What is this Wembley poker tournament anyway? [Editorial]

What is this Wembley poker tournament anyway? [Editorial]

Monday, 10 October 2011

Do you remember Black Friday? This is the part where I tell you I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe; c-beams glittering off the Full Tilt Poker gate and all that. Black Friday was the closest I’ve gotten to believing that the sky might actually be falling. In the immediate aftermath of the Department of Justice seizures no one knew anything. Rumours were being spread that PokerStars and Full Tilt were dead. Fortunately, that was only half-true.

Since April 15 there have been no news items or announcements from the poker world that have shocked me... in a good way, at least. The feeling of Black Friday was inversely correlated with the feeling of reading that PokerStars have announced a new, cheaper EPT qualifying system for extra dates or that Phil Ivey has won another bracelet. All little tidbits from the poker world that allow us to dream and/or live vicariously through others.

The ISPT (International Stadiums Poker Tour) is the first thing since Black Friday that has made my sullen soul sing. Well, at the very least it’s piqued my interest. How could it not, I ask you, with an advert as compelling as this one:

That looks pretty epic. Thousands of people set up with tablets (fire the editor who put PokerStars software in them, you’ll see why later) around Wembley stadium while a huge tournament plays out on the pitch. The arrogant young Englishman has clearly just put a major bad beat on the aggro Euro player to win that shiny trophy and kiss that girl. Apparently there’s money involved as well, but whatever.

So there - $30,000,000 guaranteed with qualification starting in January 2012 across various “exclusive partners, online poker websites and casino operators selected by ISPT”. Given that the Bernard Tapie Group are involved in both this and the purchasing of Full Tilt Poker, we can guess where the main route of qualification will come from.

It appears that the advert is somewhat accurate – 20,000 to 30,000 people (meaning a $1,000 to $1,200 buy-in to meet a $30m guarantee) will be playing online simultaneously using electronic pads from their seats at Wembley Stadium. The top 3,000 players will then make their way to the real poker tables in the centre of Wembley and have made the money. The last ten players will be competing for a $10,000,000 first prize with $17.5m to be won around the final table.

Now more details have been revealed, my immediate thoughts – this is going to be hard to pull off.

Clearly they have some money and clout and the resources necessary to set up such a grand event, that’s not what worries me. If you can hire out Wembley for five days then you can get 25,000 iPads in. What worries me is the collusion potential in the first stage of the tournament and the payout structure.

First, $17.5m at the final table with $10m to the winner strikes me as a really top-heavy payout structure. With a first prize of eight figures and a second, third and fourth prize up to $6m or even more behind that it will turn the final table into a glorified satellite. Of course, that worry assumes we reach a final table so we’ll disregard that.

Everyone is in a stadium, playing on electronic pads. Doesn’t that seem really quite insecure? I’m sure that the odds of two people sitting together physically and at the virtual tables are infinitesimal (and the table breaks may well work around it) but with so much time to pre-register, are there not now a group of a few dozen people plotting to all collude together into the money somehow?

Then again, I’m probably just being silly. If this happens it will be a fantastic moment in poker history, as well as being just the thing that 25,000 to 30,000 people need to forget about the whole Full Tilt Poker debacle and treat it as an entirely new site. Given what Dusk Till Dawn achieved with their most recent Grand Prix, run live and online simultaneously with a stupidly big guarantee, it seems that live and online poker merging is a good step forward for huge-field tournaments.

I guess that’s my main question – why is everyone sitting in seats designed to watch football on, with pads on their laps, playing outside in British weather? Just host the opening stages online and get everyone in Wembley later. Sure, it doesn’t look as epic on an advert but it’ll save you money.

And Mr. Tapie, if you’re buying Full Tilt Poker, you’ll want some money management tips.

Tags: Matt Perry, Editorial, Wembley, ISPT, Bernard Tapie