I refuse to face the fact that 2015 is almost over. I have too many unfinished lists for the current year, so I refuse to accept 2016. Refuse, I tell you!
However, for the sake of this article, I will make some predictions for poker in 2016.
Increase in Use of Shot Clocks
Many poker players and fans have been calling for the use of mandatory shot clocks in poker tournaments for years. Calling the clock on another player can put the caller into a sticky situation, but a mandatory time limitation for players to take action on a hand removes that risk.
The WSOP Main Event final table broadcast brought the topic to the forefront of social media discussions due to Zvi Stern. The Israeli member of the November Nine spent the first day of final table play tanking on nearly every hand for inordinate amounts of time, and everyone from players to fans, poker media to commentators weighed in.
Will there be a shot clock used during any tournament at the 2016 WSOP?— Kevin Mathers (@Kevmath) November 9, 2015
I predict the use of shot clocks at televised final tables will become more of a reality in 2016, with the WSOP Main Event using a shot clock on its November Nine players.
WPT Alpha8 to Officially Die
The World Poker Tour introduced Alpha8 Super High Roller tournaments in 2013. High-stakes players were clamoring for opportunities to play those types of elite events with $100K buy-ins. The first two seasons of Alpha8 events had four events each, but the number of players in the tournaments began to dwindle.
WPT Alpha8 is currently in its third season, but only one event is on the schedule. It will be held at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on December 18, just days after the start of the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the same casino.
While the December 2015 event will likely see a reasonable player turnout, subsequent events in 2016 for Season III will not. I predict one or two more stops for the season before cancelling any further Alpha8 events.
More Twitch Stars to Emerge
The rise in online poker stars using Twitch to livestream their tournaments and cash games was incredible in 2015. Stars like Jason Somerville and Jaime Staples took their games to new levels and increased their visibility to a point that many other players are trying to gain notoriety through the same route.
More players will use Twitch in 2016, and online poker sponsorships will reflect the growing trend. With Somerville setting the bar with both PokerStars and Twitch sponsorships, more players will follow.
WSOP Will Announce Changes
The 2016 World Series of Poker will announce its schedule in the coming months, and there will inevitably be some changes afoot.
I predict that Twitch will be used at the 2016 series to broadcast some action, develop a following, and reach new audiences. New sponsors will emerge for the summer events as DraftKings is no longer available, and there will be more advertising visibility from companies legalized in the US, like 888poker and PokerStars.
The WSOP Seniors Event will draw a record crowd in 2016, partially due to the presence of Neil Blumenfield and Pierre Neuville at the 2015 November Nine. High buy-in events will see lower numbers, however, due to an ever-tightening poker economy.
I also predict that 2016 will be the last year of the November Nine. I believe ESPN will stick with the WSOP but require that the Main Event play out in July.
Growth of Online Poker Liquidity
The past few years have seen online poker suffer at the hands of national laws in Europe and the United States. Countries like France, Italy, and Spain, among others, segregated their online poker tables from the rest of the world in order to generate more revenue through licensing and taxes. However, operators are suffering, and traffic is down in general across those segregated sites. Similarly, in the US, the few states that offer online poker are bringing in disappointingly low revenue and struggling to find new players.
I predict that several European countries will agree to share liquidity and join player pools together. And in the United States, New Jersey will finally sign online poker agreements with Nevada and Delaware to build their markets. And when Pennsylvania joins the select group of states, there will be a deal in the works for it to join the interstate partnership as well.