How to make the 2021 WSOP work amid COVID-19 concerns

Jon Sofen
Published by:
Posted on 08/04/2021

The 2021 World Series of Poker is facing COVID-19 issues, but that doesn’t mean poker greatest annual event can’t be a success. It’s just potentially going to take a willingness to adapt from the WSOP staff.

In a perfect world, one where the pandemic is completely eradicated by September 30, when the 52nd annual WSOP is scheduled to begin. Should that happen, my suggestions in this article won’t be necessary. But the odds of the U.S. no longer facing coronavirus problems in less than two months is about as slim as Phil Hellmuth exciting a tournament without making a scene.

Hybrid version

The pandemic isn’t the only issue the World Series of Poker staff is facing right now in planning for the upcoming series. Finding enough poker dealers to cover the hundreds of poker tables at the Rio isn’t an easy process this year with the series taking place in the fall as opposed to its usual slot in the summer.

One way to fix that problem is to host a hybrid version of most events, much like the WSOP did last year with the Main Event, which began online at GGPoker and WSOP.com and finished up at the Rio with the final table in-person. They’d kill two birds with one stone going this route.

First off, they’d eliminate the dealer issue as there won’t be a need for as many dealers. And they’d also minimize the time players spend in a casino, which would help stop the spread of COVID-19. But I wouldn’t favor playing down to a final table online like in the Main Event last year. Instead, a better solution would be to play down to the money online and then finish up the tournament live at the Rio.

Doing so would limit the number of dealers the WSOP would need to hire without turning the series into another online bracelet series.

Scrap some events

The 2021 WSOP has 88 live bracelet events scheduled for September 30 to November 23. It is in the best interest of the poker community for the series to go on exactly as planned. But with the pandemic still causing problems around the world, that certainly isn’t a guarantee.

Should the WSOP staff oppose going the hybrid route for certain events, they may be interested in cutting out some tournaments, especially the low buy-in events that attract thousands of players, such as the $500 Reunion, a no-limit hold’em event that begins the opening weekend and guarantees a $5 million prize pool.

The larger buy-in events, outside of the $10,000 Main Event, bring in smaller fields. Many of the $10k’s only attract 100-200 players, which only requires the use of 30 or so poker tables on Day 1.

What about the biggest event of the series?

The 2019 World Series of Poker Main Event, won by Hossein Ensan for $10 million, had 8,569 entries, second most in tournament history (there were 8,773 players in 2006). Hosting an event that big if Nevada reimposes capacity restriction in casinos would be nearly impossible.

And it would be a crying shame if poker’s most prestigious annual event were to be canceled or forced online for the second straight year. But there is some hope should COVID-19 continue to be an issue over the next couple of months in Nevada. The Main Event doesn’t start until November 4, which means there is plenty of time for the Silver State to get its coronavirus problem under control.

If not, I’d prefer if the Main Event was canceled altogether instead of the WSOP hosting another hybrid version like they did last year when Damian Salas became the controversial world champion. They can go the hybrid route for most other events all they want, but in my opinion, no world champion is better than a hybrid world champion.

With all that said, let’s hope the series goes as planned and all 88 bracelet events run as scheduled.

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