When the 51st annual World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas was cancelled earlier this year, we were promised that poker players would still be able to compete for bracelets online this summer. A more complete picture of how that will work in practice has now emerged, receiving mixed reactions from the poker community.
WSOP has announced 85 bracelet events, kicking off on July 1st with a $500 buy-in NLHE tournament. Rather confusingly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, the official WSOP schedule only lists 83 events, split between WSOP.com and GGPoker. This is an unusual compromise, allowing part of the series to be contended only by individuals located in Nevada and New Jersey, with the remainder being inaccessible to anyone within the US. WSOP has also retained the option to hold a live addition to these events in Las Vegas later in the year.
Poker players as a group tend to agree that some action is always preferable to no action, but various concerns have been raised about this unique event. Let’s start by treating the glass as half full before examining some of those reservations.
Big Online MTT Series: A Known Commodity
First, huge-field, online MTT series are well established. More people have played in PokerStars’ WCOOP/SCOOP events than have participated in the combined tournaments in the half-century history of the WSOP. US-based tournament pros routinely relocate temporarily to Canada or elsewhere to play in these online series. The fact that the online WSOP events will offer bracelets, as well as the large prize pools that tend to accompany such tournaments, may even encourage recreational players to visit Vegas to take part in some of the events.
The buy-ins are certainly low enough that players who have come out in recent years to play tournaments such as the Colossus, or events in the series held at other major Vegas casinos, would be able to use their usual budget to compete in multiple online events.
More tangentially, placing the self-proclaimed pinnacle of the poker tournament year in the online realm draws attention to online poker, and the current restrictions placed upon it in the US. Some have suggested this may act as a kick in the backside of regulation in other states and possibly federally. Frankly, we suspect with everything else that is going on, this take may be optimistic.
So why are their voices of concern and dissent in the poker community?
What’s A WSOP Bracelet Worth?
The most basic and easiest to dismiss is simply that the WSOP has always been a live event and should remain so. It’s certainly the case that the grueling multi-day events of the traditional WSOP are a test of stamina as much as poker skill, and as such an online tournament lasting a few hours is a poor facsimile. But short of compelling players to chill their computer rooms to 58F and not allowing them to act for at least thirty seconds on each decision, it’s difficult to see how that issue can be corrected. There’s a pandemic going on. A little latitude seems in order.
Next we have the devaluing of WSOP bracelets. This mirrors earlier complaints that extending bracelet events to series outside of Vegas was also cheapening the jewelry. Again, part of this appears to be coming from those who maintain “online poker isn’t real poker”, whereas a more quantitative complaint is that with buy-ins as low as $400, these simply don’t feel like true WSOP bracelet events.
We decided the best way to get a take on this topic was to ask someone who actually has one. Creator of our MTT course Chris “Fox” Wallace had this to say:
No, I don’t think it hurts it [the value of the bracelet] at all. I’ve never been big on the prestige anyway, they’ve given out over a thousand of them. And I can’t imagine caring about the opinion of anyone who would say “man, your bracelet doesn’t mean anything anymore now that people will win them online in 2020.”
To look at this from the other end of the half-century history, when Doyle Brunson won his first Main Event title in 1976, there were 22 entrants. Times change.
The schedule has also come in for criticism, despite the fact none of the details, beyond dates, of the GGPoker leg of the series are available at the time of writing.
One oddity which seems completely unnecessary and almost designed to antagonize the community, is the fact that events on the two platforms overlap. WSOP.com tournaments run through the championship event on July 31st. By this time, there will already have been fifteen bracelet events on GGPoker, where the series starts on July 17th. One could make the case that it has always been impossible to play all the events in a single live WSOP series, since many overlap. However, given that online players routinely multi-table tournaments, the decision to make it physically impossible to play a complete schedule seems strange at best.
An additional complaint is that all of the events are either hold’em or some variant of Omaha. This is a major departure from the land-based version of the series, where mixed games have become increasingly popular and prestigious in recent years. Such games are also featured heavily in the big series held by better-established online sites. The reason for the omission? Neither WSOP.com nor GGPoker have the software to support those games. To those who are devotees of non-flop poker variants, this all looks a bit Mickey Mouse for the highlight of the poker tournament year.
Is Online Poker Safe?
When the news of the “twin series” was released and discussed at RCP HQ, the first reaction to GGPoker was “who dat?” While it’s completely understandable why WSOP.com would not wish to partner with a more familiar international online site, some concerns have been raised about the suitability of GGPoker. Notably, the site has taken the alleged “recreational-friendly” approach of banning HUDs, thereby making saving hand histories virtually impossible.
This comes at a time when the online community is becoming increasingly concerned about the use of real time assistance (RTA) software. There is mounting evidence that teams are using GTO solvers in real time to make decisions in online tournaments. This is much harder for players to monitor on sites where hand histories cannot be dumped to their home databases.
Related to this, recent poker news includes ringers on poker apps playing high-stakes cash games. While the benefits of a world-class player using an unknown account are lessened in tournaments, it does raise the usual specter of who you’re actually playing against in these things.
The large, established sites take some measures to keep games clean, but is there really any way of stopping an unscrupulous pro from bankrolling a team of players, then taking the controls of the horse who gets deepest in a given tournament? We recognize this is a potential issue for any online series, but if the online WSOP attracts bigger prize pools than those to which these sites are accustomed, and thus provides a bigger motivation for cheaters, are they equipped to deal with it?
Let us know what you think.