Is Anyone Playing The Circuit?
The World Series of Poker seized on a great poker concept and strategic move when it started the WSOP Circuit events. When they started at the beginning of 2005, it was a great way to increase the buzz for the 2005 World Series as well as begin their own "counterpart" series to go against the World Poker Tour for popular and commercial buzz (they can say they didn't, but it is basically obvious they did). As expected, the early reation was great for the WSOP Circuit.
The first five events were held each month before this year's World Series and, for the most part, they were well attended events and had star power such as Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson and many others. To follow up on that and the phenomenal success of the World Series, with its record fields across the board, Harrah's decided it was time to expand the Circuit to twelve events which, so far, has met with less than exciting circumstances.
Right after the end of the World Series in July, the expanded schedule was announced. In addition to the previous stop at Lake Tahoe and New Orleans, there were two more events added at Harrah's properties in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City to give each city three (the abbreviated five-event Circuit only had one stop in each city). There were new events added at the Harrah's property in Indiana, just outside of Chicago, and three in their Mississippi Grand Casino group, two to Tunica and one to Biloxi (the stop in San Diego at the Rincon is no more). It seemed there was promise to the new Circuit as it began after Joe Hachem's World Championship victory in July.
The first WSOP Circuit Tunica stop was well received. Buy-ins ranged from $300 (which drew 839 players) to the main event of $10,000 (a respectable 179 combatants) and all events seemed to be relatively competitive. There was also a Limit tournament held and an Omaha event as well in the roster of games. This, however, was not the normal for the two weeks in Tunica; all other events were No-Limit and, although they were popular as well (544 for the $500 NL event, 205 for the $2K tournament), there wasn't other games of poker being played.
Problems have to be seen with the current stop in Las Vegas at Harrah's. The timeframe of the tournament has definitely been shortened (ten days) and every game is No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em with buy-ins from $500 to $2,000 and the $10,000 Main Event. There was only one $500 tournament, though, and it was played by a relatively low 268 players. In what must be the ultimate of disappointments, the most recent $2,000 event played on September 11th drew an astoundingly low 48 players!
With the Grand Casino Biloxi tournament that was to have come at the end of August cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina, Harrah's has to see some problems are there with the WSOP Circuit. The low turnout for the first Las Vegas leg of the Circuit has got to worry them when the stop comes back a short two months later in November and it has to have them worried as well for the final Vegas stop in April. To have successful tournaments, you have to have players willing to step to the felt. This isn't happening at the current stop in Vegas.
Something else that has to be of concern to the Circuit is the lack of star power at the Circuit events. While Mark Seif played well in the $10K event in Tunica, Men "The Master" Nguyen and Max Pescatori have been the only recognizable names to crack the final table during the preliminary events in Las Vegas and few other professionals have been seen. The $10k event has just started in Las Vegas, and attracted 107 players, the lowest of any circuit event yet.
There are some ways that the Circuit staff can correct these problems. First off, while Texas Hold 'Em is the hottest game around right now, there are players who love the experience of Omaha, Seven Card, Razz, Limit and Pot Limit tournaments. By offering these "other" events in coordination with the normal Texas Hold 'Em events, they will be bringing more players in who, just by chance or by plan, may stick around after playing their "specialty" event and get in the other games. This would increase the fields and perhaps bring in the professional players once again.
Buy-ins, as well, has to come into question. While there has to be larger events held, there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to step up to the felt in a $200 or $300 tournament. These "minor" preliminary events are the continuing lifeblood of new talent into the game. When you have too many high dollar buy-in events, you have very few players. Thus, keep the people coming by keeping an eye on what they are willing to risk. $500 or $1,000 tournaments in Las Vegas are a normal happening, which may explain some of the small fields at the current Circuit stop; you have to be adjust conditions to encourage participation
Another thing that the WSOP Circuit can do is keep the Circuit out of Las Vegas. While the April event is a nice appetizer for the full-blown orgy that is the (now) summertime World Series of Poker, two other tournaments in such a close span as it is scheduled now tends to dilute the product. Three in Atlantic City is too much, as well. One stop there is plenty to bring the thrill of playing for a prized World Series Circuit ring to the people.
In fact, there could be the overriding issue. Take the WSOP Circuit to places that people might only see it when it is on television. The Grand Casino stops are a great first step, as maybe the Indiana stop will be also. Harrah's has many properties around the United States and could spread these Circuit stops around, rather than massing them in the Atlantic City and Las Vegas strongholds where half of the twelve events are occurring. These stops would encourage local players to step up and take their chance at playing in a tournament when they may not feel ready (either financially or game-wise) to take on the Big Time.
The World Series of Poker Circuit is a great idea and the expansion of it was as well. While some fine tuning may be necessary, it is still one way for poker players across the country to get the feel, excitement and experience of playing for one of the most prized awards in poker, the Circuit ring. Hopefully, the powers that be will realize some of the things that need to be tweaked and the Circuit will continue to run strong!
Ed note: Why shower, and go out in public to play. Tons of action in your living room at Ultimate Bet