What went wrong with the 2021 WPT in Tampa and Cabo?

Jon Pill
Posted on: June 23, 2021 10:52 PDT

This was a big week for the World Poker Tour. The company launched two brand new events over the weekend.

The first-ever WPT Tampa garnered a respectable 1,165 entries. Three of the six TV final table players had previous WPT titles. But you won't be able to watch that final table online. Since the final table didn't sport hole cams, it's highly unlikely the WPT Tampa will make it to TV broadcast either.

At the same time that the WPT Tampa was launching, the WPT Heads Up Championship was underway.

That event saw Phil Ivey return to serious poker and ultimately go on to win the event in a final against Patrik Antonius.

Despite the big names, the heads up event was massively underserved by the WPT production team too.

What went wrong with Ivey v. Antonius?

It was a match-up between two of the best players in the world. Yet the broadcast setup was more fitting for Spraggy's front room Twitch-chess than a WPT broadcast.

The WPT shipped thirty big names (and a pair of online qualifiers) down to Cabo. They put them up in a beachside hotel. There was $800,000 in the pot, and a $25,000 buy-in. But the player's camera set up in each case was a Macbook with a webcam.

The cameras were perched on cardboard boxes to get the height right. In one match, one player's camera was switched to black and white for the entire match. In another match, there was tablet trouble, so the player had to use their own phone. The commentary booth was packed with great presenters, but the audio kept cutting in and out as the hotel WiFi stuttered.

Players were folded into tiny hotel chairs while they played.

What went wrong with these two high-profile events? Where was the production value that the WPT usually has in spades.

Why can't I watch the WPT Tampa?

Hopefully, these decisions are reflective of the current times. The post-pandemic chaos, new partners, and the prospect of new owners all may be a factor in the week's outcomes.

The WPT is likely to sell soon, which may have affected its ability to plan long term. Given the varied poker alliances involved in the sale, the WPT may just not have been able to book a set in advance for the Tampa event.

But the most likely explanation is simply that the WPT team didn't anticipate the success of these events. The WPT Tampa is a new event at a relatively small location. The team couldn't have anticipated that the final table would see three previous champs duking it out.

Similarly, the Heads Up event is new. The online-only format makes televising it hard, as does the problem of shooting in Mexico while a pandemic is on. Besides, who could have predicted how big the final line up would be. There were only a few other possible combos that could have come close the star power of Antonius v. Ivey.

There was a lot in play over the weekend, both on and off the felt. Hopefully, the hiccups are all temporary. It would be a shame if this dual-shambles turned out to be indicative of deeper troubles at one of the cornerstones of the poker media.

WPT fans react

The poker world noticed the problems and took to Twitter.

Joey Ingram tweeted a picture of Patrik Antonius with his legs hooked up under one of these uncomfortable-looking hotel chairs. He captioned the picture: "Patrik Antonius moves on to the finals of the $25k WPT HUNL championship to face Phil Ivey tomorrow for the title."

The top response to the photo was about the odd set up.

"So much to ask in this photo," wrote Mark Parris. "What is going on with the tablet stand + the laptop (on top of a box!)?"

He wasn't the only player to comment on the WPT's unusual choices this week. When the WPT tweeted about the WPT Tampa final table, they were hit by dozens of people asking about the event's coverage.

"Unfortunate for no live stream. I've been following closely the last 2 days," was one typical response from @racingfan_wx.

Other's were baffled by the fact that the final table was going down with so little fanfare.

Responding to a video of the final table being set up in a roped-off area of the poker room, one player wrote:

"We couldn’t give these guys a better setup for a main tour final table? Tampa rolled out the red carpet for Deepstacks final tables in the past. Put these guys in the cafe at least or something."

The WPT has been contacted for comment, but as yet have not responded.

Featured image source: Twitter