WSOP Final Table: Does Size Matter?

[Content Disclosure: Poker Minutiae]

Each year about this time I play with the idea that being the chip leader going into a final table actually means something. The question is: "How much does the chip lead add to your chances of taking down a tournament?" Just looking at the raw numbers here are the stats for the preliminary events at the 2009 WSOP.

Forty-eight preliminary events had data worth looking at. You have to throw out heads up and shootout tournaments and a couple of others where no one was watching closely enough to actually count the chip stacks when an official final table was reached. Here are the numbers for those 48 events:

What place did the eventual bracelet winner begin in?
12 times the eventual winner started in 2nd chip position
11 times the final table chip leader went on to win
10 times the winner started in 4th
 7 times in 3rd
 1 time the winner began in 5th and 1 time in 6th
 5 times the winner came all the way from 7th place
 1 time (James van Alstyne event #31) from 8th place
no one won an event from 9th place

Where did the chip leader finish?
11 times in first
14 times in second
 9 times in third
 4 times in fourth, 4 in fifth, 4 in sixth
 twice in eighth
no chip leader finished 7th or 9th

-11 out of 48, the chip leader managed to win it all.
-Jeffery Lisandro accounts for 3 of those 11; all three of his bracelets were won going in with the final table chip lead.
-Phil Ivey won his two bracelets this summer coming from 6th & 7th chip position.

In a strange statistical anomaly, the chip leaders who went on to win the bracelet were clustered in events #37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 44, 45, 48, 51 (also 16 & 20). Through the first 36 events you could have made a lot of money betting that the chip leader would finish second and the second chip leader would win the bracelet.