As the World Series of Poker continues to expand to new locations and into new events, questions begin to get raised about what should actually count as a bracelet. Some people think that any closed event shouldn’t award a bracelet, some people think that any event outside of the United States shouldn’t, and there are other players who don’t care either way because they are fine with it, or they think a bracelet is worthless in the first place. Phil Hellmuth has a few opinions on the matter as well, and in an interview said that he is going to put together a council to decide what events should count as bracelet events and which ones should not.
It’s unclear if the WSOP wants Hellmuth to be doing this, and even if he does, there are even fewer guarantees that it will actually matter. The WSOP should actually discourage this because he is popular enough and loud enough to make his opinion heard and even if it isn’t, what the WSOP agrees with, recreational players might think is what the WSOP thinks. Before we get too far into it, though, it’s important to note we still don’t know for sure what he thinks and considering many players he might have on his panel have bracelets from Europe and Australia, it could actually be more inclusive than most think. We will have to wait and see.
The reason that this issue even comes up is that many events this year have had really small fields at the WSOP Europe. This was kicked off with the Ladies Event having one of the smallest fields in recent memory, but not really improved on during the next No-Limit Hold’em event that had barely over 100 players. When you combine this with the rather small events in Australia, it means that many people fear that the bracelet is becoming cheapened. The interesting thing is that it’s not unknowns who are winning the small events at a high rate, but good players have captured bracelets as well, such as Phil Ivey, who won an 8-game mix event during the WSOP APAC with less than 100 runners.
The question of how to fix this, and even if it needs fixing, is a pretty interesting and dynamic question. Some think that there should be a formula that takes into account buy-in, number of players, skill distribution, and some other variables that change the tournament dynamics, and some feel the value of the bracelet won as a result of them. The issue here is some of these are kind of arbitrary such as skill distribution, which has a lot of different issues that leave far too much up for debate.
The other side of this argument also delves into the history of the WSOP. For many years the WSOP Main Event, and to an even greater extent, were small events that had interesting wrinkles in the rules that make people value them less. Even the smallest tournaments today are bigger than the Main Event was in its early years and are far bigger than a lot of preliminary events even up through the 1990s. This history should be taken into consideration because those bracelets are not disputed that often, and as a result, starting to question bracelets now when the players are better than they have ever been seems really inconsistent.
Regardless of how you feel about the value of a bracelet and what you think about the WSOP expanding and diluting field sizes by going to harder to reach locations, the bracelets represent winning a WSOP event no matter the location. Further, it’s important to remember that the bracelet always has been and always will be a marketing tool. Much like a trophy, championship ring, or medal, there is serious value to the WSOP and Caesars to have as many bracelet winners as possible to get recreational players feeling better about themselves. It’s a reality of poker; marketing helps the game grow and get more people interested and companies are not going to start randomly deciding which bracelets matter more and which ones matter less. This won’t stop people from discussing it on the forums, though, nor should it.