Monday, May 20, 2013

The Shifting Place of the WPT World Championship

There’s so much happening at the moment as far as the professional tourney scene is concerned -- the recent winding down of the European Poker Tour’s season in Monte Carlo, the WSOP Circuit coming to a close in New Orleans, the Spring Championship of Online Poker on PokerStars, and the soon-to-begin World Series of Poker in Las Vegas -- I’d nearly overlooked the fact that the World Poker Tour was having its big finale this week, too.

Wrapping up Season XI, the WPT is currently staging its annual $25,000 WPT World Championship at the Bellagio. The tourney has always featured a $25K buy-in throughout the 11 years of the WPT, although in recent years they’ve added the option to re-enter once.

It looks like this year they drew 146 entries total, making the total prize pool just over $3.5 million. Checking in with B.J. Nemeth and Eric Ramsey of the WPT who are there at the Bellagio this week, it sounds like there were 120 unique players and 26 re-entries, all told.

That total of 146 represent a few entries less than they had last year (152), and the lowest since the WPT’s first season. They are about to start Day 3 today, with 67 players still in the hunt.

Kind of interesting to think about how the place of this WPT World Championship within the larger context of tournament poker has shifted over the years. During its first few years the tournament was kind of a focal point, a “major” (of sorts) that was often regarded as one of the most coveted titles on the schedule each year. That doesn’t seem so much the case these days, although for the winner it still represents a significant achievement (not to mention a big lot of cabbage).

Looking back over the last 10 years, here’s a look at the turnouts and winners of the previous WPT World Championships (with their first prizes additionally noted):

  • Season I (2003): 111 entries (Alan Goehring, $1,011,886)
  • Season II (2004): 343 (Martin De Knijff, $2,728,356)
  • Season III (2005): 453 (Tuan Le, $2,856,150)
  • Season IV (2006): 605 (Joe Bartholdi, $3,760,165)
  • Season V (2007): 639 (Carlos Mortensen, $3,970,415)
  • Season VI (2008): 545 (David Chiu, $3,389,140)
  • Season VII (2009): 338 (Yevgeniy Timoshenko, $2,143,655)
  • Season VIII (2010): 195 (David Williams, $1,530,537)
  • Season IX (2011): 220 (Scott Seiver, $1,618,344)
  • Season X (2012): 152 (Marvin Rettenmeier, $1,196,858)
  • The rise in the number of entries up to a peak in 2007 obviously corresponds to the larger growth of tournament poker during those “boom” years, although the drop off since then has been much more precipitous than has been the case, say, with the WSOP Main Event or with the big season-ending events on other tours.

    For example, the EPT Grand Final, a €10,000 buy-in tournament played in Monte Carlo every year except in 2011 when it was in Madrid, has seen the following less dramatic bell curve in the number of entrants over its nine seasons: 211 (2005), 298 (2006), 706 (2007), 842 (2008), 935 (2009), 848 (2010), 686 (2011), 665 (2012), 531 (2013).

    Meanwhile the WPT has expanded considerably from just 11 stops during that first season to 24 in Season XI, with the World Championship remaining the highest buy-in event on the tour (by far).

    People still care about the WPT World Championship, I think, although nowadays it feels like both players and fans alike have their attentions divided at this time of year, with a $25K buy-in event not necessarily earning the focus it once did among all of the other smaller and larger buy-in tourneys crowding the calendar.

    There’s more to say about the various causes that have potentially affected turnouts for the WPT World Championship over the years, of course. In any case, it does appear to have shifted somewhat of late from a central position in the poker tourney landscape over to a spot somewhere on the side.

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