LAS VEGAS -- For serious poker players, it's like Christmas and the Olympics combined.
The World Series of Poker opened in Las Vegas Monday with its first gold bracelet event. More than 2,000 players entered the $1,500 buy-in, three-day tournament at the Rio hotel and casino off the Las Vegas Strip.
The World Series of Poker draws tens of thousands of poker fans to Las Vegas each year to compete for millions in prize money and 61 championship bracelets.
This week's event stretches from noon to 2 a.m. Poker champions Phil Ivey, Allen Cunningham and Daniel Negreanu were among the players.
For their $1,500 buy-in, players get chips worth $5,000 in game money. They can't cash out. The point is to not go bust and stay in as long as possible to make it to the final rounds on Wednesday, when the champion will win the first of the many bedazzled bracelets given out during the series and several hundred thousand dollars. Participants can only make money if they make into the final 10 percent of players.
On Monday, the poker tables were filled with dozens of young men, a few older men and some women. Some players listened to music on headphones during the rounds and few drank alcohol, their focus mostly on the cards.
The stamina required to play through all the rounds tends to draw young male participants, said WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky.
"They are making it hard for the older players," Palansky said.
Pius Heinz, 22, of Germany, won the $8.72 million top prize last year out of 75,000 participants. About 95 percent of them were men.
The World Series of Poker will host a never-before-seen $1 million buy-in tournament this year expected to generate the biggest top prize in poker history at more than $12 million. Nearly 40 players have already entered.
The charity-focused Big One for One Drop starts July 1 in Las Vegas. The final table will air live on ESPN.
Admission to watch the games is free. The main event starts July 7. The finals are held on Oct. 28.