Brad Willis: Poker's greatest winter is coming and all roads lead to the WPT World Championship

Brad Willis
Posted on: October 06, 2023 06:45 PDT

My son is on his way home from college for fall break. I’ve been watching playoff baseball all week. And against all odds, the Missouri Tiger football team is (at least until tomorrow) 5-0 for the first time in a decade (NB: they are still 6.5-point dogs against the Tigers of LSU, so bet responsibly, kids). The spread aside, the point is this: it’s undoubtedly autumn. So, why am I spending hours every day thinking about winter poker travel?

Vegas, baby. 

To be sure, the months of November and December are looking like months I might have created with AI and the prompt: “Create Brad’s ideal Vegas winter.” From PokerStars rebooting the NAPT in Vegas, to F1 racing down The Strip, to the WSOP getting the hell out of Dodge and putting down some roots down in the Bahamas, to the WPT $40 million guaranteed World Championship, it’s conceivable I could justify leaving my house on the first of November and then returning just in time to celebrate Christmas with my family. 

Alas, I’m a man. I’m 40 nearly 50, and I can’t really justify leaving my wife to look after the homestead while I galavant for two months with people who make the kinds of decisions that would probably only end one way for me

Never enter a land war in Asia

It’s the cleverest of programming and counter-programming that’s put me in this situation. If any one of the three events stood on their own, I’d likely go to any of the three. But the non-stop nature of November and December forces my squirrely brain up a really confusing decision tree if I’m going to avoid the classic blunders of responsible suburban dads. 

I’ve never been to an F1 race, and the prospect of watching from a balcony on the Strip is nearly a “ shut up and take my money” scenario for me. What’s more, I’d get to see all my old friends from PokerStars on the NAPT (hi, guys!). 

If I were to head to the WSOP Paradise event, it would also be a little bit like Old Home Week, because I’ve spent approximately 30 weeks of my life in Atlantis. I know exactly where to go for the best $40 chicken sandwich and how to make ramen noodles with the hotel room coffee machines when you can’t afford a $40 chicken sandwich anymore. I’m on a first-name basis with several families of bartenders there, and if I’d stayed a couple more weeks, I think I was due to earn having a drink named after me (or a set of steak knives). 


And then there is…well, let’s just call it what it is: a $40 million guaranteed poker tournament at one of the finest hotel/casinos in Las Vegas…the event that last year briefly made me think my critical brain was already starting to fail me…the WPT World Championship.

Choose your own poker adventure

For some people, this winter might not even require a choice. Maybe they’ve got a sweet F1 hookup, a penchant for PokerStars, access to a private jet or very fast boat, and three or four bullets to fire at that $40 million. There exists a Venn diagram that would have somebody in all those circles. I’m not that guy.

In the most literal and direct terms, the most important thing for me and PokerOrg is making sure we offer the appropriate amount of coverage to all of those events. They’re all important poker news stories, so we’re covering them all the level of coverage they deserve. But my current life circumstances will force to me to choose no more than two and maybe only one of the big events this winter. 

So, if it happens that I can only pick one, what do I do?

It becomes a matter of where I need to be the most and where I want to be the most. I’m lucky in that the answer to both of those things is the same. I both need and want to be at the WPT World Championship at the Wynn in December.

Follow the money…to the Wynn

If I were a baseball website Editor-In-Chief and planning my October, I’d have a lot of choices. I could travel around to local colleges and fall showcase tournaments to look for the next great draft prospects. I could set up shop out west for the Arizona Fall League and get a first look at how the 2023 draft class is performing in their first professional games. Or, I could cover Major League Baseball’s postseason and World Series. My job would be to ask myself, “Where is the biggest story in poker happening this month?” and the answer would be very clear. 

I could run this metaphor for all the subjects that interest me, and the answer will usually be as clear as it is now. If I’m going to go where the biggest story is likely to be, the smart money is on the biggest money, and last I checked, $40 million is a lot of cash.

Over the course of my life, my useless talents have far outnumbered my abilities that have any real utility. I’m pretty good at throwing lime wedges into distant trash cans. I’m relatively useless at making meaningful predictions about human behavior. So, while I’d be inclined to bet that the people, names, and stories are going to be bigger at the Wynn, and if I’m doing my job right, that’s where I need to be looking for stories.

But, there is also the matter of what I want to do. I’ve not been successful enough in my life to always pick the thing I want, but if it were strictly a matter of want, I’d still choose going to the Wynn for reasons too numerous to mention without either offending the wrong people or giving you a little too much insight into Brad’s Selfish Brain. But there are some things worth noting. 

The World Poker Tour difference

I felt an energy at the WPT World Championship last year that I’d not felt at a poker tournament for a very long time. The most recent example of that kind of energy for me was the first PSPC back in 2019. Before that? Probably the 2005 and 2006 WSOP Main Events.

WPT 2023 WPT World Championship Joe Giron/

Last year at the Wynn, there was an electric buzz every day. People were–I kid you not–smiling and laughing at a poker tournament. Doyle Brunson–may he rake every chip at St. Peter’s Friday Night Cash game–showed up to give it his official seal of approval. The WPT staff did everything it could to make me–a guy working for what was then a very small start-up–as welcome as it made the players feel. It was just a pleasure to be there.

Beyond that, I’ve had several opportunities to interact with the WPT staff over the past year, and I offer this as an opinion that is as close to an objective fact as it gets: the culture at the WPT is just different. From CEO Adam Pliska all the way down through the ranks, there is something about the way the company operates that reminds me so much of my early days at PokerStars–a family atmosphere where great care is put into making the customer happy first. (No surprise, of course, that the WPT inducted PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg into its WPT Honors earlier this year.)

So, indeed, you will see coverage of all the big poker events this winter on PokerOrg. But, if I can be in only one place, you’ll find somewhere within shouting distance of the Mike Sexton Champions Cup.

Some choices just make themselves, you know?

Mike Sexton Champions Cup Mike Sexton Champions Cup