The WSOP Main Event – a show of strength or a final stand?

The WSOP Main Event  – a show of strength or a final stand?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Cast your minds back three months to April 14, 2011. At this point the World Series of Poker was less than three months away and we were expecting the usual mix of tourists, live pros and online grinders to make up a record field for the World Series of Poker 2011. Just twenty-four hours later the sky had fallen.

After the indictments of PokerStars, Full Tilt and CEREUS had been announced the initial reaction was panic. US players flocked to Two Plus Two in droves, enough to crash the servers of the world’s largest poker news and community portal as hundreds of thousands of players sought answers. Over here on the side of the Atlantic, players withdrew funds in a panic as rumours circulated and speculated that the sites would cease global operations.

Of course, a couple of months after Black Friday we realised that the sky had not actually fallen. One of the load-bearing beams is certainly cracked but the sky is very much where it is meant to be, albeit a tad closer to Earth than it was before April 15. With assurances from PokerStars, a lack of assurances from Full Tilt or CEREUS and the continuation of online poker at various sites outside of the US, it’s pretty obvious that for those of us not living in “The Land of the Free” we are free to play poker just as we were. Unless we had money stuck on Full Tilt, but that’s another Editorial.

Of course, when we were past the initial panic of April the eyes of the poker world looked forwards, to the 42nd annual World Series of Poker. Numbers must drop, surely? We’re going to see a pre-2003 field, surely? The Main Event will be lucky to get 5,000 players. That’s what we all thought, except that now we’re looking at the largest prize pool in World Series of Poker history with the Main Event being the third-largest of the past forty-two years. Numbers are up across the board and many have taken this as a middle finger to the US Department of Justice – you can’t kill the game that millions of people in the US alone love to play.

Of course, I’m a massive cynic. I’m incredibly and pleasantly surprised at the turnout for what I presumed would be a fairly mundane WSOP with almost every event showing an increase in attendance, even the more niche non-Hold ‘em games. Now we’ve had a nearly 7,000-strong field in the Main Event which seems to prove that online poker wasn’t actually the be all and end all of the global poker economy.

Erm... I can’t be the only one forgetting the millions owed to US players by Full Tilt and CEREUS? The argument that if you played on CEREUS after 2007 you had it coming is a bitter and useless one that I shan’t address here, suffice to say there is some degree of truth in it. There are millions of dollars trapped online that could have made this the biggest WSOP ever by a long shot.

This leads me to ask – is the record field in the preliminary events, the 4,500 plus field in a $1,000 tournament, the 6,865-strong Main Event field, the packed fields for every single bracelet event of the past 56 open preliminaries... is this a show of strength from poker players around the world? “Hey, you can freeze our online accounts but guess what? We’re going to play poker and you can’t stop us.”

Or is this the desperate last-ditch efforts of a collective dying breed? If you’re a mid-stakes online grinder fresh out of college, aged 22 with no work experience and nothing to show for the past four years besides a 4BB/100 graph at $1/$2 to $5/$10, with half your net worth stuck online and the other half freshly withdrawn from PokerStars then this WSOP is your last chance to really make something happen in the poker world. A bracelet, or even just a final table and a cash or two in the right spots, can keep you in bread and doughnuts for the next year or two while you try to figure out just what exactly you’re going to do with your life.

It’s great, amazing even, that the 2011 Main Event – and WSOP in general – is such a huge one. I love it, really. But watch this space for future live events and see how many of the young, hoodie-and-iPod players we see at the next WPT, EPT or at the WSOPE. The difference is how many busted their last hopes this summer.

Tags: WSOP 2011, Editorial, Matt Perry, Black Friday