It’s hard to say what effect Black Friday might actually be having on the live tournament scene. In fact, it’s probably too early to say very much definitively, but we do know simply by counting the players at the tables that poker’s biggest stars are still doing well and showing up for events. In fact, this week’s $25,000 WPT Championship at the Bellagio in Las Vegas drew a crowd of 220 players, a fine showing for an event that will price out all but the highest-rolled players in the game today.
The 220 player field means that the winner of this event will be taking home a prize of slightly over $1.6 million, and considering the quality of players that must be outlasted, it’s a fair prize indeed. What is interesting to note, however, is the mix of players that remains as the field continues to dwindle. Now it goes without saying that you cannot make any assumptions about the future of the game based on one tournament, or even a handful of tournaments for that matter, but we can’t help but notice the lurking internet pros making an impact in the live game. Players like Shannon Shorr, Galen Hall, Sam Trickett, and Justin Smith are all running deep in this event, and all have experienced notable success with their online play as well. They are by no means the only notable internet players in the field, but they may highlight as well as anyone what the real future of events like the WPT Championship holds – - the new world order of poker may very well be made up of players who do not specialize in one particular mode of play, but who excel in all forms of cash and tournament play, both online and live.
In one regard, there is nothing amazing about this statement. Players like Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen have been excelling in both arenas for years now, winning large chunks of cash on both the live and digital felt. But on the other hand, we may be seeing the end of players who learned the game on a computer screen and couldn’t translate that success into live play. Shorr has a WPT Title to his credit, Hall is the reigning champion of the PCA Main Event, and Trickett has been famously interviewed about his successes at the Macau cash tables. These players have shown that their mettle and skill transfers onto the live tables just fine, and I think that in the end, that’s an excellent sign for the poker community as a whole. Tournaments like the WPT Championship that continue to draw large fields, and players like the ones mentioned are a great reminder that Black Friday did not take poker away, it simply readjusted the playing venues for many players. Eventually, the money will trickle back out of the online sites and into the hands of the players. Granted, there are not a lot of players waiting on their refunds so they can jump into the deep end of the WPT pool – most who can afford to do that could do so whether or not they have their online rolls. But we should be encouraged as a community by this tournament, because it is showing us that at least for now, poker continues to thrive at its highest levels.
Keep an eye on this Championship, as well as the turnouts for this summer’s WSOP, to get an idea of the real state of the game. If the numbers stay as they are projected, we will find out that the short-term cash available to most players will keep events somewhat smaller this year, but it is not difficult to imagine a rebound in the years to come as the brick and mortar games begin to draw more online players out into the live game. Congratulations to everyone still alive in the WPT Championship, and Good Luck at the Tables!