Mona Shield Payne
Thursday, May 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Two years ago, the World Series of Poker naysayers were out in full effect.
Following the U.S. Justice Department shutting down the three most popular online poker sites to leave millions of dollars worth of players’ money unavailable, detractors argued the world’s most prestigious poker tournament wouldn’t be the same for the foreseeable future.
The WSOP responded emphatically, notching the two most successful years in the event’s 43-year history in terms of total entrants.
Based on Wednesday’s conference call to preview the 2013 WSOP, however, tournament officials’ biggest takeaway from the past two years was that 2011’s series outdrew 2012. The total number of players to enter an event two years ago was 75,672 compared with 74,766 last summer.
Slight as the gap may be, the WSOP is determined to get back to its upward trajectory with the 44th annual tournament, which begins May 29 at the Rio with the first of 62 bracelet events.
To reach the goal, officials spent their offseason focusing on one of the things that got the WSOP to its current level of popularity in the first place: making tweaks and changes in response to research and player feedback.
Click through below to find five new wrinkles that should give the 2013 WSOP a unique feel as players start to make their way into town over the next couple weeks.
Extravagant opening week
With the world-championship Main Event now annually scheduled as the final tournament of the summer, the WSOP always ends on a high note.
This year, it will also open with a spectacle. The WSOP brass front-loaded the schedule with several highly anticipated tournaments scheduled in the first five days.
The first day of the series will feature a $5,000 buy-in, eight-handed no-limit hold’em tournament that will attract a field of elite professionals. A $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament that starts Saturday should draw more casual players and guarantees the winner at least a $1 million prize.
“We have the first week for the no-limit warriors, for the specialty guys, for the high buy-in guys,” tournament director Jack Effel said. “There’s something for everybody.”
Effel expects the scene at the Rio to be in direct contrast to last year’s start, when relatively sparse crowds came out in the first few days. Looking back, he felt it was a mistake to hold the first two weekends concurrent with Memorial Day and the Electric Daisy Carnival, when hotel rates were at their highest.
Increased exposure, stakes for daily tournaments
Just as many people participated in the smaller buy-in daily tournaments at the Rio as the official bracelet events during last year’s WSOP.
The $235, $185 and $135 buy-in tournaments that ran every day during the series brought in more than 72,000 players, according to Effel.
“I think the players have really come to enjoy playing in those daily deepstacks every day at the Rio,” Effel said.
There’s more incentive to get into the daily tournaments this year. Bluff Magazine will track the cumulative results and the most successful player will earn a $10,000 buy-in to the Main Event.
The WSOP is also introducing a set of tournaments that falls somewhere in between the daily deepstacks and bracelet events with the Carnivale of Poker. The revitalized series, which originally was around in the late 1990s, will feature 21 events predominantly on Monday and Tuesday nights with an average $500 buy-in.
Champions of Carnivale tournaments will earn specially crafted gold and diamond medallions. The top 10 cumulative performers will split $100,000 worth of bonus money.
More significance for Player of the Year race
When the WSOP introduced a Player of the Year award nine years ago, it never expected the honor to morph into such a meaningful part of the series.
Now, players and fans grant the award as much attention as who ultimately emerges as the world champion. The WSOP has grappled with the reward for the Player of the Year in the past, switching between gifts, money and entries into future tournaments.
In 2013, it’s seemingly put all of that together to present a collection of lucrative gifts.
“The World Series of Poker Player of the Year will get not only a shiny, new trophy to be unveiled at the final table in November but a formal prize, entries into the WSOP Vegas Main Event, WSOP Europe Main Event and WSOP APAC Main Event courtesy of Bluff Magazine,” WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said.
The 2012 WSOP marked the first time the same player won both the Main Event and the Player of the Year, as Greg Merson accomplished the rare feat. With WSOP Asia-Pacific already completed heading into the summer, the race is already underway.
Daniel Negreanu, the third-leading tournament earner of all time with $17.8 million in winnings, sits in the lead. Negreanu could become the first-ever two-time winner, as he snagged the award in 2004, the first year it was unveiled.
Hole cards exposed on live streams of final tables
Watching televised poker with the cards concealed is about as dull as viewing a coin-toss competition or the middle stages of a marathon.
Luckily, fans will no longer have to worry about that with the 2013 WSOP. For the first time in history, the WSOP plans to reveal hole cards of any player who enters the action on its daily live Internet streams of final tables pending approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
The final tables will air on a 30-minute delay to accommodate the change.
“You’ll receive a greatly enhanced production,” Stewart said.
Showing the hole cards will carry over to ESPN’s live coverage of the Main Event final table in November.
Ceremonies will include one for Chris Moneymaker
“The Moneymaker Effect” turns 10 this year. The WSOP plans to celebrate accordingly.
Memphis amateur Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP Main Event victory is credited as the moment when poker crossed over into the mainstream and became a global phenomenon.
To put the game’s growth into perspective, consider Moneymaker earned $2.5 million for his victory a decade ago. The winner has taken home an average of $8.8 million in the years since.
Don’t feel sorry for Moneymaker, though. He continues to get rewarded for his breakthrough and will once again with some sort of observance at the 2013 WSOP.
“We all owe him a great debt, as he’s been an outstanding ambassador for poker and really embodies the growth that we see continue,” Stewart said.
The WSOP has held daily ceremonies for bracelet winners in recent years. Those will continue, but Moneymaker’s will be something more special and likely will be on the first day of the Main Event.