Counterpoint: Las Vegas should host a live WSOP in 2020

Jon Sofen
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Posted on: March 16, 2021 6:00 pm EDT

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece by author Jon Sofen. The views expressed here are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of or its staff. journalist Jon Pill recently argued the 2021 WSOP in Las Vegas should be canceled for the second straight year. With all due respect to my colleague, I wholeheartedly disagree for numerous reasons, and I’m confident we’ll have a successful live series despite the challenges of making it happen.

There are selfish and logical reasons I believe this year’s World Series of Poker at the Rio should and can take place. Personally, last summer was a real bummer. As a member of the media, poker player and poker enthusiast, I eagerly await the start of the greatest event in poker each year.

Financially, I took quite a hit due to the canceled WSOP. There were no juicy cash games running in Las Vegas, and I missed out on some work opportunities. But I was in favor of the cancelation because this world was facing a dangerous global health pandemic and, at least here in the U.S., we really had no idea how to contain it and no vaccine was available at the time.

We’re still battling COVID-19 and I’m in no way downplaying the virus. There are millions dead around the world and many more who have become severely ill from the pandemic over the past year. But hope is on the horizon in the form of a majority vaccinated population and decreasing daily cases. And the World Series of Poker simply cannot afford to cancel its popular series for a second straight year.

Sure, they hosted an online bracelet series to replace what many call “summer camp” in Las Vegas. That was intriguing to some extent, but it just wasn’t the same thing.

Headed for a disaster

Since the 1970s, the World Series of Poker has been the premier poker event each year. Millionaires have been made, legends born (Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, just to name a few), and world champions crowned.

I am concerned with what might happen to the WSOP if it’s canceled two straight years. Does it just become an online series permanently? Does it lose its prestige? Will the poker community lose interest in the annual poker extravaganza? Those are all reasonable questions for which I don’t have an answer, but fear what could happen.

In 1994, MLB players went on strike during the middle of the baseball season. The remainder of the season and the World Series that year was canceled. After the strike ended into the 1995 season and the games resumed, attendance was down significantly the next few years. Fans lost interest in the game. Even to this day, nearly three decades later, baseball’s popularity isn’t what it was back then.

Casual poker fans follow the game through the WSOP on ESPN. If the series loses its relevancy, ESPN won’t continue airing it, and that will trickle down to a significant decrease in recreational players, which would then eventually destroy the game.

That may seem a bit excessive, and perhaps it is, but two years without a live WSOP could have some major ramifications on the series and the game of poker.

Brighter days ahead

The past year has been rough on everyone, all around the world. Millions have died, millions more have suffered, and people of all walks of life have changed the way in which they live. And, sadly, the pandemic still isn’t behind us and likely won’t be for quite some time, if ever.

But we’re through the toughest days, and millions have already been vaccinated. By May, President Joe Biden expects the vaccine to be available to all Americans, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, anticipates more than half of the country will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.

As more people get vaccinated, the spread of COVID-19 will continue to significantly decrease, and the virus will become less dangerous. That is the biggest reason that I believe the 2021 WSOP in Las Vegas absolutely should take place.

He makes a valid point

While I disagree with the overall premise of Pill’s recent op-ed, there is one point he makes in which I agree: the 2020 WSOP Online Bracelet Series was “overstuffed with cheap events” and the GGPoker version of the series was unplayable for most Americans.

“The WSOP Main Event’s prestige is an emperor that has always been rather scantily clad. One-off tournaments are crap-shoots. But we suspend disbelief each year in the name of pageantry,” Pill writes.

He’s correct in that the poker community overvalues the skills of a player who wins WSOP bracelets. Does anyone really think Phil Hellmuth is a great poker player?

But, as I mentioned earlier, the World Series of Poker is what attracts millions of casual fans to the game. If not for Chris Moneymaker’s Main Event title in 2003, poker wouldn’t be nearly as popular today as it is. The game likely never would have reached mainstream status.

The poker community needs the World Series of Poker. I need the WSOP each year because it brings so many wealthy fish to town and the cash games are juicy.

There won’t be a WSOP this summer, at least not during its normal June-July timeframe. Rumors are swirling that the series will be hosted in the fall. It won’t be the same as it was in the past, and there likely will be far fewer events than normal. But it will still be entertaining and the poker industry needs for it to happen.

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