After an outstanding two weeks of poker in southern Florida, the World Poker Tour’s stay at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood ended with a bit of a thud. The Monster WPT Tournament of Champions was supposed to be the star-studded capper for the Season XIV schedule, featuring the tournament champions from the current season and those who had previously won WPT tournaments squaring off for a “there can be only one” style event. While it was nice to see some of these combatants on the felt – and especially in the highly competitive arena that it was – the Tournament of Champions overall fell flat. There are some ways to correct that, however.
First, a bit of history. The WPT traditionally finished their tournament schedules prior to 2016 with the WPT World Championship. When it began, it was a splashy $25,000 buy-in event at one of the palaces of gambling in Las Vegas, the Bellagio, and for years the tournament was puffed with the flush of cash in the poker world. Through 2007, when former World Champion Carlos Mortensen defeated the largest field ever of 639 players to win nearly $4 million, the WPT World Championship became synonymous with poker greatness, almost as important as the World Series of Poker’s Championship Event and considered amongst the “majors” of the poker tournament circuit (arguably consisting of the WSOP Championship Event, the WPT World Championship, the European Poker Tour’s Grand Final and either the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure or the Aussie Millions).
After that glorious year, however, the WPT World Championship fell on hard times. By 2013, attendance at the tournament had plummeted to 146 players, more than likely due to increased competition from the EPT and the WPT World Championship’s proximity to the start of the WSOP (a $25,000 buy-in isn’t anything to sneeze at either). As such, in 2014 the honchos of the WPT decided to move the WPT World Championship to Atlantic City, NJ, and the Borgata and also dropped the buy in to $15,000. That pushed the numbers up briefly (328 in 2014), but the total dropped by almost a third in 2015 to 239 players.
With these statistics facing them, the WPT felt that there was something that needed to be done. Their answer was the WPT Tournament of Champions and, at first look, it was something that might work. A tournament comprised of players that the poker fandom knows, battling it out for not only a prize pool the players created but also extra prizes provided by sponsors (including a 2016 Chevy Corvette provided by tournament sponsor Monster Headphones) in one of the up-and-coming poker hotspots in the United States. For some reason, though, it just didn’t take off.
When only 59 players were on the tables at the start of the tournament on Friday, WPT officials had to be a bit concerned and, by the time late registration ended, a grand total of 64 players came out for the tournament. Considering that 20 of those players were bought in from winning during the Season XIV schedule, that means that only 44 other men decided it was worth their time to take on the challenge of the WPT Tournament of Champions. With no insult to his poker acumen, the event’s eventual victor, reigning WPT Amsterdam champion Farid Yachou (who came through one of the smaller events on the Season XIV schedule to make it to this tournament), only had to go through a 64 player field to become the “Champion of champions.”
Clearly, something’s got to change again for the WPT season-ender. Here’s a few suggestions that might improve the turnout for future (?) WPT Tournament of Champions events.
Make it a True Invitational
The idea behind a “Tournament of Champions” is that the champions all have earned the right to be there. For the purposes of the WPT, only the 20 winners during Season XIV got in without paying and that was only because the $15,000 buy-in was already deducted from the prize pool of whichever WPT event they won. The other WPT champions all had to pony up the ducats to take part in the tournament.
How about an event where the champions put up nothing? The WPT has built up a very nice array of sponsorships that all associate with the organization…why couldn’t they all put up $100,000 and create a prize pool for a “Tournament of Champions” free of any player monies? By having a true invitational, then you’ve given the former champions a reason to come out – free money (except for travel and lodging, of course) – and you might have a larger field than the 64 players who showed up this year.
Make it a Hybrid
Instead of trashing one for the other (the WPT World Championship for the WPT Tournament of Champions), how about making a hybrid of the event? The winners during the season on the WPT already have their buy-in provided for the season ender (whatever it’s called) but, under our new hybrid WPT World Championship (yeah, think we’ll stick with that name), the former WPT champions would get in for half of whatever the buy-in is of the event (for example, if it is $20K, they get in for $10,000). These former champions also get comped rooms at the venue and provided with dining and transportation for the duration of that particular event, an additional perk for being a past champion.
If there are players that haven’t won a WPT event that want to take part in the WPT World Championship, then they have to pay a $20,000 entry fee (let’s split the difference between the past and the present) to participate. With a buy-in of that level, the quality of player would certainly be high and would only add to the prestige of the field. Sure, you could have a satellite player work their way to the title, but that’s part of the charm of the tournament poker world – the amateur overcoming all odds to defeat the best in the world to become “World Champion” (or have we all forgotten Moneymaker that quickly?).
Make it Disappear
There are sometimes that you have to admit that you made a mistake and just let something disappear into the woodwork. With the WPT Tournament of Champions experiment for 2016, that may just be the best thing to do. With the potential for 226 former champions to come out, only 64 showed up. Whether it is the scheduling issues (the EPT Grand Final is kicking off this week) or the factor that some of the former champions on the WPT aren’t exactly tremendously active tournament professionals anymore (Doyle Brunson, Dan Harrington, Mel Judah, etc.), the fact that only about 28% of the eligible players decided it was worth showing up for should be a key indicator that it isn’t a good idea.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting this mistake. Go back to the way you did it previously – the WPT World Championship is still a major poker tournament – just figure out a location, a buy-in and KEEP IT THERE. If Benny Binion had screwed around with the WSOP Championship Event 10 years into its existence, do you think it would have become as big as it did? It’s an interesting argument to consider.
It’s going to be a while before we see what the WPT decides to do with the Tournament of Champions. But anything has to be better than the 64-player mini-event that masqueraded as a “major” tournament.