Why there is always a double bracelet winner every year at the WSOP

Why is it that someone wins two bracelets in one WSOP every year, despite the fields getting bigger and tougher all the time? Barry Carter explains why using the 'Birthday Paradox'.

George DanzerThe 2014 WSOP is fast becoming known as the year of the double and triple bracelet win. Eric Buchmann, Brian Yoon, John Kabbaj, Dan Kelly, Robert Mizrachi and Brett Shaffer have all won their second career bracelet. Brock Parker, Dutch Boyd, Vanessa Selbst, Davidi Kitai and Dominik Nitsche all won their third.

It is not just the WSOP either, this year we also celebrated the most coveted double of recent years, the EPT Double, pulled off by Vicky Coren.

Most notably, George Danzer won both his first and second bracelets in the space of two weeks, to put him at the top Player of the Year Race. To win two bracelets in a career is impressive, but to win two bracelets in a single WSOP is very special.

But however special it is, it actually happens every year. 

How is it possible after the boom?

Double bracelet winners
The last 10 years:
2014: George Danzer 
2013: Daniel Negreanu & Tom Schneider
2012: Greg Merson 
2011: Brian Rast
2010: Frank Cassella
2009: Jeff Lisandro (Won three)
2008: John Phan 
2007: Tom Schneider
2006: Jeff Madsen
2005: Mark Seif
2004: Scott Fischman & Ted Forrest

It makes sense that this happened before the poker boom, when the fields were small and the skill edges were much larger. In fact the year Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event (2003) three players won two bracelets in a series, and the year before Phil Ivey won three in a series. 

However, after the boom, given there are thousands of players every year at the WSOP, and the game is getting tougher every day, it does seem unlikely that anyone could win two events in one year. When many of the No Limit fields have well over 1,000 runners (And even a PLO field this year), it seems a real fluke that a double win would happen, yet it happens every year.

So why do we always have a double bracelet winner in a single WSOP? 

Invariably the players that do win two bracelets in one year are Mixed Game or High Roller specialists. It stands to reason, given that they have decidedly smaller fields of just a few hundred, compared to potentially 1,000+ in standard No Limit Hold’em events. This year’s double-winner George Danzer got both his in Stud events, and in 2009 Jeff Lisandro won three bracelets, all in Stud (It was a Stud Triple Crown in fact, winning one of each of the three disciplines). 

However, not every double-winner needed the Mixed Games. Last year Daniel Negreanu won his two bracelets in No Limit (In both cases outside of Vegas at the WSOPE & WSOP APAC) and in 2012 Greg Merson won the two toughest $10,000 No Limit events - the Main Event and the Six Handed Championship. 

The Birthday Paradox

Birthday Paradox PokerThere is actually a popular mathematical theory that helps to explain why this happens almost every year. It is called the Birthday Paradox.

I was first introduced to this by Hendon Mobster Joe Beevers, who shared a very generous WSOP betting market offering 7-1 on there being a double bracelet winner that year, and he explained why in fact double bracelet winners are almost a certainty.

If you put 23 random people in a room, what would you think the odds are that two of them will share the same birthday? Believe it or not, it is actually 50%. 

The odds of you walking up to a stranger and them having the same birthday, assuming no leap years, is 365-1. Often when people hear about the Birthday Paradox, they think, therefore, that the odds are 365-22 (ie. that there are 22 chances that someone else has your birthday).  

The flaw in that thinking is that you are only thinking of the odds of someone having the same birthday as you. But in fact the other 22 people all have a chance to share a birthday with each other too. The second person will have 21 extra shots of finding a pairing other than yourself, the third person will have 20 extra attempts to find a pair, and so on. There are actually 231 unique chances of a pairing being found, which means there is a 50/50 chance of doing so with 23 people. 

In a room of 75 people, the odds are 99.99% that two will have the same birthday.

The inevitability of multiple bracelet winners

Happy Birthday Phil Hellmuth!We can’t apply the Birthday Paradox perfectly to the World Series of Poker, but understanding it can help explain why double bracelet wins happen every year.

To mirror the birthday scenario, if there were 23 bracelet events and exactly 365 players that played every event, then one would expect there to be a double bracelet winner half the time.

Last year there were 75 bracelet events and an average attendance of 1,065 players. Using one of the many Birthday Paradox calculators out there, they reveal it is a 99% certainty of a double bracelet winner in a single series based on those averages. 

There are, of course, hundreds of variables which make the Birthday Paradox almost impossible to calculate perfectly in the context of the WSOP. Not every player plays each event to start with, and the average attendance in No Limit events is significantly larger than the average attendance in Mixed Games. Then you have the most significant factor of all, skill. Some of the players in these fields are dead money, who you would never expect to win one event let alone two, and some of them are Phil Ivey.

But even after all these uncontrollables, once you understand the Birthday Paradox, it makes perfect sense that we have someone win two bracelets in a year. In particular it shows why all the players who are winning their second or third career bracelet this year is an inevitability and will only become more prevalent in future years. 

//d3ltpfxjzvda6e.cloudfront.net/2014/02/22/71514_443563348174_1472734_n.jpgBarry Carter is the editor of PokerStrategy.com and the co-author of The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. He has been working in the poker industry for nine years and in 2013 won the APAT Award for Best Poker Media Provider. You can learn more about his work here

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Comments (6)

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  • alphabeat


    Eh, the math looks iffy. By your implication, the possiblity of a double bracelet increases with number of players, which is simply not true.

    Every person is guaranteed to have a birthday, hence the probablities can be added. Everyone is not guaranteed to win a bracelet in their lives
  • BarryCarter


    Your taking it too literally, all I am saying is once you undersea the birthday paradox, the fact that there is always a double winner makes sense.

    I already mentioned there are tons of variables we can't control for with the wsop example.
  • BarryCarter


    Understand not undersea (iphone correct)
  • badgerer


    why am i picturing a french cartoon crab?
  • Tomaloc


    lol #4. something like this in my mind http://i.imgur.com/fqXAe2m.jpg
  • MJPerry


    #4 Sebastian is obv Jamaican