High roller events in 2021 are drawing small fields

Jon Sofen
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Published: July 16, 2021 1:05 AM EDT

Cary Katz won the $100,000 buy-in PokerGO Cup series finale on Wednesday for $1,058,000, beating out a field of just 23 players. And it certainly wasn’t the first high roller this year that had a small field. In fact, low turnout in these events has been an issue since the pandemic.

Part of the problem is likely due to travel restrictions from Canada and European nations to the United States. As it stands, non-essential travel is restricted to the U.S. from Canada and Europe, two areas with a heavy dose of poker talent.

Pandemic travel restrictions

That’s not to say foreign players can’t make it to the U.S. to play poker. But some are put off by the pesky COVID-19 laws that require non-essential travelers from most countries must first spend two weeks quarantining in Mexico prior to arriving in the U.S.

With that said, there have been some international players in the high roller fields in 2021, including Stephen Chidwick, who is from the United Kingdom. But many of the tournaments simply aren’t attracting many players. Not only did the $100k PokerGO Cup finale have a tiny field, the $50,000 buy-in Event #7 the day before, won by Daniel Negreanu, only had 35 entries.

The PokerGO Cup had just 360 total entries over eight events for an average of 45 players per tournament. High rollers always have smaller player fields than low buy-in events because only a small portion of the poker community can afford to pay $25,000 and above to enter a poker tournament. But the player fields in the COVID-19 era have shrunk from an average of 45-50 per tournament down to 35-40.

Ali Imsirovic has eight high roller wins in 2021, which is an impressive accomplishment under any circumstances. But in three of those wins, he beat out a field of 30 or fewer players, including his first two against 14-player fields.

Negreanu finally got off the schneid on Tuesday with his first poker tournament win since 2013, a hard-to-believe stat. Although he got a monkey off his back, many poker fans on social media argued that the player field was so small — 35 entries — that it should barely count.

Cheaper events filling up

Despite the slight decrease in high roller turnout this year, the poker industry isn’t suffering. Lower stakes events are attracting record fields, including the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open earlier this year, a $3,500 buy-in South Florida major event that attracted 2,482 entries, a World Poker Tour record. The recently completed $5,000 buy-in WPT Venetian drew 1,199 players, making it one of the largest non-WSOP major tournaments in Las Vegas poker history.

Even more impressive, the $10,000 buy-in Wynn Millions, a $10 million guaranteed tournament at the Wynn in Las Vegas, had a whopping 1,328 players, far surpassing the lofty guarantee. But the tournaments in the U.S. priced at above $10,000 simply aren’t bringing in the players.

Featured image source: PokerGO app