The release of the World Series of Poker schedule is something everyone in the poker industry looks forward to each and every year. Leading up to the announcement, rumors swirl and hints are dropped, but the day the full release is made always feels like Christmas morning. The immediate days after opening the most anticipated gift on your list are then spent figuring out how your new toy works, what you like about it, and what you dislike about it. In this case, that means analyzing the WSOP schedule.
I'll admit it, I'm a big nerd. I majored in physics and mathematics at Elon University, have an affinity for statistics and numbers, and love to analyze things until the early hours of the morning. The WSOP schedule is definitely one of those things that I love to put under a microscope each year, and I've now had a few days to look over the 2014 version of poker's greatest festival.
The first thing that stuck out to me from this year's schedule when compared to the 2013 version was the amount of events and the ratio of no-limit hold'em events versus mixed-game events. In 2013, there were 62 total events, of which 37 were no-limit hold'em based and 25 were others. That's nearly 60% no-limit hold'em. For 2014, there has been an increase to 65 events, but the ratio is a little more even, with 35 no-limit hold'em events and 30 others. That equates to just under 54% no-limit hold'em events, which is much more closer to even. I've always been an advocate against so many smaller buy-in no-limit hold'em events, but I know the WSOP needs to make their money and these are the events that draw the masses. It's a fine line the WSOP has to walk with giving the players what they want while not entirely saturating the schedule with these events.
While I will say that I still believe 35 no-limit hold'em events is still a little high for my personal appetite, it's important to look at the variety within these events and how it differs from the previous year. In 2013, of the 37 no-limit hold'em events, 24 were straight, full-ring no-limit hold'em. This year, only 20 of the 35 no-limit hold'em events are straight, full-ring no-limit hold'em. That means this year 15 are of a modified version of the game as compared only 13 last year. In terms of percentages, a little over 57% of this year's no-limit hold'em events are straight, full-ring, whereas last year it was nearly 65%.
The second thing that stuck out to me was the return of the $10,000 "Championship" events. They're back, and I couldn't be happier to see their return. For 2014, there will be 12 big, bad $10,000 "Championship" events covering all of the major games. This is definitely something the high-stakes players pushed for, and it's something I really hated to see disappear when the buy-ins for these events were reduced to $5,000. My argument (and one that was shared by many of these high-stakes players) was that anyone who would play a $5,000 event in a special discipline would play a $10,000 version.
My bracelet-winning colleague and senior staff writer Chad Holloway echoed the same praise for the return of the $10,000 "Championship" events.
"Without a doubt, my favorite thing about the 2014 World Series of Poker schedule is the return of the $10,000 events. There are a dozen such events, and each will essentially serve as that variant’s championship event," Holloway said. "Fancy yourself a great razz player? You’ll have the chance to prove it against the game’s best. Before these events were taken off the schedule, they carried a great deal of prestige. I look forward to having that back at the WSOP."
Another colleague, PokerNews managing editor Brett Collson, felt the same. "The return of the $10,000 Championship events is my favorite part of the 2014 schedule, but that's the obvious answer," he said.
Obvious or not, the return of these $10,000 events is the single best thing about the 2014 WSOP schedule.
One question I would like to ask is why not make Event #2: $25,000 Mixed-Max No-Limit Hold'em a $10,000 event also? What pushed this event to be $25,000 instead? Additionally, did the WSOP feel that an event with a $25,000 buy-in would draw more in a mixed-max format versus a six-handed or eight-handed format? Or was this simply something the majority of the top players wanted? Next week when PokerNews talks to the WSOP, hopefully we'll have the answer. I'm not saying this is a bad addition to the schedule, because I think it's pretty awesome in its own right and will attract a ton of eyes (mine included), but I do feel a $25,000 six-handed event would be the slightly better draw.
Continuing with things that I believe are positive changes to this year's schedule, the return of the $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop will be another absolutely amazing event, especially with the increase in the capped field size to 56 players. I don't believe for one second that this event won't reach the cap, and expect that just like in 2012, there will be one or two players that get shut out from playing.
There are two major reasons I love this event and its return. First, it's for a great, charitable cause to support the One Drop Foundation. Second, it's a million-dollar buy-in. Last time this event was held, you could slice a knife through the air and cut the tension in half. This time around, I expect much more of the same, specifically on the massive money bubble that will inevitably come around.
Before I go any further, though, I would like to say that there are a couple things about the $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop that I strongly dislike. When speaking with Holloway, he mirrored my feelings almost exactly, and here's what he had to say.
"I don’t like that they’re starting the three-day event on a Sunday. Why not take advantage of the weekend? It seems to me some of the businessmen — who are used to making, trading, losing, etc. millions of dollars a day — may not be keen on missing two work days (Monday and Tuesday) to play poker. If you held it over the course of the weekend, this wouldn’t be an issue," he said. "Second, I don’t like that the tournament is being held at Caesars. Don’t get me wrong, I love the property, but this is a WSOP event. Moving it, during the WSOP’s 10th anniversary at the Rio, nonetheless, just seems wrong."
Both of these points Holloway makes are very true, and I agree with both. I remember having a conversation with Bill Perkins a couple years ago while at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. At that year's event, Perkins flew in for the $100,000 Super High Roller, then flew back home to Texas to handle some things, and then came back to the Bahamas for the $25,000 High Roller. He told me the reason he doesn't play more poker events is because they take too long and he can't take so much time away from business, where he makes his real money. Just as Holloway said, these businessmen play poker for fun. Yes, it's a million-dollar buy-in and a WSOP gold bracelet event, but they're not in it for the jewelry and the money they can win.
Second, having this event outside of the Rio will undoubtedly take away from the electric atmosphere that this event draws. There are thousands of poker players, fans, media, and other members of the industry stationed at the Rio all day and night during the summer. On breaks from tournaments, players in other events could come over and watch the Big One for One Drop and check in on the action, albeit several feet away behind stanchions, but still. With the event being held at another property, there's definitely going to be less buzz than before in this event, in my opinion.
Also making their return in 2014, following up from last year, are the Millionaire Maker and the Little One for One Drop. I like the idea of the Millionaire Maker event, but I'm on the fence about how I think it will perform this year. Last year, people came out of the woodwork to play in this event, and the prize pool far exceeded that needed to hit a $1,000,000 first-place prize under a normal payout structure. Will this year be the same, or will there be a big gap between first and second in order to lock up a seven-figure payday for the winner? I'm going to say that it's going to be very similar to 2013, although I would say that field size should drop a little bit.
The Little One for One Drop was another event held for charity, although a lot of participants also complained about the additional rake taken by the WSOP. With a buy-in of $1,111, $111 of that will go to the One Drop Foundation, and then an additional 10% will be taken out for entry fees (7%) and tournament staff (3%). I'm all for events that give to charity, but I feel the WSOP may be the brunt of more of the same animosity from players and the field could be a little smaller given the complaints from 2013. Still, I like seeing this event back on the schedule.
Two last things that I really like about the 2014 WSOP schedule are additions that weren't on the 2013 version, and that's Event #41: $1,500 Six-Handed Dealer's Choice and Event #36: $1,500 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball. I believe the Dealer's Choice event is great because it's new and it's different. It may not draw thousands of players, but it will be a very unique event that provides a very fun atmosphere. With so many games available to be selected, it should have the feel of a $1,500 home game. While still a gold bracelet event, a little lighter atmosphere will be great.
The return of the lower-level no-limit 2-7 draw lowball event is huge, in my opinion. I'm specifically talking about the growth of the game. In 2012, I played in this event because I love this particular game. I know many, many other pros played with very little experience in the game, but absolutely loved it. When it was removed from the 2013 schedule, we were all upset. Very few people can buy in and are comfortable doing so in the $10,000 version. Having a $1,500 version will help to continue to grow this game and feed into the higher buy-in event. With certain events, the WSOP can easily kill the game or help to revive it, and I'm happy they're doing the latter here by bringing this one back.
As you can tell by reading above, I'm overly positive about the 2014 WSOP schedule. Even so, there are a few things I think it is lacking.
First, I really would love to see a triple stud event (seven-card stud, seven-card stud hi-low, and razz) implemented in both $1,500 and $10,000 versions. I also wouldn't mind seeing all three of the Championship stud variants combined into one, if doing all four is out of the question.
Second, there is no six-max limit hold'em event this year. The only two limit hold'em events on the schedule are $1,500 and $10,000 buy-ins. While I understand this game is less popular than others, the $5,000 Limit Hold'em event from 2013 attracted 170 players. Compared to the $5,000 H.O.R.S.E. (261), $5,000 Omaha Hi-Low (241), and $5,000 Stud Hi-Low (210), it was a massive drop off that I would then say it needs to be cut from the schedule completely. I understand all of those events, plus the limit hold'em one, are now $10,000 "Championship" events, I do think there is one six-max limit hold'em event needed not he schedule. Combining this thought with the first, I'd love to see two of the smaller buy-in no-limit hold'em events replaced by a triple stud event and a six-max limit hold'em event with a buy-in of $3,000-$5,000.
Finally, while I love that the $10,000 "Championship" events coming back and the fact that they all have a $1,500 buy-in version to go with it, I would like to see more of these events have a medium buy-in level in place. Something in the $3,000-$4,000 range. And yes, I said $4,000. Why can't an even buy-in be $4,000? Oftentimes, a $5,000 might as well be a $10,000 event, but something a little less appeals more to the medium-stakes player. Again, you'd more than likely have to cut some of the smaller buy-in no-limit hold'em events to make this work without bloating the already jam-packed schedule, but I was never a fan of those "dime a dozen" events anyway.
The Grand Daddy of Them All
I've touched on everything I can think of that sticks out to me about the 2014 WSOP schedule — which I believe is easily the best produced in recent years — but I have yet to talk about the one event that matters the most, and that's the 2014 WSOP Main Event.
This year, the WSOP went and slapped a $10,000,000 guaranteed first-place prize on the event. While I commend the theory here, I don't think the execution was entirely correct. Once again, I'm going to share the comments of a colleague that I strongly agree with.
"My least favorite part of the schedule is the $10,000,000 guaranteed top prize for first place in the Main Event," said Collson. "I certainly understand the marketing reasons behind the move, but unless 8,000 players participate you're penalizing everyone except for the winner. If you're going to tag a guarantee to anything, make it the prize pool. Any shortfall this year will see money taken out of the pockets of hundreds of players and given to a multi-millionaire."
I don't like shorting the prizes of other players in the event, especially when those players did an amazing job to even make it to the money. Hitting that $10,000,000 mark without other places suffering is going to be hard to do, and I think something like a $75,000,000 guarantee on the entire Main Event prize pool would be a lot better. Attracting 7,500 players to the event would be amazing and a huge increase from recent years, while allowing all spots to earn extra money, not just the winner. Yes, I think more players will come out for the chance to win the $10,000,000 guarantee and the field size will increase this year (a little similar to the draw the Millionaire Maker saw last year), but I also think the field size would increase much more with a guarantee on the entire prize pool. I'm not sure the entire philosophy behind the Millionaire Maker can be applied to the Main Event because a $1,500 buy-in with reentry is much different than a $10,000 freeze out.
At the end of the day, I strongly believe this is the best WSOP schedule in recent years. A better ratio of no-limit hold'em events to other events, the return of the $10,000 "Championship" events, and the second installment of the $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop take the cake, and I couldn't be more excited to shack up inside the Rio all summer long. Scrolling through my Twitter feed the past few days and seeing the comments made by players and media within the industry, I'd say the overwhelming majority agrees this year's schedule is very well done by the WSOP. Much praise to their staff for listening to the players and taking into account all feedback from 2013 in order to make the necessary improvements. I'm sure it's no easy task.
Don't forget, PokerNews has been named as the Official Live Reporting Team for 2014 World Series of Poker, making us your one-stop shop for all things WSOP related in the summer.