How Will the COVID-19 Pandemic Affect the World Series of Poker? A Live Poker Analysis

Sean Chaffin April 15, 2020 2306 Reads
The WSOP faces an uncertain future this summer.

With so many Americans in self-quarantine, live poker looks to be paused for some time. The World Series of Poker is set to start May 27 and many players may be wondering what will happen to the biggest event in poker.

Casinos and poker tournaments are certainly considered “non-essential” in the new world of business shutdowns. All Nevada casinos are under state closure orders until April 30. With that in mind, changes to the WSOP are looking more like a possibility. 

Any extension to property closures may put that even further in jeopardy. WSOP officials told USPoker on Monday that the event’s future is under consideration. An announcement is expected within a week.

So what are some likely scenarios and what options do organizers have? Here’s a look at some possible scenarios and what some players think should happen.

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Playing the full WSOP

Americans going back to work soon would help with this scenario, provided the virus is kept in check. The April 30 closure date wouldn’t leave much time to return workers to the Rio and organize the series.

Diminished turnout would be expected considering recent events and the country’s economic situation. Beyond newly unemployed recreational players, many might not be ready to get in a plane to go gamble in Las Vegas.

Some of the WSOP public relations team, key to the series’ media and marketing efforts, have also been furloughed. A quick turnaround to play a full slate of events is probably not in the cards.

Canceling the series

This may be a possibility if casino shutdowns move into late June or early July. It would mark the first time in the series’ 50-year history a year has passed without playing.

Plans originally called for the 51st annual WSOP to run at the Rio from May 27 to July 15. A record total of 101 tournaments was scheduled for this summer.

Staffing may even be a challenge right now as Caesars Entertainment began layoffs in mid-March. Even a month ago, cancellation seemed unthinkable but the longer casinos stay closed, the more likely this becomes.

WSOP goes online  only

With 14 online bracelet events already scheduled, the WSOP could even move the entire series online. Currently, WSOP.com is available in the legal US online markets of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware (through partner 888poker). 

That limits the number of players, but at least offers some opportunities to keep the summer events alive. This isn’t ideal for player and prize pools or the spirit of live poker, but at least offers a possibility.

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Shortening the WSOP schedule

With events running through July, there might be a possibility to shed some events and still run the WSOP. A scaled-down 2020 series could be an option.

The series introduced nine high roller events for 2020. Perhaps those could be shed as the series focuses on more “bread and butter” tournaments that appeal to as many players as possible.

More obscure events with smaller fields might also get the axe in this scenario. The smaller buy-in events would attract the most players. A select  group of $10,000 championship events might also remain.

A mid- to late-June start might be possible if conditions in the US change soon. A month-long WSOP would at least get the poker world moving again. The number of players willing to play would be a big question however.

Postponing until later in the year

As the US economy reopens, WSOP organizers might determine just scraping together a shortened schedule wouldn’t be feasible at the moment.

The series hasn’t always been played in the summer after all. Before 2005, players competed on an April-May schedule. A move to August or September might still offer a chance to battle for bracelets just at a different time of year.

Hopefully the Coronavirus would be in the rearview mirror at that point. An expanded online schedule could also complement a reduced live schedule.

This certainly might throw a wrench into the schedules of some other series and properties. There just seems to be no easy option, however, and it’s doubtful schedulers will be thinking of that issue.

Main Event only this year

If the pandemic quarantine runs deep into June, running only the $10,000 Main Event might be an option. That wouldn’t be ideal, but at least keeps the spirit of the series alive.

This could also at least please broadcast partner ESPN and keep poker in the media for fans. Again, this could also be complemented with the series’ planned 14 online events on WSOP.com.

That online schedule could even be expanded with more events including versions of the more popular live events.

Players weigh in with their views

Players vary on what they believe should happen this summer, but most admit there should be some changes. Four-time WPT champion Darren Elias spoke with USPoker about the series.

“I think it’s pretty clear at this point they aren’t going to run any part of the schedule live in Las Vegas this summer,” he says. “While I’d prefer postponement to cancellation, we are in unknown territory with this pandemic and don’t really have a firm end date.”

He believes that makes postponement difficult. Players would have to feel comfortable enough traveling and being in close quarters with others for long hours. That could take a while. 

Moving at least some of the WSOP online is a better option, Elias says, allowing players to take part from home.

“This would drastically limit the player pool because of geographic restrictions on where you can play from, but would be better than nothing,” he says. “Moving it online also seems like the only thing besides cancellation that the WSOP would be able to commit to anytime soon.

“Even with the restrictions, if they released a solid schedule online I think it would draw well with so many people stuck at home.”

There has been plenty of discussion on the topic while awaiting an official notice from WSOP organizers. Some have speculated on player fields and how big 2021 would be if the event is cancelled.

 

No doubt many poker players are looking forward to an announcement. 

WPT and other tournament series also affected

The WSOP obviously isn’t the only tournament series affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. The industry is currently at a standstill.

The WPT has also now postponed all events through the end of May including the Tournament of Champions. Final tables from events from the Gardens, Seminole Hard Rock, and LA Poker Classic also remain to be played and filmed in Las Vegas. That has left 18 players waiting to play for an event championship. 

Beyond those, smaller tournament series like the Run Good Poker Series and WPTDeepStacks have also been canceled or postponed.

Online poker has picked up for the shortage of live events. But as days turn into weeks and months, more players will be itching for the real poker felt. The poker world is in uncharted waters and just how things will unfold remains a mystery.

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