WPT: history of the iconic poker tour

Posted on: December 20, 2022 06:10 PST

Poker fans will be well aware of the WPT as it’s one of the most extensive tours in the business.

But what exactly is the World Poker Tour, and what are the main events on the WPT calendar? In this article, we run through everything you need to know about the WPT, providing you with a complete understanding of one of the biggest and most successful tours in the world of poker.

What is the WPT? 

The World Poker Tour (WPT) was founded in 2002 and is responsible for arranging and hosting a series of international poker tournaments at some of the most famous casinos in different parts of the world.

Some of the most significant events in the calendar make up the WPT Main Tour, consisting of a series of tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. One of the biggest of 2022 was the WPT World Championship at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

Players who win at any WPT main event become members of the WPT Champions Club, a prestigious achievement reserved for only the best poker players in the world. 

WPT: the business behind the poker 

While all poker players know the WPT is one of two prestigious poker brands (the other being the World Series of Poker (WSOP), less is known about its start in business.

In 2002, the WPT was launched by Steven Lipscomb, who served as CEO of WPT Enterprises before the business was bought for $12.3 million by PartyGaming in 2009. Two years later, PartyGaming merged with Bwin, shifting the business behind the WPT once again.

Then, in 2015, Bwin announced the sale of the WPT to Ourgame International Holdings for a cool $35 million in cash. This was significant, as it helped the WPT gain popularity in several markets in Asia, including China, Indonesia, Korea, Macau, Thailand, and the Philippines.

By 2021, WPT’s stock had increased, and Element Partners completed a $105 million takeover of the company.

WPT grows worldwide poker coverage

WPT tournament Pocket rockets Joe Giron/Poker.org

Many poker fans will know of the WPT thanks to its television coverage of glamourous poker tournaments.

Today, WPT broadcasts poker tournaments in more than 150 countries and territories. WPT airs on Fox Sports Regional Networks in the United States, and it has come a long way since the first ever season was shown on the Travel Channel in the Spring of 2003.

The Travel Channel was the home of WPT for its first five seasons before moving to its permanent home on Fox, following a brief stint on GSN.

The growth of worldwide interest in WPT events has recently seen executives strike deals with major broadcasters in different parts of the world. In the Spring of 2019, TV Azteca announced an agreement with the WPT to show the events live in Latin America, and British-based broadcaster BT Sport confirmed that they would be showing all WPT events in the UK & Ireland from 2019.

As a result of the recent growth of the WPT, it has become one of the world’s leading poker brands, second only to the WSOP.

The main events on the WPT calendar

In terms of the poker itself, WPT runs tournaments throughout the calendar. Some of the biggest and most popular events include: 

  • The Main Tour is open to all poker players and consists of individual events with buy-ins ranging from $3,500 to $20,000. 
  • The High Stakes WPT Tour is called Alpha8, with buy-ins starting at $100,000. 
  • The Low States WPT Tour is called the WPT500, with buy-ins starting at $500. 
  • The WPT Deepstacks consists of mid-range events, with buy-ins ranging from $50 to $2,500.

It’s best to think of the above as tours within a tour. Every WPT Tour has its events, which are held at different casinos around the world.

There are even several online tournaments. As is the case with all poker tournaments, the winners are declared at the end of each event and awarded a cash prize based on their final place. 

When a player wins a WPT event, they secure a place in the WPT Champions Club and have their name engraved on the WPT Champions Cup. Tour winners are invited to the WPT Tournament of Champions, the tour’s signature event. 

The WPT Tournament of Champions

WPT Daniel Negreanu Daniel Negreanu Joe Giron/Poker.org

WPT Main Tour Events run throughout the calendar year, culminating in the Tournament of Champions event, hosted in the Spring or Summer.

The eligibility requirements have changed over the years, as have the buy-ins. Initially, the Championship was open to anyone willing to pay the $25,000 buy-in, but this was reduced to $15,000 in 2015-16 due to declining participation numbers. Moreover, organisers changed the format, making it a closed tournament competed only by Main Tour Event winners. 

As a result of the decreased buy-in and the closed field, the WPT Tournament of Champions Winner plays for a prize of less than $500,000, as has been the case in the past few tournaments.

Considering that Carlos Mortensen won $3,970,415 in Season 5, you can see how dramatically the prize money has recently been reduced. For reference, Ole Schemion walked away with $440,395 after winning the WPT Tournament of Champions in Season 17.

WPT rankings: Player of the Year 

Although the WPT Tournament of Champions is regarded as one of the most prestigious poker tournaments in the world, the prize of WPT Player of the Year is even more coveted.

Rather than winning just one event, the WPT Player of the Year needs to rank well in tournaments throughout the season. The system enables players who finish for money to score points for every competition, providing a better representation of the most talented players on the WPT. 

The WPT points system is complex and based on a sliding scale, depending on the perceived difficulty of an event. For instance: 

  • For tournaments with a prize pool of $500,000 or less, the maximum number of points the winner can receive is 600. 
  • For tournaments with a prize pool of between $500,000 and $4,000,000, the winner can receive between 600 and 1,400 points. 
  • For tournaments with a prize pool of $4,000,000 or more, the winner earns up to 1,400 points.

As mentioned, if a player finishes for money in a WPT Main Tour Event, they accumulate points throughout the season. At the end of the season, the player with the highest number of points is named the WPT Player of the Year – the most coveted prize in the WPT.

The best WPT players of all time 

The nature of the World Poker Tour means that there are many winners every year, and it can be challenging to keep track of the prize money and achievements of the players on tour. That being said, some of the most notable winners in WPT history include:  

  • Gus Hansen has three World Poker Tour titles– the most in history.
  • Carlos Mortensen won the highest prize in WPT history - $3,970,415 in 2007. He also sits atop the all-time prize money list, with $6,738,672.
  • The highest-earning American in WPT history is Michael Mizrachi, with $5,135,734 in tournament winnings. He is third in the all-time list, behind only Mortensen and Canadian Daniel Negreanu.

Even the legendary Phil Ivey played on the WPT, competing in several significant events during his career. He won the WPT LA Poker Classic in 2008 and has since been named a WPT Ambassador.

Recap: everything you need to know about the WPT

The World Poker Tour is the second biggest poker tour in the world, behind only the World Series of Poker. WPT events run throughout the year and are broadcast to 150 countries worldwide.

The Tournament of Champions is the flagship event, but WPT players compete to be named the Player of the Year, reflecting their achievements at various tournaments throughout the year. If you want to keep up with the latest WPT action, you can tune into the tour on Fox Sports and never miss out.