It is arguably the best time of the year for the poker world. The venerable World Series of Poker is back in action in 2021 (after an online effort in summer 2020 and a poorly advised “hybrid” “Main Event” at the end of the year), but this year is going to be extremely unique compared to its past competitions. What can we expect over the next eight weeks? We will take a look into the Poker News Daily Crystal Ball and see if we can come up with some ideas.

How Will the Mask Mandate and COVID Affect the Tournament?

The COVID-19 pandemic was the reason that there was not a full WSOP in 2020. And it has had an effect on the 2021 version also. First, the delay of the schedule from the summer to the early fall was supposed to give a chance for vaccines to take effect. After an excellent start, that has unfortunately fallen to the wayside because of the unwillingness of some portions of the citizenry to be vaccinated against the virus.

With that in mind, the WSOP has mandated that players will have to prove their vaccination status to participate in the 2021 WSOP. They have made it quite easy to provide proof of vaccination, teaming with the CLEAR mobile app to show such vaccination proof, and players only have to do it once – upon their first registration for an event (you also have to do it if you are playing any side tournaments and satellites and cash games). Even after making it fairly easy for players to show their vaccination status, there are a contingent grousing over the rule and the fact that, when standing away from the table, they must be masked (per Nevada regulations).

The WSOP and Caesars are trying to avoid being sued should there be a COVID outbreak at this year’s event, people. Instead of complaining about it, you should be happy they even decided to put on an event (because absolutely NOBODY, save for online “Main Event” winner Stoyan Madanzhiev and “hybrid Main Event” winner Damian Salas, were happy with the proceedings in 2020). For example, MGM Resorts paid out an $800 million settlement in 2019 because the shooter in the Las Vegas Massacre happened to use the Mandalay Bay as his base – you REALLY think that Caesars Entertainment wants to have to pay out because people caught COVID at the WSOP?

The Crystal Ball says that there will be those who will try to disrupt the tournament. There will be those who think that the rules do not apply to them. Caesars and the WSOP will deal with them. The best that can be said to players is get the shot…THEN you can play.

Will it REALLY Be the “World” Series of Poker?

This is an offshoot of the COVID situation, but will the 2021 event really be the international attraction that it is normally?

In 2019 (the last live WSOP), 89 countries were represented in the $10,000 Championship Event. When you look at the actual number breakdowns of the 8569 players, 6110 players were from the U. S. – that means 2459 of the participants in the 2019 WSOP Championship Event were from outside the States.

That is not going to be possible in 2021. The U. S. still has travel bans up regarding the COVID situation, meaning that you cannot travel from countries directly to the U. S. although you can come to Canada or Mexico and fly in from there. How many foreign players are going to jump through the hoops just to get to the WSOP this year? It could have a significant impact on the player numbers for the Championship Event and even the preliminary events.

Will Dealers Be an Issue?

This is an area that the “powers that be” at the WSOP has completely screwed up. Initially, there was a vaccination rule for EVERYONE associated with the WSOP. This included the floor staff, tournament directors, cocktail waitresses, fans watching in the stands and the dealers on the tables. Then the WSOP realized that they could not enforce a vaccination requirement on contract employees, which is what many of their dealers are (and dealers didn’t exactly make many friends for pitching a fit about having to be vaccinated either) and, quite honestly, faced a possibility of throwing a tournament and not having enough dealers to pitch the cards.

Caesars corrected this – at least partially – by closing down a couple of their hotel poker rooms and transferring the dealers to the Rio for the duration of the WSOP. This week Caesars announced that Bally’s and the Flamingo Las Vegas would close their poker rooms for the duration of the WSOP, with the poker dealers from those establishments picking up the slack at the WSOP. The Bally’s and Flamingo poker rooms, with a total of twenty-five tables between each other, were not running major events during the WSOP and Caesars apparently felt that their short-term closure would be advantageous.

Dealers as a whole are not in a good spot in Las Vegas. Many poker rooms have not reopened at this time and dealers might be looking for at least a short-term gig to make decent money (yes, the hours are long – nobody said working the WSOP would be easy). But there still could be issues with the dealers during the run of the 2021 World Series of Poker.

What About the Play?

What might we expect when the cards actually hit the felt in the Rio this fall? It could be one of the wildest experiences we have had in recent memory.

For more than a year, players have not been able to play live tournament poker. This has led to a kind of freewheeling, gambling style that has become evident in the game. This writer’s recent journeys to cash games in his area has shown a significant increase in the amount of “gamble” that poker players are taking nowadays, perhaps as a direct result of not playing for so long in a certain setting.

Is this going to have an effect on the play at the tables? Will the professionals be able to make the adjustments and reap the harvest from this aggressive player? Or is it going to be the “Year of the Amateur” who makes the radical, gambling moves that will surprise the establishment.

Beginning this week, we will get the answer to these and many other questions as the 2021 World Series of Poker begins. Whether it will be an occasion for joy among the players (and the staff) or it will be an acrimonious situation that COVID has affected will be up to everyone involved.

One Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would like to know if a dealer has been vaccinated or not. They should have some way to identify themself when they come to the table. If I have to ask them they might not like it. It will make a difference on how liberally I use hand sanitizer when they’re dealing.

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