For years, the options to prove yourself as the best live tournament player were restricted to a holy trinity of tournaments: the European Poker Tour, World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker events.
The fabled triple crown of winning one of each tournament's Main Event was hailed as the benchmark for greatness, the holy grail.
After recent changes had PokerStars Championships replacing the EPT Main Events, the industry has moved toward a new, more splintered age, with a wide variety of tournaments on offer. Will this force the major brands into expanding not just European-based tours, but their global festivals?
"Our vision is to offer all players the opportunity to enjoy live poker events, with a shot at winning big, all whilst playing alongside some of the biggest names in poker.”
The recent live poker landscape looks like the current map of Westeros in Game of Thrones, able to be conquered by the strongest army. That may not mean the biggest, either.
PokerStars may reduce the European schedule for the €5,000 buy in Main Event festivals after announcing their initial raft of PokerStars Championship events, but they also added in the PokerStars Festivals. The lower buy in events are more akin to the now defunct UK & Ireland Poker Tour but could see players who are unable to stump up the entry for a full EPT schedule fighting for red spade trophies.
The opening London PokerStars Festival events featured strong entry numbers. An initial cause for optimism ran parallel with slight concern over a drop in Main Event entries in the Bahamas. But this is no longer a battleground reserved for the three historic players in live tournaments. The world's biggest poker brand is hopeful that debut Championship Main Events in Macau and Panama will be well attended and add to the popularity of returning stops in Barcelona and Monte Carlo.
The World Series will again feature a record-breaking schedule of events for its flagship festival, the legendary World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. But the World Series really does go to every curve of the Earth, with European events for the opening six months of the year sending players in search of a WSOP Circuit ring in European hotspots such as Morocco, Italy, the Czech Republic, Portugal, France and Belgium. Vegas will once again welcome the world's best players in a bid to add to their bracelet collection.
The live tournament arena is not only reserved for high rollers, however, and with the proliferation of tours such as the Mid-Stakes Poker Tour and Heartland Poker Tour in America and Unibet Open in Europe, players at all levels are now being catered to.
888poker began their 888Live Tour targeting players of all levels and seeing entries swell in locations like London and Rozvadov.
“The huge success of 888poker’s live events over the last year is a testament to our increasingly dominant position in the industry."
“The huge success of 888poker’s live events over the last year is a testament to our increasingly dominant position in the industry," a representative from the company said. "888Live has welcomed a wide range of players from across the world, in line with our commitment to make poker more exciting and accessible for everyone.”
888poker said their goals are translated across their opening events of their newest live tour.
“We’re confident that our new 888Live Festival Series will become one of the top ranking live poker tournaments out there, complete with great stories and content for everyone to enjoy," the representative said. "Our vision is to offer all players the opportunity to enjoy live poker events, with a shot at winning big, all whilst playing alongside some of the biggest names in poker.”
It’s not just 888poker who is now aiming for the ground that PokerStars had a monopoly on for several years. Tony Dunst, a partypoker ambassador, is a player whose primary focus is value and prestige, already with World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker wins under his belt. He told PokerNews that the players in general are keenly aware of the number of tournaments that are on offer in this new era.
“I’ve been talking about this with several pros lately," he said. "There’s been something of an unexpected resurgence in the numbers of live poker tournaments. Of course part of it is the result of a broader economic recovery, but the last couple years have shown live tournaments have lasting appeal. I think part of this has to do with the degree of selection; no one brand holds a meaningful monopoly over a regional market, so there’s money being brought to live tournaments via competing casinos, sponsors and satellites.”
"The last couple years have shown live tournaments have lasting appeal."
While Dunst has an eye on value at all times, especially playing online satellites for his sponsor, he sees this trend as generally positive.
“That trend will continue with the launch of partypoker LIVE," Dundst said. "I think partypoker proved that they can produce numbers at their Caribbean event in November and they’ll use big guarantees and prolific satellites to get the numbers they anticipate. That kind of competition with the existing tours can only be good for the players, who will have tons of cheap opportunities to win packages to these events.”
Players now have more options than ever before. Live poker was once controlled by two or three brands but has now diversified, with players starting to feel like they have more influence in the future of the game.
That’s something that brought one of the biggest names in live poker history back to the game. President of the partypoker LIVE Tour, John Duthie, created the European Poker Tour. Now he's determined to put the players first in his work with partypoker.
“It’s easier for me because I’m a player first and foremost," Duthie said. "For me, it’s dead easy. I know all the players, I like the players. I think that they feel when I’m in charge of a tournament it’s being run on their behalf. That’s really what I want to get back and I’ve been impressing that in meeting after meeting at partypoker.”
When Duthie talks, people generally listen, whoever they are attached to as a brand. Duthie maintains his status as a film and television director as well as a key member of the live poker community.
“Every single member of staff has to have that attitude in their mind,” Duthie said. “It’s really important that people understand that. Over the next few months at partypoker, we’re going to try to set up a player committee with players from all around the world. We’re going to optimize a structure and optimize payouts that everybody wants.”
Not since the days of Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars duking it out for online supremacy has there been such competition to grab live players and win them over between multiple brands.
"We’re going to optimize a structure and optimize payouts that everybody wants.”
World Poker Tour and partypoker, once associated, have diversified into two ambitious tours, neither of which will want to give an inch to the opposition.
Unibet Open has broken new ground in developing poker markets such as Romania, where their recent Main Event garnered entries. Major poker brands such as the World Series of Poker and 888poker will continue to forge ahead with their tours and collaborate in Las Vegas, the perennial home of live poker.
There is unlikely to be a second poker boom such as the first one kicked off by Chris Moneymaker's World Series victory in 2003 in Nevada, but what could develop is a more level playing field than there has ever been in the game.
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