The World Series of Poker is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst
According to the World Series of Poker website the WSOP main event will take place at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas from November 4th to November 17th with the other lead-in tournaments beginning on September 30th.
The website states:
This year, the Main Event will have four (4) starting flights to choose from - Day 1A on Thursday, Nov. 4, Day 1B on Friday, Nov. 5, Day 1C on Saturday, Nov. 6 and Day 1D on Sunday, Nov. 7. The iconic deep-stack tournament will continue play through the Main Event Final Table on Tuesday, Nov.16 and Wednesday, Nov. 17.
“Make no mistake, the 2021 WSOP will be the real deal and we’re preparing for a full house. Throughout the storied history of the WSOP, this year will be particularly memorable and we’re preparing for a poker reunion all players can celebrate,” said Ty Stewart, the WSOP’s Executive Director residing over his 16th WSOP.
“We’re beyond thrilled to offer a complete schedule of can’t-miss events, including all our flagships and the variety players deserve.”
As many will recall last year's main event was a colossal failure. Because of the pandemic, international players competed online at GGPoker until they reached the final table and the Final 9 players competed in person on December 15th at the King's Casino in Czechoslovakia. The U.S. table competed online at WSOP.com, with the final table played at the Rio in Las Vegas on December 28th. The two winners, Damian Salas of Argentina and Joseph Hebert from Louisiana, met up on January 3, 2021, to compete in person at the Rio, where Salas took Hebert to the woodshed in a head-to-head match that Salas dominated from start to finish. The final pair were supposed to play on December 30th, but it was postponed due to travel issues for Salas.
The tournament garnered little attention, few viewers, and worst of all few players. Only 674 players signed up for the event on GG Poker and only 705 signed up on WSOP.com. The 1,379 players was the lowest number of sign-ups since Chris Moneymaker won the main event in 2003, after getting in by way of a satellite. Ironically, that was the year which made the WSOP as popular as it has become. The $2,550,000 first place prize for Salas was also just slightly higher than Moneymaker’s win and dwarfs the record $12 million win by Jamie Gold in 2006. In 2019 the winning prize was $10 million after Hossein Ensan defeated Dario Sammartino with pocket kings.
COVID . . . Again
Last month, when WSOP announced details of this year's tournament, they did so after the CDC said that distancing requirements and masks could be lifted due to the vaccine availability in the United States and the declining Covid case counts. But since the WSOP dates were set things have changed. The CDC likely envisioned that people would get the vaccine in droves creating a herd immunity, but after an initial push, vaccination rates have dropped dramatically. Only 50% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated and most of the Republican dominated southern states have rates well below that. In Nevada, where the event is taking place, only 43% of the population is fully vaccinated and cases have skyrocketed. Consequently, the city has now passed a law that requires masks to be worn indoors again as of today. And many countries in Europe and the rest of the world have virus number climbing at high rates. The UK is so bad that the CDC has advised Americans not to travel there and the U.S. has stated it will not lift current travel bans. While most countries allow Americans to fly in if they are fully vaccinated or have proof of a negative test, the United States has kept its borders closed to most of the world, including the majority of Europe where most international players at the WSOP live. In her most recent statement, White House Press Secretary Jan Psaki said.
"Given where we are today . . . with the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point."
This creates a big problem. As bad as the 2020 WSOP was, at least it offered the world's best players an opportunity to play. But if the event becomes restricted to only players residing in the U.S., and possibly Canadians who still can fly to the U.S. but can’t drive over land borders, the event will not be a true world event, but rather the U.S. Series of Poker. And there is no indication that the best U.S. players would be willing to pony up the buy-in fee if they are forced to wear masks or worse prove they are fully vaccinated.
According to sources, a vast majority of poker players have refused the vaccine and are simply going to sit this one out for both safety reason and to save face in case their vaccine status ever comes up. According to unofficial reports, the number of players who committed to the event is paltry. GGPoker has already announced satellite tournaments with a WSOP main event ticket as the grand prize for winners, but it will be meaningless if the borders are closed to them. While it’s true that the winner could find an alternate route there from a country that isn’t banned or make a plea to the government as Salas did last year, it is also true that the current Democrat administration is looking to cut down on these loopholes for travel that the previous administration let slide last year.
Consequently, the WSOP is in a quandary. No doubt, they are hoping that the virus will dissipate, more people will get vaccinated, restrictions will not be reinstituted, and the border bans will end prior to the September start of the events. But, that is unlikely with the current situation in the United States. More likely, COVID cases and death counts will continue to rise, more restrictions will be put in place, and travel bans will continue.
According to rumors being circulated in various poker forums and by industry insiders, the WSOP is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, which would mean putting off the main event until the borders reopen. According to sources close to the WSOP, they will absolutely not demand proof of vaccination and they will not have a half-assed tournament like 2020, with a confusing hybrid of online and in-person play. The WSOP realizes the COVID situation is out of their control and I have been told that secretly, the WSOP said in hindsight they wish they never bothered with last year's tournament. Aside from the fact that it didn't produce a winner that people accept as a true world champion, due to such low turnout, they have also been inundated with comments from people in the poker world that the true world poker champion in 2020 was Stoyan Mandanzhiev. He won $3.9 million in a $5,000 buy-in online event and defeated 5,800 other players from around the world including the United States. Of course, the WSOP have themselves to blame for that too, since they gave Mandanzhiev a belt which read World Poker Champion.
So, given the current situation and the fact that U.S. borders look like they will not be fully open any time soon, many analysts and some writers, myself included, expect an announcement from the WSOP sometime in the next month that because of circumstances beyond their control, the 2021 WSOP main event will be postponed indefinitely.