Thousands of poker players are currently milling around the Rio in Las Vegas, as people from all over the world are in town for the yearly sojourn to the World Series of Poker.
Most of these players save up all year (some for multiple years) just to say that they took part in the biggest spectacle in the poker world, the Main Event. It’s not so much about the poker as it is about the experience.
But playing in the Main Event requires a major commitment that most people simply cannot make (nor do they want to), and I’m not just talking about the $10,000 entry fee. The real commitment is the amount of time one has to set aside to play a major poker tournament in 2014; which is utterly astounding.
A deep run in the Main Event means taking at least a week off from work, and close to two weeks depending on which starting flight you choose to play and just how deep a run you make: A player could conceivably play on Day 1a on July 5th, come back for Day 2a three days later on July 8th, and bust out on Day 3 (July 10th) without even making the money. A final table run would take you clear through to July 14th.
This isn’t simply a WSOP problem either.
Virtually every major tournament has multiple starting flights, but even if you schedule it so you play on the last starting flight you are still looking at four to five days of poker to reach the final table of a major tournament.
Money is obviously the biggest obstacle, but the time requirement certainly turns off many players as well.
Which is why the WPT500 at the Aria is such a breath of fresh air.
The WPT500 at the Aria
The tournament is a $500 buy-in event that features six starting flights, with the final starting flight played as a Turbo from 8:30 AM to 1 PM, at which time the survivors from the previous flights return and Day 2 of the tournament starts.
If a player was so inclined they could buy-in on Day 1f (the final starting flight) and play the entire tournament in a single day.
So how is it working out?
After four starting flights the tournament has already eclipsed its $1,000,000 guarantee. Showing that poker is not only alive and well at the Rio for players living out a once in a lifetime dream, poker pros, and others with a lot of disposable income, but also alive and well just across town at the Aria for players who simply love poker.
This is great news for poker and may wake some people up to the fact that the WSOP shouldn’t be used as the be all end all metric for poker’s popularity.
Tournaments like the WPT500 at the Aria are just what poker needs right now, as legal online poker is in its infancy and the pond has essentially been fished out.
An event like this can lure in completely green players (with its manageable $500 buy-in and the capability to enter and win the tournament in one or two days), but at the same time has a prize-pool and structure that will appeal to poker pros.
Poker Needs a THIRD Class of Tournaments
Over the past couple of years the tournament world has become increasingly polarized, divided up into two classes, both of which feature buy-ins far outside the casual players bankroll.
On the one hand you have major events with buy-ins of $3,500, $5,000 and in a few cases $10,000+. On the other hand you have mid-level tournaments with buy-ins of $1,500.
All of the tournaments with buy-ins measured in hundreds-of-dollars have become preliminary events of the above mentioned Main Events, and don’t have the same appeal as the larger and more prestigious Main Events.
But recreational players want to play in the Main Event (partly because this is what is marketed; some players may not even realize preliminary events exist) and not some $300 or $500 preliminary tournament, where the first place prize may be a low five-figure payday.
Recreational players want to know just what they’re playing for (in the case of the WPT500 this was made quite clear with its $1 million prize-pool guarantee and $200,000 first-place guarantee) to determine if it’s worth their while.
The WPT500 captures all of this.
It’s not inconceivable that an amateur player who is in Las Vegas for the week and stumbles into the Aria today will decide to take a $500 shot at winning $200k; this simply is not going to happen across town at the Rio, or during the Borgata Poker Open, or in a $500 WSOPC preliminary tournament where first place is $15,000.
This third class of main event tournaments is precisely what poker needs to bring the amateur players back into the mix; to lure in people who were headed to the blackjack pits with $500 in their pocket but decide to take a chance and see if they can get a full days worth of poker out of that money instead.
Not everyone has dreams of winning the WSOP Main Event, or even playing in it. Most of the poker players in my home game find the idea of plunking down $10,000 to play in a poker tournament abhorrent and a frivilous waste of money, even if they could conceivably turn it into millions. But $500 to win $200k? Yeah, that’s do-able.
And hey, isn’t that the guy from the WPT poker show over there?