Sunday is always the biggest day of the week in terms of an online tournament poker, and it’s going to feel especially massive for New Jersey poker players this coming Sunday, Dec. 13. That’s because for the first time ever, players will have the opportunity to compete in the World Series of Poker Main Event while located in the Garden State.
In past years, New Jerseyans have been able to satellite into the most prestigious tournament of the year while sitting on their couch, and they have of course been able to fly to Las Vegas and play for the world championship.
But due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the rest of the 2020 WSOP at the Rio, this year’s version of the Main Event will actually be played, almost in its entirety, online, with New Jersey one of the two states in the U.S. that will be hosting the tourney.
Poker players geolocated in New Jersey or Nevada will begin the $10,000 entry event at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday on WSOP.com, and on Monday it will play down to a final table of nine. Travel restrictions permitting, those nine players will head to the Rio for COVID testing, bubble entry, and an ESPN-televised battle for the top prize.
Meanwhile, in other countries …
That hybrid online-live version of the tournament in the U.S. only represents one half of the 2020 Main Event. The other half got underway on Nov. 29 in all countries that permit play on GGPoker.
Three starting flights attracted a combined 674 runners, and on Monday, they were whittled down to the final nine. Those nine are expected to converge at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic for final table play on Dec. 15.
Interestingly, the nine finalists hail from nine different countries. Getting them all safely to one location to play one week from now is no guarantee.
In any given year, a WSOP Main Event final table with nine total unknowns is a real possibility, and you might have expected that chance to be amplified with the tournament starting online. But in the GGPoker edition, at least one player should be familiar to American TV poker audiences.
Argentina’s Damian Salas, who reached the final table of the 2017 Main Event and finished seventh, sits third in chips with 5.65 million.
Salas trails chip leader Brunno Botteon of Brazil (10.32 million), a top online player who scored two separate six-figure cashes during this summer’s online WSOP, and Portugal’s Manuel Ruivo, who finished sixth in the WSOP’s 2018 Millionaire Maker and boasts almost $750,000 in live tournament earnings.
The only player at the final table whose real name is not publicly known is an entrant located in Lichtenstein who is competing under the screen name “fullbabyfull.” Other finalists hail from Austria, Lithuania, Spain, China, and Bulgaria.
Among the total prize pool of $6,470,400, first place will receive $1,550,969. The ninth-place finisher will pocket a little over $75K.
Is there added value in the prize pool?
At the end of both the international and domestic tournaments, the winners will meet in a heads-up match for the 2020 bracelet and $1,000,000 that the WSOP is adding to the prize pool.
Poker journalist Nick Jones put together a Twitter thread calculating the math on how many entrants the WSOP needs in order to cover the million bucks with players’ entry fees.
1/ It's going to be very interesting to see how the WSOP Main Event plays out. Ignoring the whole "but we've already had a Main Event" stuff (I've made my thoughts on that clear before…), it will be fascinating to see what kind of turnout we'll get (🧵)https://t.co/8euHtBxLpO
— Nick Jones (@pokerprojones) December 3, 2020
Jones calculated that the GGPoker version needed 1,111 entries to break even. It barely got 60% of the way there.
As Jones noted, this event was announced on relatively short notice, and a $10,000 entry for an online poker tournament is extremely rare. So the modest number of entrants isn’t entirely shocking.
Still, the anticipation was that the GGPoker tournament would outpace entries in the WSOP.com version, and that would be concerning for organizers if it turns out to be true.
There are satellites currently underway in New Jersey and Nevada, starting as low as $1. It remains to be seen how many American poker pros living outside Nevada or New Jersey, the types who never miss a Main Event, will make a point of traveling to one of those two states to pony up $10K for this.
If you’re counting this as a WSOP Main Event — and the World Series itself officially is, even if there will be asterisks aplenty attached — it’s almost certain to be the smallest Main Event since the one Chris Moneymaker won in 2003, igniting the poker boom. That tournament attracted a then-record 839 entrants. The following year, it spiked to 2,576. In light of the GGPoker numbers, that total appears well out of reach.
If the international winner wins the planned Dec. 30 heads-up match for the bracelet, that player will just barely exceed Moneymaker’s official haul of $2.5 million.