The World Series of Poker on Monday “postponed” its flagship in-person tournament series in Las Vegas, but will there still be bracelet events in 2020?
Prior to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the WSOP scheduled 14 online bracelet events for this summer. Will those still run? Will they also be postponed? Could the number of them increase?
We don’t have many clues right now.
“We are committed to running the World Series of Poker this year but need additional time to proceed on our traditional scale while prioritizing guest and staff well-being,” Ty Stewart, executive director of the WSOP, said in a statement on the status of the poker festival. “In the interim, official WSOP competitions are expected to be played online this summer, and we will soon announce details of an expanded series of tournaments to be played on WSOP.com and through partnership with international operators, which will allow players to chase WSOP glory from their homes.”
It’s unclear if those “official WSOP competitions” this summer will be bracelet events.
The poker platform is accessible to those 21 years of age and older physically located in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. The WSOP is, of course, already running non-bracelet tournaments, such as the ongoing 2020 WSOP.com Spring Online Championships.
The 51st annual WSOP was set to kick off on May 26 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. While casinos in Sin City could be reopened in some capacity by the fall, when the WSOP hopes to reschedule, poker tournaments put people in extremely close proximity to each other and so it’s unclear if they will be viable before widespread COVID-19 testing and/or a vaccine. A fall in-person WSOP is up in the air, as reports indicate that the pandemic could still pose a risk toward the end of the calendar year.
The first online bracelet event, a $400 no-limit hold’em contest, was scheduled for May 31. It’s not yet clear if that will still run as scheduled. In other words, if the WSOP is banking on being able to hold live tournaments in the fall, it is possible it could opt to move all of the events back.
If the May 31 online bracelet event runs, it could mean that the start and end of the 2020 WSOP could span six or seven months. While it might be a bit awkward, it could be the best option.
Online bracelet event growth?
Last summer, the WSOP held nine online bracelet events that drew roughly 14,000 entries combined. The WSOP more than doubled the number of online poker tournament buy-ins from 2018, when there were 6,300 entries across four online bracelet events.
There were about 6,400 entries across five online bracelet events between 2015 and 2017.
How many online bracelet events will be held this year is anyone’s guess. The WSOP, if it elects to boost the number of online bracelet events, would be tasked with considering how many is too many. The bracelet is still the most coveted piece of poker hardware and collecting them is still the most popular measuring stick for poker greatness (and possible enshrinement in the Poker Hall of Fame). The WSOP schedule has grown dramatically over the years in total number of bracelets, so a bracelet isn’t as hard to come by as it used to be. However, concerns of prestige dilution are overblown, as the WSOP bracelet has no real competition in the poker world. Any dilution has already happened.
Still, the WSOP might not want to overcompensate with online events only to drastically scale back the number in 2021. The WSOP is likely considering the long-term implications of the changes it could make to the 2020 schedule. Regulated online poker in the U.S. is still in its infancy.
Additionally, it’s not that winning an online event isn’t prestigious, it’s just that players have to be in one of three states to play. Stay-at-home orders could keep many players from participating, even those who are willing to travel to one of those states. The WSOP may find that it’s best to move the online bracelet events to late summer or the fall to give players more time to make travel and/or lodging arrangements.
What about the Main Event?
There were 87 WSOP events slated for the Rio in Las Vegas, as well as the aforementioned 14 online bracelet tournaments. Regardless of how many of the preliminary bracelet events run in person or over the internet, it’s not an authentic WSOP without the flagship tournament.
In its earliest days, the WSOP was only the Main Event.
In the Monday presser, the WSOP said it’s still committed to running a $10,000 buy-in Main Event in 2020. It’s unclear whether that event would be held online if it had to be. If live poker tournaments are not feasible in 2020, could the WSOP elect to scrap the no-limit hold’em championship this year?
Another possibility is the WSOP running the Main Event online this summer and having a live final table later in the year, in what would could feel like a rebooted November Nine format. From 2008 to 2016, the WSOP ran its Main Event in the summer and paused the tournament once a final table was set in order to hold the final table in the fall. The ESPN broadcast was nearly live, with a slight delay so access to the hole cards of the players couldn’t be used for cheating.
In 2017, the WSOP returned to the old format of holding the Main Event from start to finish in July.
If the Main Event is held online, another possibility is the WSOP going with a re-entry format, which it has resisted for years for poker’s most prestigious event. Re-entries are not ideal for recreational players, as more well-financed players could have several buy-ins. Participation in an online Main Event would pale in comparison to the 8,569 players in the 2019 Main Event in Las Vegas, so the WSOP could be tempted to juice the numbers by allowing more than one entry.
The WSOP clearly has some big decisions to make as it retools its 2020 bracelet schedule. Like no-limit hold’em itself, the WSOP is forced to make bets based on incomplete information. No one knows what the public health crisis, as well as public sentiment, will look like come mid-summer.
It’s dubious to think the WSOP brand could take any sort of hit because it’s obviously in a tough spot and the poker community would by and large be grateful for any return to normalcy. Online poker has seen a large uptick with brick-and-mortar casinos closed and the sports world at a standstill, so the WSOP would be appreciated for further contributing to the mini poker boom right now. There will, of course, be detractors in the poker community, but the WSOP shouldn’t be worried about concerns of asterisks next to bracelet victories — and probably not even the Main Event.
The only danger for the WSOP is holding live events in the fall that lead to players falling gravely ill.
It might take the WSOP quite a bit of time before deciding whether it’s worth it not to be a nit here.