WSOP announces COVID disqualification rules for 2021

Kat Martin
Published by:
Posted on 08/09/2021

There have been rumblings for weeks in the Las Vegas poker community that WSOP needed to give some clear guidance on how the 2021 series would handle COVID. When an announcement finally came, Twitter exploded:

“A first look at the 2021 Tournament Rules. Rule 115 is notable,” said Keven Mathers, in what may be the most understated poker tweet of the year.

To cut through the legalese and run-on sentences, here are the salient features of Rule 115.

First, WSOP can disqualify anyone from an ongoing WSOP event if they have reason to believe the player has COVID, or has come into contact with a COVID-positive individual.

Second, in the event of a player being disqualified from a tournament, WSOP may postpone and reschedule that tournament.

Within minutes of the announcement’s appearance on Twitter, Poker.org’s DMs blew up.

“WSOP will be complete disaster this year if it even runs,” wrote one Vegas-based player.

“One positive test will they DQ an entire table for ‘close proximity’? No refund?” asked another.

This second point illustrates why running a poker series is particularly challenging during a pandemic. The CDC defines “close contact” with a COVID-positive individual as within six feet for 15 minutes or more. The recommended response to such contact is 14 days self-isolation. When sitting at a poker table, an individual will satisfy this definition of close contact with most or all of the other players.

This may explain why WSOP explicitly states they have the right to postpone any event if a participant tests positive for COVID. If WSOP is to conform to CDC self-isolation guidelines, they basically have no choice. The only alternative would appear to be the disqualification of entire tables. That’s a devastating new twist to the traditional misfortune of getting a bad table draw.

There is, unfortunately, an even more likely scenario that could wipe out multiple events. Dealers at the WSOP frequently work a large number of downs during a shift. They also sit within six feet of all players, and handle the cards and chips. A positive COVID test (for a dealer) would necessarily lead to the postponement of any event for which she or he was scheduled.

While many on social media claimed Rule 115 doomed the 2021 WSOP, others raised an orthogonal point: With poker tournaments currently being played in Las Vegas and elsewhere in the country, why is WSOP being treated differently?

The poker tournament landscape in the U.S. is currently as varied as the response to COVID from different states. As reported by Poker.org, some series are taking place without any COVID measures being enforced, whereas others are being canceled because of the virus.

Rule 115 illustrates that it’s essentially impossible to run large, multi-day poker tournaments while conforming to CDC self-isolation guidelines. We are therefore forced to conclude that the 2021 WSOP, by virtue of its own rules, is now in serious jeopardy.

Featured image source: Twitter