all these guys always seem like they’re having so much fun when they play,” Phelps said. “If I ever win a bracelet before [they] do, they’re going to be really pissed. So we’ll see what happens.”
WSOP is considered by many as the biggest poker tournament in the world, bringing together the best players from around the world. Events will take place daily until mid-July when the $10,000 buy-in Main Event, the world championship of poker, kicks off.