In 2007, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) dragged its rusty anchor out of the ground and set sail across the Atlantic Sea. When it came to a standstill, it had arrived at the Empire Casino in London’s Leicester Square – the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) was born.
The decision to leave U.S. soil and take the WSOP brand to a different continent didn’t leave a nice taste on the palate of everyone. I guess it depends where you lived as to how you took the news. The Europeans loved it, but there were a lot of Americans who hated it.
We even had some of the world’s most respected players saying that winning a WSOPE bracelet did not carry the same prestige as one forged in Las Vegas. There was a lot of angst surrounding the decision, but that didn’t stop the event from growing. For seven consecutive years, the WSOPE was held in either London, or Paris, and suddenly the place started to feel like home.
The WSOP-APAC is Born
After seven years of operating a WSOP event in a different continent, the team felt they had enough experience to move to their third continent. The choice of venue was a no-brainer. The Aussie Millions is the most prestigious event in the Southern Hemisphere, and so in 2013 Australia was chosen to host the inaugural World Series of Poker Asia Pacific (WSOP-APAC).
This time the cries were a little more muted than seven years earlier. Maybe it was a case of, ‘we’ve heard it all before?’ Or, perhaps people started to understand the benefit that the poker community receives by companies like the WSOP taking their series to other parts of the world.
It was a great success. So much so that this year the WSOP returned, and the European leg was shunted out of the way. It was the first time since 2007 that the WSOP had not held an event in Europe, as they concentrated all of their efforts on making the WSOP-APAC work.
So Was the Second WSOP-APAC a Success?
If you were to ask me that one at the time, I would have answered in the negative. The field sizes were not big enough, the prize pools were not what you expect for a WSOP event, and it seemed the easiest way to win a bracelet since the 1970s.
2014 WSOP-APAC Events
1) $1,100 NLHE Accumulator – 611 players – $114,450 first place prize
2) $2,200 NLHE – 215 – $94,019
3) $1,650 PLO – 123 – $44,796
4) $1,650 NLHE Terminator – 250 – $53,112
5) $5,000 PLO – 80 – $111,381
6) $1,650 8-Game DC – 89 – $37,528
7) $2,200 Six Max NLHE – 243 – $113,173
8) $5,000 8-Game Mixed – 48 – $74,768
9) $10,000 Main Event – 329 – $737,907
10) $25,000 High Roller – 68 – $524,411
The 2013 $1,100 NLHE Accumulator had a field size almost double this year, and the $1,650 PLO and $10,000 Main Event also had bigger field sizes the first year the event was held (the only three comparable events).
The 2014 WSOP-APAC event was also a poor cousin to the Aussie Millions. Mustafa Kanit won two side events at the turn of the year, one of which – a $1,100 NLHE event – attracted 1,302 players (the WSOP-APAC didn’t get anywhere near that size). Also, the Aussie Millions Main Event was twice the size – with a $1.6m first prize as opposed to a $738,000 first prize in the WSOP-APAC Main Event of the equivalent buy-in.
So yeah…it looks like a dud, and my immediate ire was directed at the Australians. I know the European Poker Tour (EPT) event in London was ‘conveniently’ scheduled to clash with the WSOP-APAC event, and that decision would have affected numbers, but all live tournaments depend heavily on their locals to make up the bulk of the pie chart.
The Australians let the WSOP Down
But who am I to say that the event was a dud? The only people who truly know whether the event was a whitewash are the WSOP. So I reached out to Seth Palansky, VP Corporate Communications for Caesars Interactive, to seek his opinion, and this is what he had to say.
“Our goals are never truly about the numbers. We build the best tournament series we can, and players have full control on whether to attend them. This is about us (WSOP) extending our brand globally and trying to bring the WSOP experience to those that can’t, or haven’t, made the trek to Las Vegas – obviously a long journey for those in Australia.
“We offered the most-ever bracelets for an international event, knowing that if folks were going to make the long journey Down Under from other locales, we needed a more meaningful schedule than we had in the inaugural iteration.
“But we are the WSOP. We play all variants of poker. So we know going in that mixed games and Dealers Choice, etc., are not going to draw big fields. We don’t care. It is about introducing new games to new folks.
“It is about getting local dealers introduced to new games too. Dealers are often the best group to bring new things too. They are often poker players. If they get to experience new things, and see how fun and interesting games other than No-Limit Hold’em can be, then perhaps they can help grow the affinity of these offerings over time. That is ultimately some of the goal here.”
I didn’t expect Palansky to come forward and say the event was a failure, but I was expecting him to use the word ‘disappointment.’ That’s because I am so fixated in field size, and that really doesn’t mean much if field size is not included in the suite of key performance indicators that the WSOP use to determine their success criteria.
Field Sizes Are Not a True Indicator of Success
“Why if there are more people in a poker tournament is it perceived to be harder to win?” said Palansky before continuing. “We structure our events, most of the time, to last for 30 hours of play. Three days of playing, 10 hours a day, mostly one hour levels. The winner is the person who over 30 hours of play captures all the chips. I would argue a table of 75 players playing a Mixed Game, made up of the best mixed game players in the world – and only players confident in all those games – would be harder to beat than a field of 1,000 players that featured none of those players in it.
“Part of the point is that you never have to beat 2,000 players in a 2,000-player field. You can only play the number of players at your table, and then continue to play the hours on the clock and the players left. Any player that wins one of our tournaments has to do the same thing. Make it approximately 30 hours, outlast everyone sat with them (not in the field) and gather all the chips in play.
“For anyone who does this, it is an incredible achievement. Of course, prize money is always a product of field size and buy-in, but anyone paying $1,000 or more to play in a bracelet event, in my view at least, has accomplished just as much, and has earned the same prestige no matter what continent the victory occurred on. “
Palansky’s words make a lot of sense to me. They have made me see things a little differently. But I wasn’t alone in my thoughts that the smaller field sizes create a belief that the series was a let down.
Has the WSOP-APAC Lessened the Prestige of Winning a Bracelet?
Charity Series of Poker founder Matt Stout was also quite vocal in his belief that the field sizes had watered down the prestige of winning a bracelet – and this is what he had to say.
“As a player who got into poker partially because of the allure and prestige of the bracelets I was watching players win on ESPN, it pains me to see what’s going on with some of the preliminary events in Australia and Europe.
“Every time a player wins a bracelet that comes with less than $100k, it cheapens the allure of the bracelet in my opinion. I’ve dedicated my life to tournament poker, largely because of my desire to chase bracelets, but I think that if/when I finally do get one it’ll feel a bit less prestigious because of events like WSOP-APAC.
“I’m not such a purist that I think bracelets should only be awarded in Las Vegas, and I actually do like that they award a bracelet for the WSOP National Championship, but the WSOP should try to ensure that future bracelet events will be able to draw enough players to create a first-place prize that’s well into six figures.”
I tossed that little ball over to the side of the net that Palansky was on, and he hit this one right back.
“I can understand Mr. Stout’s feelings, looking at it from the periphery. But we can’t ensure how many people our events draw. Mr. Stout has more control over that than we do. Of course, we are in a different time and age with the WSOP as it is now a 45-year old brand. But WSOPE is seven years old. WSOP APAC, two.
“Let’s take the 8th version of the WSOP in 1977. There were 13 bracelet events and the average number of entries per event was 28 people. The Main Event that year had 34 people. By today’s standards, of course if the 46th annual WSOP generated the numbers of the 8th annual, people would call it a colossal failure, and rightfully so. But we are in the infancy of building our brand in new markets and exporting the experience of the WSOP to new locales. They take time to build and they were never intended to replicate the WSOP. Trust me, I was in Australia for three weeks. You would call Starbucks a failure there too, because they certainly aren’t as prevalent as they are in Las Vegas. But different markets respond differently.
“In Las Vegas this past WSOP, the average bracelet event had 1,267 entrants. Take out the Big One and its small capped-field, and the average number of entries per event would have been the 2nd-highest ever in our 45-year history. Does Mr. Stout want more Australians and Europeans to attend the WSOP in Las Vegas? Judging by the number of bracelets his country won in 2014, he probably does.
“In order to help convince them the journey to Las Vegas is worth it, we have to plant the seeds and help nurture the market until it is ready to bloom. This is certainly worth the exercise for us. To be clear, we lose money every WSOP Europe and WSOP Asia-Pacific we put on. So this is the furthest thing from a corporate money grab. We are INVESTING in the future of poker. Yes, these events are clearly more regional than global like the WSOP. We accept that. But for those that made the mostly long journey Down Under from other parts of the world, they will tell you they found a first-class facility, first-class operators, and tough, hard-fought competition.”
Ok…you win…I’ve changed my mind.
If you look at this from the viewpoint of Palansky and his team, then you have to say that the 2014 WSOP-APAC event was a success. I guess I need to widen my scope, and think bigger picture, rather than focusing on individual series.
So I can assume we will continue to see more events held in Australia and Europe?
“We do intend, like we announced previously, to be back in Europe for WSOP Europe in odd calendar years, thus 2015. In fact, we have a very exciting destination in mind and we’re hopeful we’ll be in position to announce something soon. It is a new spot we haven’t been before, and we think it stands the chance to be the most successful European version of WSOPE we’ve ever put on.
“As for APAC, we’re not sure the future. We will have to re-assess what 2016 will look like. Ultimately, we want to spread our reach into Asia and that was always the goal for the third iteration of this series. We have some time to sort that out and will take the time to do our due diligence and come up with the right answer.”
I can smell a trip to Barcelona brewing – but then again…what do I know?