Twenty three days from now, the 2011 World Series of Poker will kick off with its first of 58 tournaments over the next two months. Since the first gathering in 1970, the poker world has migrated to the desert of Las Vegas to play poker, meet old friends and, in general, celebrate the game. The 2011 version of the WSOP, however, could be significantly different than the previous 42 festivals, with a pall cast by the events of “Black Friday.”
Over the past decade, the feeling around the WSOP has been one of camaraderie and celebration. Parties are held in some of the biggest clubs in Sin City, the burgeoning online poker world would show up to promote their wares in various booths around the Amazon Room, and players could be seen in the halls of the Rio battling it out on not only the live tables only feet away but also on the virtual felt of whatever online site a player preferred. This year, however, the celebration will more than likely be tempered as we experience the first WSOP under the New Poker World Order.
The effects of “Black Friday” could be seen as soon as the first cards are in the air on May 31. Following the traditional first event of the WSOP, the Casino Employees Championship, high rollers will waste little time getting to action with Event #2, the $25,000 Heads Up No Limit Hold’em Championship. If “Black Friday” had never occurred, I believe that the 256-player cap would have been reached easily, with a rash of online prodigies well versed in that discipline making their mark. This year, however, we could see the numbers fight to make that magical 256 (last year, the tournament was a $10,000 buy in and easily made its 256 player cap).
Reasons for this are several fold. Many online pros (especially those in the United States) that would have taken their shot in what they might believe is a “specialty” event could be adversely affected by the closure of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS network. Tied up online bankrolls could force these players to reexamine what tournaments they truly believe are their best shots and, as such, bypass certain tournaments in favor of other events. Although they could probably receive backing (another area that will be affected at all poker tournaments post “Black Friday”) or swap pieces to mitigate the variance, the high dollar tournaments could witness a drop off in numbers because the bankrolls just aren’t there.
At the 2011 World Series, bankrolls will be stretched to the breaking point. To play every event on the 2011 WSOP schedule (unlikely, as you would hope you could make a deep run in at least ONE event!), you would have to have $271,000 just for the tournaments (this isn’t counting the Seniors’ or Ladies’ events). There are seventeen events with a buy in of $5000 or more, nineteen if you count the two $3000 tournaments in the mix. As you can see, there could be a noticeable drop in the number of players in high buy in tournaments, especially those of the non-Hold’em variety.
For the smaller events (those with a buy in under $2500), we will probably see players numbers stay the same or even increase. There are tens of thousands of players around the world whose lifelong dream is to play in a tournament at the WSOP and, as such, they will still turn out to take their shot. The dream of taking a bracelet in the most prestigious event in poker isn’t the sole property of the professionals in the game; the “everyday Joe” can, and probably will, make his/her mark in these lower buy in tournaments.
When it comes to the $10,000 Championship Event (the “Main Event” is a moniker that was created for television), we will see a precipitous drop in the number of players, due primarily to the elimination of U. S. players from online satellite qualifiers on the “Big Three” sites.
In 2010, it is estimated that 3000 players from the 7313 player field made their way into the event through online satellites. Most of them came from PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS Network sites Absolute Poker and UB.com and were American players. If we subtract 2500 players who made their way into the tournament in that fashion – and combine another 1000 players who would have played if their money wasn’t tied up on an online site – we could see the numbers drop as low as 3500 players, which hasn’t been seen since 2004.
Finally, will the pros be as willing to come out for the 2011 WSOP as they have over the past few years? Facing the throngs of players on the felt – not to mention the thousands on the rail – following the “Black Friday” indictments will be difficult for many of those players recognized as professionals in poker that used to hold high dollar sponsorship deals from the sites. Many of the top pros, especially those associated with Full Tilt Poker, could face the wrath of an angry mob due to post “Black Friday” actions and decide not to chance it altogether, although I believe that the Rio and Caesars Entertainment officials will have a phalanx of security to counter any issues.
The 2011 World Series of Poker will be subdued this year, the parties may be smaller and with less grandeur, and the tournament fields may be affected, but the tournament itself should continue to be the highlight of the poker year. There will still be moments of history that continue to draw thousands of players to the greatest tournament in the world, there will be controversies that garner attention, and the chance to grab for the golden ring – or, in this case, the WSOP gold bracelet – still holds its inherent excitement. Overall, though, it will take some time for the WSOP to return to the grandeur of the mid-2000s.
By EARL BURTON