Fingers crossed

2020 was crap for live poker, as it was for nearly everything in our lives. Not a whole heck of a lot has changed so far in 2021. COVID-19 daily news cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have dropped sizably from early January, but the numbers are still bad, even if they are relatively better. Poker legend Mori Eskandani, however, is confident that things will improve enough and pandemic restrictions in Nevada will be relaxed enough where PokerGO can hold its major events in the second half of this year.

Speaking with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Eskandani said, “I am guessing the second half of this year is going to be the busiest time for PokerGO we’ve ever had. I have a feeling the cameras are never going to shut down for us to catch up with what we missed and produce what we are capable of doing.”

Eskandani is the president of PokerGO, which, among other programming, owns Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker, both of which he originally produced. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2018 after an emotional reveal during the final table of the World Series of Poker on ESPN, a show which he also produced.

Poker needs to ride the wave

Of course Eskandani plans to record new episodes of PokerGO’s popular shows, but he also believes that major events such as Poker Masters, the Super High Roller Bowl, and the US Poker Open will be able to get back to it later in 2021.

“Once you unmask the nation,” he said, referring to COVID-19 restrictions lightening, “we’ll be tearing through things.”

Though live poker slowed to next to nothing last year, online gambling, especially sports betting, picked up a ton of steam as people had ample time at home to be on their computers. That and about half the states have now legalized sports betting in one form or another (usually at least mobile betting). Eskandani feels poker needs to jump on the gambling upswing as soon as it can.

“It’s just the mindset of the whole nation and for that matter the whole world,” he said. “When it comes to online gambling, online sports betting, and poker just comes right along with all of that. So there is no question that this is going the right direction, and all we have to do now is make sure we move as fast as everything else that’s moving around us.”

Some live poker has returned

Most live poker tournaments that have come back are smaller, local and regional events that can more easily handle restrictions such as fewer people per table. The first major pandemic-era tournament in US was the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida in January. The Venetian also hosted a WPT DeepStacks festival recently.

Of course, there was also the World Series of Poker Main Event, but the live portion in both the US and in Europe was just the nine-handed final table of each bracket. The winner of each, Damian Salas and Joseph Hebert, squared off live at the Rio just after the calendar changed from 2020 to 2021, but again, this was just heads-up. The majority of the tournament was played online.

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