After 21 rather successful events on the Season 10 World Poker Tour schedule, all eyes focused on the poker tournament scene turned to Las Vegas on Saturday for the historic, iconic, annual celebration of the tour known as the WPT Championship. The $25,500 buy-in is the biggest main event on the schedule, and since the debut of the tour, this one single tournament has been proclaimed by many as the event outside of the WSOP main event whose winner demands immediate respect, recognition and international notoriety for their accomplishment. It often awards one of the largest first-place prizes on the calendar and features one of the toughest fields you'll find anywhere. It's the event a pro wants to win well, maybe it was
The hopes were high for the 2012 WPT Championship, but something drastic happened on the way to the registration cages in 2012; the players just weren't lining up. After a surprisingly pleasant turnout of 220 in 2011 (up 25 from 2010), only 135 players have turned up through two days of play. This year's edition is poised to be the lowest-attended WPT Championship since Alan Goehring's victory over a field of 111 in 2003. That said, registration is still open until midway through Day 3 and players who opt in at that last moment Monday will begin play with more than 62 big blinds. Whether you feel tournaments should have three-day late-registration is a completely separate debate.
So, what happened?
SCOOP: The 2012 Spring Championship of Online Poker has stolen the spotlight and will go down in history as the biggest online tournament series ever with more than $65 million in prize pools through 40 events. More than half a million tournament entries attributed to its success and with some of the game's top players like Shaun Deeb, Dan Kelly, Martin Stazko, Viktor Blom and Kevin MacPhee dominating the virtual tables, why would they return to the United States to play in this event? Which leads me to the point where I should've started this list
Black Friday: It's no surprise that Black Friday will be listed in just about every single "What happened?"-type item from here on out when dealing with the rise and fall of the poker industry. Since April 15, 2011, the impact of the inability of poker players to play online in the United States will always weigh heavily on these sorts of discussions. The 2012 SCOOP has been such a great success despite the lack of U.S. participation, and as we've rehashed numerous times on ESPN.com, players have left the country to play online elsewhere.
The environment has changed. It's not easy anymore to bust online and come down to the tournament area. It's simply a choice of which tournament to play, as hoping you can catch a last-minute flight isn't the most reliable plan if you want to maximize your efforts. The 517 players who entered the SCOOP $10,300 main event stayed at their new homes, wherever that may be, and competed for a $982,300 top prize, part of a $5.1 million prize pool. Those who came to the WPT Championship are hoping that last-minute entrants will push the prize pool over $3.5 million. With no additional travel, potentially a weaker field (very debatable) and a smaller buy-in (which is significant given what kicks off in Vegas next week), some players we would've expected to be at the Bellagio opted out to grind online. Can you really blame them? Some may show up Monday after they busted from the main event, but I can't imagine that the final attendance number would rise dramatically as a result. I'd be happy to be wrong about that.
The Bellagio: "Bellagio may have turned into the WORST WPT venue," said Matt Waxman on his Twitter account.
It is a surprise that the Bellagio isn't doing more to keep the prestige of this event up in any way, shape or form. While most tournaments are held far away from the noise of the slot machines and smoky nature of the casinos, the WPT Championship isn't provided the same comforts. For $25,000, the Bellagio should be doing more for the players. I'm not saying the WSOP does it perfectly, but you know that when you go to the Rio, you're there for the poker and only the poker. You're surrounded by the right environment.
"Jack McClelland is simply behind the times and hasn't adjusted to today's climate at all," said Vinny Pahuja to ESPN.com via Twitter. Dan Fleyshman echoed his thoughts, saying, "We all love the Bellagio as a setting, it's their decisions [like eight days for a tournament] that are frustrating."
The player pool: Getting back to the Black Friday discussion, there simply aren't as many live tournament players in the United States at these high levels as there were a year ago. The idea of the "semi-pro" is dwindling, and with fewer players in general there are fewer satellite entries, and with fewer satellite entries there are fewer main event seats up for grabs.
The WSOP: Finally, the massive elephant in the room or, more appropriately, right down the road. The 61-event 2012 World Series of Poker kicks off Sunday, and summing up everything else on this list is the challenge of bankroll management. The WSOP is expected to receive another strong turnout and players are saving their money for a few events during the WSOP rather than putting $25,000 in one basket at the WPT Championship.
A year ago, the WPT championship ended May 20 and the WSOP started May 31. While 11 days isn't a significant amount of time to rebuild a bankroll, it perhaps did allow a larger cushion for those to secure backing for the WSOP. This year, players won't make the money until perhaps Wednesday, giving them just a couple of days to get their finances in order. Having an additional $35,000 can dramatically change one's approach to the biggest tournament series in the world. Maybe players wanted to be a little more prepared or rested?
It's not hard to understand why the attendance this year is down, but perhaps the severity is the more troubling bit. The World Poker Tour has always been great at adapting their offerings to maximize value, but it seems this year's Championship faces a number of challenges that appear to be out of their control. If a final total of only 150 players show up, 21 of whom earned automatic bids from the WPT's previous events this season (including the ClubWPT.com qualifier), it might be time to re-evaluate and figure out how they can get the love back into the event that I feel is a major that should stand out above all the rest. The Championship should've been the culmination of a great season, but instead we'll look back on this year's edition with a magnifying glass and expect better in the future.
As for the action at the WPT Championship, Michael Mizrachi leads the remaining 95 players in the main event and is looking for his third WPT title. Seven of the top 11 players in the leaderboard have already won WPT titles during their careers.
Small blinds: Shaun Deeb is the king of the 2012 SCOOP. He won four titles this year, five now in his career, and has cashed 25 times during the series. Entering the main event, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom led all players with $438,669 in prize money. Blom won two events this SCOOP. Phil Hellmuth, Faraz Jaka and Jason Mercier all mentioned on Twitter they will be registering for the WPT Championship on Monday. The WSOP debuted the look of the 2012 bracelet last week. What do you think? The WPT announced the first half of their Season 11 schedule and it includes a new televised stop at the Parx Casino. 2009 CardPlayer Player of the Year Eric Baldwin won two preliminary events at the Bellagio, plus cashed in three others for a total of $31,150. Cliff Josephy won the $5,000 no-limit hold 'em event at the Bellagio to win $165,240, his largest live tournament score since a final table in the $5,000 pot-limit Omaha event at the WSOP in 2009. The final WSOP Circuit main event of the season has reached its final day. The WSOPC stop in New Orleans attracted a field of 694 and Anthony Vidmer leads the final table with hopes of claiming the top prize of $204,748. The White House officially responded to the online poker petition submitted months ago as part of the "We The People" process. What's it like to win your way into the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop? Ask Ottawa's Carlos Nahas, who competed in a 55-player event and earned his seat. Marvin Rettenmaier signed an endorsement deal with Party Poker.