Wynn Mystery Bounty success exposes WSOP whiff on concept

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 11/25/2021

With the 2021 World Series of Poker in the books, it’s fair to call the overall series a qualified success. Through 88 live bracelet events (plus 11 more online) and a plethora of secondary offerings, the WSOP weathered a large number of challenges. Most of those were pandemic-induced. Turnout was down overall, as was to be expected, perhaps in the 25-30% range when all factors are considered.

The WSOP also tried out a handful of new concepts and new events, as it does every year. Yet there was one concept that was set to debut at the 2020 WSOP — before last year’s series was cancelled. That concept was somehow left off the 2021 WSOP slate when the year’s replacement series was plotted out. The idea was a “mystery bounty” event, a type of tournament that has been a proven success at other venues.

The issue, however, was that in overloading the WSOP’s weekends with lower buy-in events featuring multiple flights, the WSOP left itself little room for other experimental formats. There were a few new offerings, but most of those were variations on an existing theme. And in opting out of offering a mystery-bounty event, the WSOP just might have left a bit of revenue on the table.

Rival Wynn series’ mystery bounty event another winner

Mystery bounty tourneys have proven successful almost everywhere they’ve been introduced. One recent example was the $1,600 Mystery Bounty event at what is emerging as the WSOP’s biggest rival, the recurring poker series at the Wynn. This mystery bounty event was one of the closing offerings in the Wynn Fall Classic series, which ran directly opposite the WSOP and pulled in large attendance numbers throughout.

The Wynn’s $1,600 Mystery Bounty led the way. With three starting flights and 2,573 total entries, it now ranks as the largest attendance for any poker tourney in Wynn history. 281 of those players returned for Day 2. The mystery bounties went into effect late on Day 1 when the field reached the money. The event was ultimately won by Evan Sandberg for $293,322, plus another $87,000 in collective mystery bounties for all the players he knocked out after the start of Day 2.

The three largest mystery bounties, of $100,000 each, went to Sergio Fernandez, JC Tran, and Hwany Lee. Lee was the only one of those players to make the event’s final table. Meanwhile, numerous players expressed their excitement over the event and fondness for the format, even if it does introduce some lottery element to a traditional format. The larger story is that a lot of players enjoy this format, and in the end, that’s what matters most.

WSOP’s skipping of the format remains unexplained

It’s difficult to understand exactly why the WSOP backed away from the mystery-bounty format in 2021 after being ready to embrace it in 2020. The format ranks with online poker’s progressive knockout (PKO) format as being one of the newest tournament wrinkles to capture players’ imagination. (Speaking of PKO formats, the Wynn will try one of those in December’s Winter Classic series.)

The reason behind the skip shouldn’t have been a labor or staffing issue, which emerged as an ongoing difficulty during the WSOP. Such an event might require one or two lower-level TDs to administer, but if it draws players in, it’s worth it. Mystery-bounty events can also be run at a higher price point than other events. The $1,600 entry for the Wynn event falls in line with the price points for mystery-bounty events at other venues.

As it’s often shown, though, the WSOP is its own special entity. It’s likely such a WSOP version of the tourney could be run at a significantly higher buy-in, say $3,000, and still draw a couple thousand entries. Such an event might also generate the sort of social-media buzz that’s often missing from WSOP events other than the Main Event, the PPC, and only a few others. That would be a win in several ways that the WSOP could surely use.

In any event, it won’t be long until we learn whether a mystery-bounty event might find its way onto the 2022 WSOP slate. With the series returning to its traditional early-summer slot, it’ll be only a few more weeks before early event details for the 2022 WSOP are released. From several different viewpoints, introducing a mystery-bounty event at the WSOP makes sense. We’ll see if it happens.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze