After a pandemic-induced longer-than-usual wait, the World Series of Poker released their complete 2021 schedule last week allowing poker players to begin making their plans to be in Las Vegas for the fall. A grand total of 88 bracelets are up for grabs at the Rio Hotel & Casino between September 30 and November 23. In this edition of 5 Things, PocketFives Editor in Chief Lance Bradley takes a look at the schedule and what it might mean for poker’s most prestigious event in 2021.
#1 – A Pitchfork-Free Zone
In years past, the WSOP schedule was released in pieces, usually with groups of events announced based on a theme (Championship events, Online events, and uh, remember The Value Menu?). This year, WSOP officials had to show patience to learn as much as they could about COVID protocols and restrictions before they finalized all of the details. It meant that the entire 88-event schedule was released all at once, 108 days before the first events begin.
Unlike in years past, the social media reaction to the schedule release wasn’t filled with a barrage of complaints. Now, a lot of that could be credited to the fact that after losing the 2020 WSOP due to the pandemic, poker players are just happy to know they’ll be back at the Rio chasing bracelets under somewhat normal conditions. But some of the credit also needs to go to Jack Effel, Vice President of the WSOP, for putting together a schedule that quenches the thirst of many WSOP regulars – pros and recs alike.
The branded events, including The Millionaire Maker, Colossus, the Monster Stack, and the Little One for One Drop, are all back and sure to draw large fields again. Even the poorly-named $888 Crazy Eights event is back. The $10,000 buy-in Championship events went largely unchanged and a full slate of Super High Roller events have also found a home.
Even the one event which might have had poker purists sharpening their pitchforks has gone without widespread angst. The Flip-n-Go, the GGPoker-branded event, is a $1,000 buy-in event where players show up at the first table and one hand is played face up with the winner advancing to the next stage which plays out like a normal tournament. All players who win the flip hand (barring ties) will automatically be in the money.
So while WSOP players and poker fans may have missed out on the annual tradition of pointing out the deficiencies in the schedule, WSOP execs were wise to give their customers something that feels comfortable and familiar.
#2 – The Poker Hall of Fame Event
While the schedule may have been designed to feel comfortable, it does include a few new events. The biggest highlight of the new events on schedule has to be the Poker Hall of Fame Bounty event. The $1,979 buy-in is a nod to the year the PHOF was founded and every living Hall of Famer who plays in the event will have a bounty on them correlated to the year they were inducted.
It has the opportunity to feel like more than just a poker tournament. The Hall of Famers will be freerolled into the event. Doyle Brunson indicated he planned to make his WSOP return this year and play a few events and the chances that this is one of them seem relatively good. It’s also likely to draw Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Erik Seidel, and Chris Moneymaker. While the events geared towards the weekend warriors (Millionaire Maker, Colossus, etc) all seem to have the same atmosphere, this tournament could – and should – feel like more of an event.
One other key element of the event will be the induction of the newest member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Relegated to a press release and an on-air announcement in the most recent years, this gives WSOP officials the chance to give the PHOF a much-needed celebratory moment.
The one downside to the event is the fact that the WSOP is sticking to a single PHOF inductee for 2021. The much-talked-about backlog isn’t going to be cleared anytime soon even with two inductees per year and sticking to one actually hurts those who are due their moment in the sun.
#3 – We’ll Do It Live
Starting in 2015, the World Series of Poker began offering bracelets for online poker events. Up until last year when the pandemic forced the WSOP to shift the entirety of its schedule online, the events always coincided with the live WSOP. This allowed the WSOP to offer its ring-fenced online platform, normally available only to those in Nevada and New Jersey, to players in town for the Series. The 88 events on the schedule this year are all live and WSOP officials have confirmed they don’t plan on offering online bracelet events during the seven weeks of live action in Las Vegas.
There are already 33 bracelet events on WSOP.com in July and GGPoker will host approximately the same number for non-US residents in August. While nothing has been confirmed yet, you can bet that WSOP.com will have a number of bigger tournaments throughout those seven weeks and while bracelets won’t be on the line, huge prize pools should be the order of the day.
There are already 154 bracelets events this year (give or take) and nobody would have been surprised to see the schedule include a half-dozen or so online events during the live Series. Rather than over-leveraging their marquee product – the bracelet – it feels like the WSOP is going to use the opportunity to showcase the new version of their online poker product.
#4 – Does Doug Polk Still Have That Billboard?
While the schedule’s announcement may have gone without widespread complaints from the poker proletariat, there is still something that might eventually catch their attention. The rake has gone up across the board somewhere between 8% and 23%.
|Event||2019 Rake %||2021 Rake %||Y/Y Increase||$ Increase|
|Big 50/Reunion/$500 Events||13.00%||16.00%||23%||$15.00|
|$888 Crazy Eights||10.00%||11.00%||10%||$11.10|
|Tag Team/$1,000 Events||10.00%||11.00%||10%||$12.50|
|$1,111 Little One for One Drop||10.00%||11.00%||10%||$12.50|
|$1,500 Millionaire Maker||10.00%||11.00%||10%||$18.75|
|$2,500 NL Hold’em||10.00%||11.00%||10%||$31.25|
|$5,000 NL 6-Max||7.00%||7.75%||11%||$62.50|
|Main Event/$10,000 Events||6.00%||6.75%||13%||$125.00|
|Poker Players Championship||4.00%||4.25%||6%||$625.00|
|$100,000 NL High Roller||3.00%||3.25%||8%||$1,250.00|
#5 – The Main Event Record Breaker
Every year poker players, fans, and media all don their prognosticator cap and take a stab at predicting the Main Event field size. In a normal year, there are a few things to consider before pulling a number out of thin air. The Aussie Millions Main Event growth tends to correlate with the WSOP Main Event growth and the price of Bitcoin also has some indicators.
But in case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t a normal year.
The largest WSOP Main Event ever was in 2006 with 8,773 runners. Starting in 2018, the WSOP Main Event began building positive momentum towards breaking that record. The 2018 WSOP Main Event had 7,874 players and showed 9% year-over-year growth. A year later 8,569 players showed up for 8.8% growth. Had the 2020 WSOP gone ahead as planned and seen a similar rate of growth, it would have broken the record with an astonishing 9,554 players.
We’ve seen how the pent-up demand for live poker has helped the World Poker Tour obliterate its own record for field size and there’s no reason to think that the WSOP won’t be the next great benefactor of that pent-up demand. And they know it too. For the first time since 2011, there will be four starting days for the Main Event. They’ve used three each year since then and Ty Stewart, WSOP Executive Director, seems to be hinting at a record-sized field this year in a recent interview with PokerNews.
“We already needed to go to four starting days anticipating the field size,” Stewart said.
If three starting flights was good enough for the 6,352 to 8,569 players that played the last eight live Main Events, a fourth starting flight seems to be hinting at something much, much bigger. Is a 10,000-player WSOP Main Event on the horizon?
5 THINGS is written by PocketFives President and Editor in Chief, Lance Bradley and covers pressing topics and current events in the poker world today. It appears periodically at PocketFives.com.