As we barrel down the homestretch towards the start of the 2012 WSOP, it’s time for everyone’s favorite game — predicting the turnout for this year’s WSOP.
The game has gotten a lot more interesting over the last year with Black Friday and the US government’s crane kick to the face of Full Tilt and PokerStars in April 2011.
Not only did those two sites send a crapload of online qualifiers to the WSOP each year but more importantly they were a vital part in the whole fish > shark > Howard Lederer’s secret Panamanian bank account ecosystem that kept the poker world humming along.
Pretty much everyone expected a dismal turnout for the 2011 WSOP, what with hundreds of millions of dollars in bankrolls tied up at Full Tilt and inaccessible and much more limited ways for players in the US and the world as a whole to do the Moneymaker thing and ship an online satty to play their way to the WSOP.
But a very curious thing happened on the way to the Rio. Attendance wasn’t disappointing at all. Strictly by the numbers, it was actually very good, with a record amount of prize money awarded ($191,999,010) and a record 75,672 entries across the 58 events that were held.
Some doom and gloomers tried to stick to their pessimistic guns, saying “Well, prelim events are pulling good fields but it’s a last gasp attempt at glory, and numbers for the Main will be way down as no one will be able to scrape up the $10K entry” but that didn’t pan out either, as the Main Event drew a very healthy 6,865 entries, making it the third largest field for the Main ever.
So what does all of that mean for the 2012 WSOP? Will we see another big turnout or will the effect of Black Friday be a delayed one, with the effects really felt a year later after a lot of the excess cash in the poker world has been wrung out by a long, dry year with Full Tilt still unable to refund a single solitary dime of player funds held hostage?
Our prediction? About the same as 2011, maybe a little down.
If you look at the turnout for the EPT and WPT (as well as some of the smaller series in Europe such as the UKIPT, GSOP, GUKPT, and Genting events) it’s hard to find much evidence that that the poker world is suffering at the moment or that money is cycling out and not being replaced.
EPT turnout mostly held steady as and while the WPT had some stinkers (cough, WPT Venice, cough) across the board there hasn’t been a huge decline in attendance for events that you can compare apples-to-apples from year to year.
If you are a venti half-empty sort of person, the poor turnout for the $25K WPT Championship that’s currently playing out at the Bellagio could be reason for pause, as 2012 attendance was just 152 players, way off the 2011 mark of 220 runners.
That’s a little worrying, especially if you look at the trend for attendance in WPT events in 2012 and compare events that generally line up as far as location, buy-in, and calendar date:
2011 WPT Venice: 523 entries
2012 WPT Venice: 155 entries
2011 LA Poker Classic: 681 entries
2012 LA Poker Classic: 549 entries
2011 WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star: 415 entries
2012 WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star: 364 entries
2011 WPT Vienna: 555 entries
2012 WPT Vienna: 396 entries
2011 Seminole Hard Rock Showdown: 433 entries
2012 Seminole Hard Rock Showdown: 290 entries
2011 WPT Championship: 220 entries
2012 WPT Championship: 152 entries
That’s fairly dismal (although terrible weather and another WPT event held just a few months earlier in Venice explain away a little of the terrible turnout for the 2012 WPT Venice event) and would likely be a harbinger of lower WSOP turnouts, if viewed in a complete vacuum.
But if you look at the EPT and compare like to like events, the picture isn’t so gloomy:
2011 PCA: 1560 entries
2012 PCA: 1072 entries
2011 EPT Deauville: 891 entries
2012 EPT Deauville: 890 entries
2011 EPT Copenhagen: 449 entries
2012 EPT Copenhagen: 449 entries
2011 EPT Berlin: 773 entries
2012 EPT Berlin: 745 entries
2011 EPT Grand Final Madrid: 686 entries
2012 EPT Grand Final Monte Carlo: 665 entries
The PCA numbers were way off in 2012 for the EPT but that’s only to be expected when you hack off the player pool from the US as Black Friday did, since a disproportionate number of online qualifiers in 2011 and prior years for that event came from the US when compared to the normal mix at all other EPT stops.
Throw in pretty healthy turnouts for HPT and WSOP Circuit events in the US in 2012 and good showings for the smaller European tours and it’s difficult to make any case that attendance for the 2012 WSOP will be down dramatically.
One potential wildcard in the equation — and we hate ourselves for even mentioning it and playing the what if game — is the persistent rumor floating around that PokerStars is in advanced talks with the Department of Justice to buy Full Tilt.
IF (and it’s a huge speculative IF) that does happen and IF it happens very soon (another huge IF) and PokerStars quickly refunds players owed money by Full Tilt as quickly as they refunded their own US players when Black Friday occured (which isn’t speculative at all and would absolutely happen if a deal is worked out), then we could see big turnout increases across the board at the 2012 WSOP.
Many players have at this stage mentally written off the cash stuck in their Full Tilt accounts, so if PokerStars can bang out a deal to buy Full Tilt and that cash is suddenly dumped into players’ bank accounts, well, you better believe a lot of them would either jump on a plane to Vegas or, if already there, take a crack at a ton more events than they otherwise would.
Before you get too excited that’s an EXTREME long shot to be banking on, akin to binking your one or two outer on the river. The powers-that-be at PokerStars have to realize what huge goodwill they’d generate by not just getting a deal done to buy Full Tilt but to also get it down right before the 2012 WSOP, so if they’re negotiating a deal at all they’d absolutely try to get it done by now.
That they haven’t is likely signs that either a deal isn’t in the works at all or that the negotiations are complicated and involved enough that nothing will get done in time to have an impact on the 2012 WSOP turnout.
If you’re pulling for poker in general, then it’s time to cross your fingers and hope that 2012 turns out to be another good year for the World Series of Poker, as the case for legalization in the US of online poker would likely be helped by strong field.
And besides, really, where’s the fun in rooting against the greatest poker show on Earth just to be able to say “Yep, I told you it was going to suck this year”?