If you look back at the history of poker, there used to be so few methods of measuring success. In the distant past, the best way to prove who was the best poker player was by who won the most money. It was really simple to see who had the skills (either legitimate card sense or outstanding cheating abilities) through who had the stacks in front of them. That has changed, though, since the advent of tournament poker.
Tournaments did not used to be a huge deal. They were seen as a necessity, something that drew players to the casinos to take part in the huge cash games that ran on the sides (or sometimes in private). Even the venerable World Series of Poker, arguably the first tournament poker series established, did not start rewarding the victors with a trophy – the WSOP bracelet – until 1976, a full six years after Benny Binion brought all the players together (those who won events previous to 1976 were retroactively awarded WSOP bracelets).
As the years have gone by, the trophies have become a signature of poker success. The WSOP bracelet and then the World Poker Tour bracelet have become a signature that you achieved something in the poker world. One of the classiest trophies in the poker world is the one given by Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. During their L. A. Poker Classic which dates back to 1993, a replica of artist Frederic Remington’s “Bronco Buster” statue is awarded to each winner of an event on the schedule. Other tours have concocted unique ways of honoring their victors, with perhaps the coolest one of late being the winners of major events at the Wynn Classic winning a replica version of the glistening hotel.
But something is happening of late. These formerly cherished trophies of the poker world seem to be handed out on a way too frequent basis. But does the move of late by the WSOP to give out bracelets for online events – a necessity in 2020, but not in 2021 – cheapen one of poker’s greatest goals? Does the WPT holding events online that put a name on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions’ Cup make it meaningless? It is a question that deserves to be asked.
Way Too Many Tournaments
It used to be that winning these tournaments meant that you had achieved something that few people had done. By 2014, slightly more than one thousand bracelets had been awarded during the WSOP in Las Vegas, Europe, and the foray into Australia for a couple of years. Of these bracelets, 170 people had won five hundred of them, meaning that 583 people won the rest of the accolades. In the history of the WSOP by 2014 – 34 years since the first bracelet was technically awarded – only 753 players had the honor of taking down a WSOP bracelet.
The number of bracelets awarded since 2014 has made a mockery of earning poker’s most prestigious prize. Since 2015 510 bracelets – almost half of what it took 34 years to hand out previously – have been awarded between the WSOP in Las Vegas, in Europe or online (2020 only, not counting 2021 yet). This also does not count the rings that have been awarded as a part of the WSOP Circuit or the WSOP International, which totals into the hundreds if not a thousand or more.
This trend has also been seen in the number of high-dollar buy-in events there are in tournament poker. It used to be that there was one or two $10,000 poker tournaments per month in the poker world. Now, if there is only one or two $10,000 in a given week, it is considered “slow.” Entire tours have been built out of high dollar events (looking at you, PokerGO Tour) that, while open events, have limited fields that falsely create an “elite” world of poker.
Genie Already Out of the Bottle?
The problem is that, when it comes to the inflation of the tournament poker world, the genie is out of the bottle, and it isn’t going back in. The “poker boom” of the Aughts ignited the rocket and it is something that has not burned out yet. Casinos and poker tours try to ensure this, by jiggering the formats (multiple Day Ones, guaranteed prize pools, etc.). So, to expect that these tournament series are going to reduce their number of events is foolhardy.
The route that should be taken is to NOT award these prestigious trophies. There is utterly NO reason that the online versions of the WSOP events held either this year or in 2020 rate to earn a WSOP bracelet. Online poker and live poker are two different games, and they should be treated as such (now those online events that have been held during the run of the WSOP schedule in previous years? Those might be allowed…). If someone is to win sixteen online WSOP bracelets, do they pass Phil Hellmuth as the all-time leader? What happens if they win fifteen and then win one live? No, the online stuff should have its own place.
Will this change? Probably not. Are we making a big deal out of nothing? Probably. But poker’s biggest prizes are becoming a trinket that you would get out of Cracker Jack box, and that is not what they were intended to signify. Unfortunately, poker has never been big on maintaining its history…