For the first time since April, the World Poker Tour will be back in action with its national tour today as the start of the Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino kicks off Day 1A action at 11AM this morning (Pacific Time).
Although they have had several events overseas as a part of their Season X schedule and a few regional events have taken place, the Legends of Poker is the first event of the Season X schedule to see action. Prior to joining the WPT schedule, the Legends of Poker tournament’s history stretches back to 1995. The Legends event – as well as the Bicycle Casino – have been a part of the WPT circuit since the inception of the WPT and has undergone some changes over the past ten years.
For 2011, the Legends of Poker will have a unique format that hasn’t previously been seen on the WPT. Players can put up their $3500 buy in and play on Day 1A and, if they bust, can come back on Day 1B and take a second shot at the tournament…of course, for another $3500 buy in. This should drive the prize pool significantly higher; the action will be frenetic on Day 1A as players know they have what is essentially a “second chance” should they be eliminated during play today.
The $3500 buy in is also a departure in the Legends of Poker’s tournament history. Last year, the tournament was a $5000 buy in event, the first time that happened since the 2005 edition of the event. From 2006-2009, the buy in for the Legends of Poker was the WPT-standard $10,000, which drew the crème of the tournament poker world in pursuit of a WPT championship. Reasoning for the reduced buy in this year – beyond the chance for players to buy back in for Day 1B – could be the belt-tightening that professional poker players are experiencing in difficult financial times.
The list of previous champions of the tournament reflects how much prestige the Legends of Poker has in the poker community. Chris Karagulleyan won the inaugural WPT tournament in 2002, followed by poker legends Mel Judah (2003) and Doyle Brunson (2004). The 2005 tournament saw its largest ever field, 839 players, and was won by Alex Kahaner.
Joe Pelton took home the championship in 2006, while Dan Harrington took the crown in 2007. Over the past three years, it has been the “young guns” who have stepped up to win the championship, with John Phan (2008) and Prahlad Friedman (2009) taking the tournament down. Last year, Andy Frankenberger captured the championship over a 462 player field on his way to winning the WPT Player of the Year award.
What will be the big question is how many players will show up for this year’s Legends of Poker tournament. Frankenberger has already stated that he will be defending his title, joking on Twitter, “Good thing for World Poker Tour Legends of Poker or I’d be in NYC dodging earthquakes and hurricanes.” Beyond that, however, the numbers may be a bit disappointing; noted poker journalist Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers reports that Day 1A currently has 41 entrants and Day 1B has 48, with plenty of satellite opportunities still available and late registration available both Day Ones.
These numbers shouldn’t be a shock to the tournament poker world. The first European Poker Tour event for its eighth season in Tallinn, Estonia, only drew a field of 282 runners earlier this month, vastly down from the 420 it drew in 2010. If such numbers could be extrapolated to the Legends of Poker, the field would be reduced by 33%, meaning the field size would be approximately 310 players. The Legends tournament will also be affected by an EPT event in Barcelona, which begins on Saturday.
Still, after the post-WSOP lull in the tournament poker world, it is time to get the cards back in the air! The Legends of Poker will be streamed on the internet through wpt.com or through liveatthebike.com on a thirty minute delay. These nearly live broadcasts will begin from the start of the tournament today until the WPT six man final table is determined on Monday. The final table, which plays Tuesday, will be broadcast on Fox Sports Network, kicking off the tenth season of the World Poker Tour later this year.