Is the WSOP Played With Real Money?

Whenever I see players around a table at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), they always play with chips, not cash. Using chips can lead to questions about whether they are playing with real money or not and whether they have anything to gain from their games. 

WSOP players play with real money, and they can win real money. However, the chips used in games do not have a cash value. Players use the chips to bet throughout the tournament and to represent their standing among other players. 

In the rest of this article, I’ll explain how chips and cash are used in the WSOP. I’ll also discuss how you win money, how much it costs to enter the tournament, how to enter without a buy-in, and how players pay taxes on their winnings.

Usage of Chips and Cash in the WSOP

While players must pay and can win real money in the WSOP, chips are used at the table during games. 

Unlike chips that players exchange for money at a casino, players can only use the chips for betting and ranking in WSOP. Players are out of the game when they lose all of their chips. The last player left standing is the winner.

There are two main reasons the WSOP, other poker tournaments, and casinos use chips at the table instead of real money – game security and speed of play.

You can’t simply cash out your chips at a tournament and walk away. Therefore the chips themselves have no value. They are only used to determine your position withing the tournament.

Using Chips for Game Security 

One of the main reasons for using chips instead of cash is for game security. That includes the safety of the money and the players. It also protects against cheating. 

If cash were on the table, sometimes millions of dollars, the opportunity for theft would increase dramatically. Using chips prevents someone from attempting to run off with the cash on the table. 

Since players start a tournament with the same amount of chips, winning hands is the only way to increase the number of chips a player has. 

If cash was involved, cheating players could use the additional money to inflate their chip count and raise their standing in the tournament. After the initial buy-in, relying solely on chips, not cash, prevents this unfair gameplay.

Using Chips for Faster Betting

Poker chips are color-coded, making it easier to distinguish and separate chips during gameplay quickly. Players and dealers can quickly tell how much other players are betting across the poker table. 

It would take a considerably longer amount of time for players to count out actual bills when betting. Players can also quickly assess their standing relative to other players based on the chips on the table.

The Cost of Playing in the WSOP

The WSOP is a series of individual tournaments. Players enter each game by paying money for a buy-in. The buy-in cost for the WSOP depends on the contest you enter. 

The lowest tournament buy-in in WSOP 2023 is the $300 Gladiators of Poker NLHE, and the highest buy-in is the Super High Roller, at $250,000.

The Main Event is considered the highlight of the WSOP, with a buy-in cost of $10,000. There have also been charity tournaments with a buy-in of $1 million. 

Some tournament events also have rebuys, so if you lose, you can pay an additional amount to get back into the game. 

Want to know if players have rebuy opportunities in the main event? I’ve covered the answer in detail in another article. Make sure you read it to the end.

How To Enter the WSOP Without a Buy-In

There are satellite games leading up to the tournament, typically with smaller buy-ins than you’d find at the WSOP. The prize money from these satellite games can cover the more significant buy-in for a higher-level tournament in the WSOP.

Additionally, online poker sites offer satellite games. Some provide multiple tournaments through which you can win a qualifying seat at a high-stakes WSOP tournament without paying the buy-in fee out of pocket.

How To Win Money in the WSOP

As players buy into individual tournaments, each buy-in is pooled into a collective winning pot for that tournament. The winner of that tournament receives the largest share of the pot. 

The remaining players are then ranked below the winner and can also receive a payout based on their ranking.

Most tournaments pay 10% – 30% of players, even though they are not the ultimate winner. The higher your ranking in the game, the more you will win.

Each tournament has a unique payout structure, but typically as the number of players increases, the total percentage of the pot that goes to the winner will decrease.

However, more players buying in means a more significant amount of potential winnings, so a smaller percentage could still net a winner a large amount of money.

tournament payout structure
Just like in online poker, in WSOP live the payout structure is top-heavy. The first people that make it to the prize pool barely cover the entry fee. In WSOP 2022 smallest paid amounts were $15,000, while the 80th place would bring you $100,000, and the majority on the final table usually gets 7 figures.

How Much Does the Main Event WSOP Winner Get?

As with each tournament, the potential winnings in the Main Event depend on how many people enter the event. The prize pool depends on the initial buy-in cost and how many people have bought in. 

The highest winning pot of the Main Event was $12 million in 2006, with 8,773 players buying in at $10,000 each. 

In 2022, the top 8 players won a minimum of $1 million.

How Players Are Taxed on Their Winnings

Since winnings from the WSOP are real money, tax laws will apply. How the money is taxed depends on where the player is from. 

Players from the U.S. will need to pay state tax and, if winnings are above $5,000, also pay federal tax on their earnings. For players outside the U.S., taxes will depend on their country’s tax treaty with the U.S. and their country’s tax laws.

Taxes can vary widely based on the above criteria, from some players paying no taxes to some paying over 50% of their winnings in taxes. For this reason, many professional poker players choose to live in countries where they will lose little to no winnings by taxation.

WSOP is a vast universe with different tournaments and games. If you want to do a deep dive into WSOP tournaments, I recommend reading my extensive guide about the topic.

In Summary

During the WSOP, players use poker chips instead of cash for game security and faster gameplay. While players cannot exchange chips for cash, the money it costs to buy into the WSOP and the potential winnings are very real.