The fields for the two full ring LHE events are soft, but not exceedingly so. There are fish sprinkled around, and even some big ones strewn throughout the tournament, but as Professor Ben said to me while wolfing down a container of $13 California Rolls "It's not like a good 20/40 table or anything." I'd say that's a pretty accurate assessment. Lots of big name pros enter these events because they draw a (relatively) small field and are (again relatively) cheap. Tom Dwan looks at this thing and says "For only $2K I have a 1 in 500 chance of winning a bracelet? Sign me up!" Ivey entered at least one (and I think got blinded off lol), and Helmuth and Jennifer Harmon were both in at least one. And all the limit hold 'em specialists come out for the events (people like yours truly, as well as more accomplished pros BigBadBabar). Basically the average table has some fish, as well as some players who are better than every single opponent I have ever faced in the Commerce 20. Now how much of an edge those players have over someone like me is up for debate and really depends on the composition of the table. If me, DeathDonkey, and Babar all sat down and played with the 6 worst limit hold'em players you have ever seen, the three of us are basically equivalent. Their vast experience and awesomeness can't really help them much vs. me because there are so many chips being flung into pot. Sure position matters and all that jazz, but we can't seat change in the tournament so basically you play the seat you get and hope it's not too awful. My seat in event 18 was a very high variance one, with Bill Chen's Personal Spew Monkey and Bill Chen seated to my left, but at least I had position on most of the fish (and Lex Veldhuis).
So in all I think I had an edge in both events I played, but a pretty small one. Someone I trust suggested that a "good" player had a 50% edge in the full ring events, and that an "excellent" player probably had something like at 70% edge. These numbers seem extremely high to me, but perhaps I don't quite meet his minimum standard for "good". Given that he said this and looking at the lineups I faced, I'd be comfortable saying that I had something like a 25% edge in the tournaments.
Time for some quick math. Assuming that 25% edge in the $2K event gives me an expected win of $500 (if I keep all my own action, which I did not). Let's also assume my 20/40 win rate is $40/hour. We can all do simple math amongst friends here, if I spend less than 12.5 hours on the tournament it is worth my time to play in it. Ah, but there are great complications with the world series. I have to drive to Las Vegas, which costs both money and time (which is money). I have to stay somewhere, and I have to spend some hours unable to get into my "home" game and instead play in the Bellagio which basically just tilts the living shit out of me (maybe more on that later but after playing in the Bellagio for two days I found myself actually missing Commerce which, well, just freaking wow). You can fill in just about any reasonable numbers you want for any of these costs and basically it's really not worth playing in the tournament. But like I said, it was a great experience and I do think I had an edge so you live and learn I guess.
The payout structure for these things is completely absurd. You can look it up here if you want, but the guy who came in tenth (10th!) of the 473 people who started event 18 won $12,561, or a win of about 5 times his buy in. Like, seriously? This guy played poker for the better part of 3 days and he wins $10K? If he'd just sat down with $2000 in a 30/60 game he'd probably have won more than that, given how well he had to run just to not get knocked out! The winner, on the other hand, took home a cool $201K. Basically cashing is for the birds, which is what everyone says, and you should be playing every tournament to make the final table to give yourself a shot at the real money, which is usually doled out to the top 3 finishers.
Vegas is a very hard place to stay focused. I had lots of friends around and fun things were always presenting themselves. I managed to be well rested for both of my events, but I can't say much past that. All in all I have to say my experience was a negative one, and I'm not sure I'll go back next year unless I've become some sort of out of hand bigshot.