Live tournament industry in U.S. has made great strides recently

live poker tournaments
Jon Sofen
Posted on: January 31, 2021 06:24 PST

The live poker tournament scene in the U.S. has greatly improved in recent weeks, and the future appears to be bright. If you need proof of that claim, just look at the recently completed World Poker Tour's Lucky Hearts Poker Open.

Ilyas Muradi took down the WPT event at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Not only did he win over $600,000 and earn a spot in the WPT Tournament of Champions later this year, he also booked his first ever live tournament score.

The event was the first major live poker tournament in the U.S. since March 2020 when the coronavirus struck. And the turnout proved that poker players are starved to get back into that tournament grind.

The WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, a $3,500 event, attracted 1,573 players. That same event last January had just 840 players, nearly a 100 percent turnout increase. And that is with face mask requirements in place and plexiglass dividers at the tables, precautions many players don't enjoy.

On an even more positive note, the World Poker Tour is slowly beginning to piece together a 2021 season, which is a sight for sore eyes for those who have grinded the monthly events for years. Starting March 5, the WPT Venetian in Las Vegas kicks off with a $5,000 Main Event.

The WPTDeepStacks tour is also hosting a big event at Venetian next month, a $1,650 buy-in Main Event that is expected to bring in hundreds of players.

What's going on in Las Vegas?

Las Vegas is indisputably the poker capital of the world. With more than 30 card rooms in town, including some of the juiciest tournaments you'll find, you can't beat the action in Sin City.

From March 16 until June 4, Las Vegas casinos closed down for the first time ever. And with that, the live poker scene completely died, all around the country. But it's been brought back to life and is slowly beginning to return to normalcy despite the virus continuing to spread like gangbusters.

On any given day in Las Vegas, you'll find 15-20 tournaments running at various casinos. That includes Wynn, Venetian, Caesars Palace, The Orleans, and South Point, among others.

Venetian and Wynn have recently hosted events that attracted thousands of players and paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What about the 2021 World Series of Poker?

Normally at this time of year, the World Series of Poker announces its summer schedule. That isn't the case in 2021 because, as it stands, no one, including the tournament operators, know if there will even be a summer series in Las Vegas.

Last year's WSOP was canceled due to COVID-19 for the first time in 51 years. It was replaced by an online bracelet series on and GGPoker. If Nevada's coronavirus restrictions don't loosen up over the next few months, you can forget about a summer WSOP in Las Vegas for a second consecutive year.

For those restrictions to loosen, which include business capacity limit lifts, it's likely Governor Steve Sisolak will require the virus spread to significantly decrease.

What's going to slow the spread of COVID-19? It appears at this point the only hope for that to happen is for Americans to get vaccinated. And, to a certain extend, those who live outside the U.S.

Morderna and Pfizer released vaccines to certain Americans (i.e. healthcare workers) in December. But the roll out certainly hasn't been smooth as the vaccine still isn't available to the general public, and may not be for months.

That could cause some serious issues for the World Series of Poker. The series runs each year beginning in late May until the middle of July. At this point, given how slow it's been to vaccinate Americans, the odds of a 2021 WSOP on time are declining by the day.

The World Series of Poker attracts a massive gathering to the Rio Convention Center. With the halls packed at just about every minute of the day during the summer, COVID-19 would certainly spread at an uncontrollable rate without a vaccinated population, even if everyone masked up.

What are the WSOP's options?

The WSOP is going to have some difficult decisions to make. They can either cancel the series altogether and tell everyone, "we'll see you next summer." Or, they can move the series online again or bump the live series back.

Canceling the WSOP altogether seems far-fetched. Last year was costly for the WSOP and its parent company Caesars Entertainment. Losing out on the millions of dollars in revenue they make each summer was a killer.

So, if there is no shot of a live series, you can rest assured the events will be played online. Obviously, at least part of the online series would be hosted on, which is only available in Nevada and New Jersey. Given that the WSOP and GGPoker now have a strong relationship, you can also bet on half or more of the series taking place on GGPoker, if a live series isn't feasible.

And then there's a third option, which also seems reasonable. That is to bump the series back to a month or possibly later in the year. There are some issues the WSOP will have to face if they go down this route, however.

If the event is pushed back a month and starts in late June, again, that may be too soon before the safety cutoff. And if the WSOP is bumped to the fall, they'll have a difficult time luring recreational players to Las Vegas. Most recreational poker players have families and can't travel as easily in the fall as they can in the summer.

So, unless the U.S. begins to quickly vaccinate a large portion of the population, the 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas will be in jeopardy.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that the live tournament scene nationwide is on the rise.

Featured image source: Twitter