Will the WSOP's expansion devalue winning a bracelet?

wsop poker bracelets
Jon Sofen
Posted on: April 29, 2021 09:13 PDT

Editor's note: This is an opinion piece by Poker.org author Jon Sofen. The views expressed here are entirely the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Poker.org or its staff.

The World Series of Poker is slowly turning into college football, another game I love, but that wasn't a compliment. Winning a gold bracelet has always been the crowning achievement of any poker player, especially the tournament grinders. But I'm concerned the WSOP's recent decisions will eventually devalue those accomplishments.

College football is truly a beautiful sport. It's tough to beat the excitement of a college football Saturday. The rivalries, the pageantry, the intense competition, the marching bands, and of course the legendary bowl games at the end of the season. Those things all make college football one of the most popular sports in the country.

Although I love college football, and bleed the black and gold of my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (go Hawks!), the sport isn't as great as it once was. And the reason for that, in my opinion, is the massive influx of bowl games. In 2019, the last full season due to COVID-19, there were 40 bowl games, meaning 80 teams out of 130 made the postseason, which is utterly ridiculous. Back in 2000, there were 25 bowl games, and in 1990, there were 19.

That's more than a 200% increase in bowl games over the past 20 years. What that's done is devalue making a bowl game for the teams that actually deserve to play in the postseason. And I'm concerned that's going to happen with the World Series of Poker eventually, and potentially in the next year or so.

WSOP headed in the same direction

In 2019, the last time the WSOP took place in Las Vegas, 89 gold bracelets were handed out, online and live, excluding the Europe series. In my opinion, from a fan's perspective, that's far too many. Just one year earlier, 78 bracelets were awarded, still a bit too many, I'd say, and that was up from the 74 in 2017 and 69 in 2016. I'm sure you're starting to see a pattern, which I'd consider a bit troubling.

In 2004, the first WSOP following the Chris Moneymaker poker boom, the series awarded 33 gold bracelets, 12 more than it did 10 years earlier.

I'm not counting the 85 online bracelets handed out last year because of the circumstances. The WSOP couldn't host a live series and didn't want to lose out on all the revenue they receive each summer. So, they went with a full online series, and I can't blame them for doing so.

But this year is a bit different. Although COVID-19 is still an issue and there won't be a live summer series in Las Vegas, there will be a fall series. That isn't stopping the WSOP from hosting 66 summer bracelet events between the GGPoker and WSOP.com poker sites. The full fall series schedule isn't out, but there will most certainly be at least 60 bracelet events scheduled, which means the 2021 World Series of Poker will award more than 120 total bracelets.

Going back to the college football bowl game analogy, this just seems excessive. The bowl games now have less meaning — some only have a few thousand fans in attendance these days. We're about to see the same thing happen to the World Series of Poker, which is a shame because the WSOP is the most prestigious poker event in the world.

It's a great accomplishment, but...

That's not to say winning a WSOP bracelet won't always be impressive. But if someone eventually catches Phil Hellmuth's record of 15 gold bracelets, we might have to put an asterisk by their name. Hellmuth was at the top of his game in the 1990s and early 2000s, back when there were far fewer opportunities to win a bracelet. If some younger player ends up catching his mark by playing 90 events each year, should that record even be counted?

I get it that the WSOP is a business. The more events they host each year, the more money Caesars Entertainment receives in rake. And there are also millions more poker players these days than compared to the 1990s and 1980s when the World Series of Poker was almost exclusively an event for the pros. But the WSOP could still avoid watering down the value of a gold bracelet. Plain and simple, 120 bracelets in one year is too many. Heck, 80 is probably a bit too many. Perhaps they could cap it at 70 or 75. That way they make their money and we avoid devaluing the bracelets in the process.

One other thing, there are far too many online events these days. Like I said, last year's online bracelet series was excusable. I might even be willing to give them a pass for the summer online series this year because they couldn't host a live summer series due to continued Nevada COVID-19 restrictions. But in 2019, before the pandemic, the WSOP hosted nine online bracelet events on WSOP.com, which I felt was about five too many.

The World Series of Poker was created in the 1970s as a live poker event. Yes, I'm aware the internet wasn't around back when Doyle Brunson and Johnny Moss were winning all the bracelets. But by spreading too many online bracelet events, you're getting away from the spirit of the World Series of Poker, which is to bring the top poker players in the world together in Las Vegas to test their skills against each other. Let's get back to doing that and avoid devaluing the crown jewel of poker, much like college football has done with bowl games.

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