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This blog has been filled in the past with comments about the WSOP Circuit, and there's no hiding that I've been a little harsh in regard to what could be one of the biggest brands in the industry. The past editions of the WSOPC have been nothing less than a disaster and I've addressed those issues mainly here, but also here. However, a new season is underway, and so far, I'm happy to see that a revival of this once-lost tour is under way.
The WSOP Circuit's 2010-11 season began in Iowa with 251 players buying into the $1,600 main event. It was a nice increase in participation from the 46-player main event the previous time it was held in Council Bluffs, but still nothing in comparison to what I believed the event should be. The second stop at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana featured 289 players, with Charles Moore taking the title down and earning the automatic spot in the national championships. Two stops down and so far, so good.
The Southern Indiana event ended two weeks ago and all eyes began to shift toward Horseshoe Hammond and the first $10,000 buy-in, nationally televised (on Versus) regional championship. Not only was this a better location than Circuit stops in the past (near Chicago), but the big buy-in event right after the casino's main event would appeal to the top poker players, because now, you're getting a little extra value out of your trip. They didn't travel for one tournament, but two, and believe it or not, that factor does influence some players on where they will and will not travel.
The masses showed up in Indiana, creating the largest WSOP Circuit main event in history. A whopping 872 players created a $1.2 million prize pool and Kurt Jewell survived a 14-hour final table to become the latest champion, winning $242,909 for his $1,600 investment.Finally, it was time for the big boy, and the $10,000 event didn't disappoint, attracting 226 players and creating a $2.1 million prize pool. In attendance were some of the biggest names in the game, including Jason Mercier, Barry Greenstein, Vanessa Selbst, Chad Brown, Justin Smith, David Sands, and of course, ESPN.com's Bernard Lee.
At the end of Day 1, Ryan Julius led the surviving 114 players with Jonathan Tamayo and Lee right on his heels. Jewell decided to enter the $10,000 event, but was eliminated early on Day 2. The four-day event will conclude on Monday with one of these lucky players earning $525,449, but it's important to realize that making the final table of this event is extremely important because those nine players will receive automatic bids into the national championship. We've witnessed the WSOP's final table bubble, in which so much more than money is on the line, and while I'm not saying the two are alike, this bubble should be a pretty substantial one.
Over half a million to the champion and lots of hype about a WSOP Circuit event -- it's nice to see, but really, what does this all mean? Is the Circuit back? Well, yes, but this is just the beginning, according to the WSOP's Ty Stewart.
"This event is the wake-up call," said Stewart. "But as word spreads that there will be multimillion prize pools, plus all the bells and whistles of TV, [then add the] bracelet and million overlay." That overlay he's talking about comes in the form of the national championship, where not only will a bracelet be awarded to the champ, but 100 players will be competing in the $1 million freeroll for their share of some good money.
The first step in building back the WSOPC is changing the public impression that these events just don't matter. This season, they do matter. For their efforts and the changes they've made to date, we've seen increases in attendance and prize pools in all locations. As these events hit TV and as players gradually get more excited about the promise of the WSOPC, the field sizes will grow and once again, the tour and more specifically, the regional championships, will become must-stops for all players. After all, it's another chance for TV exposure which doesn't come around all that often these days.
There are two more WSOP Circuit stops at the IP Casino Resort and Spa in Biloxi, Miss., (Oct. 28 to Nov. 10) and Harvey's Lake Tahoe (Nov. 11 to Nov 23) before the next regional championship in Atlantic City, N.J. When that event comes around, we'll have another opportunity to reflect on the success of the 2010-11 season, but if the indications so far mean anything, we can expect a great turnout and another sign that a once "supremely distressed asset" (according to Stewart) is on its way back to legitimacy.
Small Blinds: Sorel Mizzi won the Sunday Warm-Up on PokerStars for $149,713. Guess it's time he jumps back into ESPN.com's poker rankings, "The Nuts." Theo Jorgensen signed with PokerStars. Full Tilt's Rush Poker is being tested on mobile phones. Cool. Gus Hansen is finally upswinging online with a couple of solid sessions to give his bankroll a $1 million boost. The European Poker Tour stop in Vienna is under way with 234 players buying in on Day 1A. The Poker Players Alliance announced Patrick Fleming, who manages the PPA's Litigation Network, will join the organization's board of directors. Pokerati reported on the numerous legal and business-related issues that have come about recently, including Scott Crespo's suing a couple of top players, including Faraz Jaka. Pretty interesting stuff there. More success for members of the WSOP main event final table came this weekend as John Dolan finished second in a $1,500 event at Foxwoods for $45,000 and John Racener won the largest HORSE tournament of the weekend online for $9,000. "High Stakes Poker" will be filming its next season in Las Vegas. Will the newest WSOP champ be part of the roster? If Racener, Jonathan Duhamel or Jason Senti win, I'd assume they'd like to take a shot.