This past summer, the World Series of Poker announced a revamped Circuit that included 12 stops leading up to the 2011 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The WSOP-C was in desperate need of change after numbers declined over the years, TV contracts disappeared, and big-name players opted to skip Circuit stops. Luckily, officials realized the need for a facelift and instituted a number of changes to make things right.
What were the changes? Well, for one, instead of a $5,000 buy-in Main Event, each stop would feature a more affordable $1,500 buy-in Main Event. They also included four special $10,000 buy-in Regional Championships, all of which would be televised. The large prize pool of the Regional Championships, along with the promise of TV coverage, was intended to entice poker’s most prominent players back to the Circuit.
While all of these changes were good, the best change was adding a $1 Million National Championship Freeroll for Circuit qualifiers, which will take place just before next year’s WSOP. Only 100 players will be invited to the National Championship and must qualify in one of four ways: win a $1,500 Main Event at any stop, be the “Casino Champion” at any stop by accumulating the most points, make the final table of any Regional Championship event, or be in the top 36 point-getters for the 2010-2011 WSOP-C National Leaderboard.
With the chance to win their way into a Million Dollar Freeroll, WSOP officials believed such a point system would encourage players to travel to all the stops on the Circuit. Indeed, that is exactly what we’re seeing. In fact, the WSOP-C is developing its own following of “regulars” and is even making superstars out of previously unknown players. At any given stop, it is not uncommon to see regulars like Chris Tryba, Kevin Calenzo, Will “Monkey” Souther and Shiva Dudani; likewise, you might also see well-known names like T.J. Cloutier, David “Doc” Sands, Bernard Lee, and “Captain” Tom Franklin. Meanwhile, the Regional Championships have attracted even bigger names such as Vanessa Selbst, Barry Greenstein, Sorel Mizzi, Kathy Liebert, Barry Shulman, and Andy Bloch.
Thus far, approximately 30 of the 100 Million Dollar Freeroll seats have been awarded. Among those who’ve punched their tickets are Blair Hinkle (Council Bluffs Main Event Champion), Shannon Shorr (Midwest Regional Final Table), Charles “Woody” Moore (Southern Indiana Main Event Champion), and James Anderson (Midwest Regional Champion). While some have already qualified, hundreds more are competing on the National Leaderboard in the hopes of finishing in the top 36.
The changes and new additions have managed to bring respect and credibility back to the WSOP-C. Suddenly,players are anxious to get their hands on a coveted WSOP-C gold ring and are excited to compete at the various stops. In fact, the new WSOP-C has been so successful that it has inspired other poker outlets to follow in their steps. Specifically, the World Poker Tour decided to add Regional Events of their own.
Responding to players' requests this past fall, the WPT began to offer quality events with affordable buy-ins via the WPT Regional Series Events in the United States and the WPT National Series Events in Europe. At these events, players have a chance at a WPT title, player-of-the-year points, and a WPT World Championship buy-in. So far, the WPT has held Regional events at the Seminole Hard Rock, Florida, and at the Hollywood Casino, Indiana, both of which proved to be quite popular. Other stops on the schedule include the WPT National Series: Paris at the Aviation Club de France, which runs February 9 through 15, 2011, and another visit to the Seminole Hard Rock in Florida.
The WPT adopted a number of other changes in 2010, as well. In July, tournament director extraordinaire Matt Savage was brought in to run the show, a move highly touted by poker players across the globe. The WPT also brought in some other personalities including the Royal Flush Girls, a bevy of six gorgeous women (one of whom just won Maxim’s Hometown Hottie competition) who take TV viewers behind the scenes of WPT events and serve as event ambassadors; Tony Dunst, who will become the blunt, fast-talking host of the WPT’s newest television segment "The Raw Deal"; and Kimberly Lansing, who was brought back, much to the satisfaction of poker fans, as the on-air and online anchor.
“I'm most excited about the television show. You are going to see some great changes starting with the Bellagio Cup,” Savage said in an interview with PokerNews. “The show is going to have an entirely new look with the new cast of characters (Kimberly Lansing and the Royal Flush girls). We're going to be covering the events starting on Day 1 instead of just covering the final table. We have a real opportunity to cover some of the new, younger players on the scene now. We're not changing out the old guard, because those players are still very popular, and what drives the game, but we're enhancing the show with a new focus on the youth.”
Indeed, the Bellagio Cup, the first event of the new season, was quite the success and saw some young guns make the final table along established superstar, Phil Ivey . Talk about starting out with a bang. The WPT continued to host top-notch events and closed out 2010 with what could be considered the most stacked final table in WPT history. While 438 players began the WPT Five Diamond Poker Classic, only six survived to the television final table: Vanessa Rousso, Kirk Morrison, Ted Lawson, John Racener, Antonio Esfandiari, and Andrew Robl. There wasn’t a soft spot at this tableful of accomplished poker professionals. In the end, it was Esfandiari who returned to WPT prominence and took home the $870,124 first-place prize.
“We're in Season Nine now, and you can basically say that the first eight seasons the show looked the same. Steve Lipscomb had the show the way they wanted it, it became an easier show to produce because it became a carbon copy from show to show,” Savage continued. “Now the show is going to be taking some chances and doing things that have not been done before. I think that's definitely going to build some excitement.” Based upon all the exciting changes, it seems that 2011 will bring the poker world a fresh take on the World Poker Tour.