Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Tournament of Champions 3.0

2010 WSOPYesterday it was announced that there will be a “Tournament of Champions” at this summer’s World Series of Poker, reviving an event that last officially took place in 2006. The new TOC will be a 27-player freeroll tournament with a $1 million prize pool, $500,000 of which will go to the champions’ champion.

The field will include 20 players voted on via an internet poll. Only “living WSOP bracelet winners” are eligible as candidates. (No dead guys!) In his article about the event, Stephen A. Murphy notes there are currently 521 living bracelet holders.

Only one vote per email address, so ballot-box stuffing will only work to the extent that a person uses multiple emails. Voting is now open and will remain so through June 15. One can track how the voting is going by checking the current “Top 50” vote-getters (presented in random order) on the WSOP site. Should be interesting to watch that list over the next three months to see which players prove most popular.

Five more spots will be filled by the TOC winners from its last incarnation (2004-2006), Annie Duke, Mike Matusow, and Mike Sexton, plus last year’s WSOP Main Event winner Joe Cada and WSOPE Main Event winner Barry Shulman. The last two seats are being reserved for “wild card exceptions” -- no word as yet what that means, although Harrah’s VP Ty Stewart has said it could be that those spots will be taken by winners of online tourneys.

Sounds like the TOC, like the Main Event, will have its own delay (of sorts) insofar as the tourney is set to begin on Sunday, June 27 and then conclude on the following Sunday, July 4 (an off-day for the WSOP -- the Main Event begins the following day). The TOC will be a televised event, too (on ESPN, natch).

I’m referring to this as TOC 3.0 because the “original” TOC -- the one envisioned by Mike Sexton in the late 1990s and run from 1999-2001 at the Orleans Casino -- while not specifically connected with the WSOP, not only shared the same name but had a couple of features not completely unrelated to those of the new TOC.

1999 Tournament of ChampionsThat original Tournament of Champions lasted for three years (1999-2001). There was an entry fee ($1,500 the first year, and $2,000 the next two), but it was not an open tournament. Rather, one earned the right to enter by various means, including winning a WSOP bracelet, winning a TOC-sanctioned event, winning the TOC itself, or being a member of the Poker Hall of Fame.

Reading about the original TOC online, I’ve encountered conflicting reports on those qualifications, but you get the picture. The idea was to create a “champions” event involving the best of the best -- sort of like the “Tour Championship” that comes at the end of the year in golf to which only the top money winners for the year are invited.

One other nifty aspect of the original TOC -- it was a mixed-game event that featured different games throughout. The first two days players rotated between limit hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, and seven-card stud. Then on the final day, the last 27 players played no-limit hold’em.

That first year, 1999, there were 664 entrants, and David Chiu was the winner, with Louis Asmo finishing second and Doyle Brunson third. There was a somewhat famous hand between Chiu and Asmo at the final table, one in which following some preflop action Chiu folded pocket kings face up, and Asmo revealed he held pocket aces. Click here to read Lee Munzer’s description of that hand, along with an interview with Asmo.

In 2000, 440 players entered the event, with a computer programmer named Spencer Sun taking the title. The great poker reporter Andy Glazer participated that year (as he did in ’99, I believe), and finished a respectable 35th. Glazer reported on the event for PokerPages, and you can read what he had to say here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

In 2001, there were 402 entries, and Brian Saltus won, defeating T.J. Cloutier heads up. Scotty Nguyen finished third, and Miami John Cernuto fourth. Lee Munzer wrote up the first day of action for PokerPages here (giving Andy Glazer a chance to concentrate on playing), then Glazer wrote up Day 2 and Day 3.

2004 Tournament of ChampionsThe TOC was discontinued, then the name was used again for that one-table, ten-player event won by Annie Duke in 2004. I mentioned this one last week -- no entry fee, $2 million prize pool, winner-take-all. Harrah’s had recently acquired the WSOP, and as they donated the prize pool, the TOC became associated with the WSOP.

In 2005, 111 players earned their way into the event by winning either WSOP bracelets or WSOP Circuit events. A bit of a hubbub that year also as three additional players -- Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan -- were allowed to play as “sponsor exemptions,” and in fact all three did well, finishing 13th (Chan), 10th (Brunson), and third (Hellmuth). Mike Matusow won the event and the $1,000,000 first prize. The rest of the prize pool -- another $1 million -- was divided among the other eight players who made the final table.

In 2006, the TOC was reduced to a 27-player invitational tourney, with the nine WSOP Main Event final tablists and 11 WSOP Circuit event winners all playing along with seven other “exemptions.” Mike Sexton won that year, defeating Daniel Negreanu heads-up. Again, the prize pool -- donated by Harrah’s -- totaled $2 million, with half of that going to Sexton for winning.

Now, after a four-year hiatus, the TOC is back. Already seeing debates on Twitter and in the forums about the new format. Kind of a popularity contest, really, as far as who will primarily make up the field. But it should prove interesting nonetheless -- another good buzz-creator.

I see Dr. Pauly has already shared his voting guide. Who is getting my vote? Billy Baxter FTW!

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