"The World Series of Poker is in the midst of an identity crisis. The WSOP needs to decide what it is. Is it the most prestigious festival of poker in the world? Or is it a poker fantasy camp marketed to the masses?"
I was certainly not alone with this viewpoint. I can't tell you how many players I spoke with last summer who were frustrated with the polarized schedule of event buy-ins. If you're a NLHE tournament player you essentially have two choices-- play in one of more than a dozen $1,000 and $1,500 buy-in events with field sizes ranging from 2,500-3,000 players, or play in a $5,000 buy-in event against 800 of the world's top online wizards. Should you choose the $1,500 event and chip up a bit, only to lose one medium-sized pot in the early going, you'll be under 30 big blinds by the start of Level 3. Should you choose the $5k, you'll start with a comfortable 200 big blinds, but once you look around your starting table, you'll shit yourself and suddenly feel far less at ease.
By the end of last year's Series, I concluded that there were three major issues that needed to be addressed when it came to writing the WSOP schedule for 2011. With its release on Monday, it appears that TPTB made a concerted effort to fix one of those three, but completely left the other two alone.
1. Reduce the number of $1,000 and $1,500 NLHE events in favor of more tournaments at the $2,000, $2,500 and $3,000 buy-in level. This didn't happen at all. If you want to play a $2,000-$3,000 buy-in full ring NLHE event at this year's WSOP, you have exactly one opportunity to do so, in Event #36, $2,500 NLHE. There are zero NLHE events at the $2,000 and $3,000 levels, seven with a $1,500 buy-in and five open events with a $1,000 buy-in. The only increases when it came to mid-buy in WSOP events in 2011 will be in limit and mixed game tournaments.
2. Reduce the overall number of events. This didn't happen either, although I didn't expect it to. Try telling any corporation to make less money. 58 bracelets will be awarded in Las Vegas this year, up from 57 in 2010. Commence the "value of a bracelet" discussions in 3-2-1...
3. Figure out a way to give players more manageable tournament hours. This should have happened four years ago, but I'll give credit where credit is due. The plan to play no more than ten levels a day in any given event is going to turn a lot of frowns upside-down in the hallways of the Rio. No more coming back on Day 3 with 37 players and having to play down to a winner, even if the sun sets and rises again during the process. Of course, not knowing how many days each event will actually last means that whatever media outlet ends up getting the "official" tournament reporting contract is going to have a super-fun time scheduling their reporters. Glad I don't have to do that anymore.
It makes total financial sense that the WSOP would want to funnel as many players as possible into the weekend donkaments. Poker tourists are the ones who spend the most additional dollars on Harrahs' properties in the form of rooms, food, and pit gaming. Their sheer numbers also juice up the prize pool, which in turn gives the pros a good reason to show up at the Rio at noon to gamble it up in those fish-infested waters in the hopes of either gathering a big stack early or busting before registration for the 5 pm event closes. That's what those $1k and $1.5 events are. Far more of a gamble than anything else the WSOP offers. Double up quickly or you're toast. Not a whole lot of play for your $1,500 IMO.
If you're a limit or mixed games player, you'll be in hog heaven this summer. There are plenty of events at a variety of buyins to choose from, not to mention the new $2.5K 10-game tournament which will include Badugi for the first time at the WSOP. If you're looking for a deep-stacked NLHE structure at anything less than a $5,000 buy-in, you're kind of SOL at this year's series. If you have $1,500 to spend and are willing to take a big gamble in order to have a shot at a bracelet, then you have at least a dozen opportunities to do so. And if you're a sponsored pro, nosebleed cash gamer, or trustafarian, there are 18 events with buy-ins ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 that are calling your name.
If I play a WSOP event this summer, it will most likely be the Ladies' Event via a satellite. Nothing else on this schedule shows enough value for me and my budding bankroll unless I get my limit hold'em or O8 game in serious shape by June. Again, I don't think I'm alone here. Playing tournaments is all about picking your spots, and my spot is not in a shallow-stacked $1k with a 3,000-deep field. Were there more $2k or $3k events on the schedule, I might be planning a satellite budget. Instead, should I find myself wanting to sling cards for 12 hours, I'll probably be across the street at the Venetian, where I can play three $545 events with a 240 big blind starting stack for the price of one donkament. There won't be a bracelet at the end of that rainbow, but there might be another thirty grand. Which, as I can now tell you from experience, is pretty nice.