After the debacle that was the 2020 “World Series of Poker” (first held online then having a “Main Event” in a half-assed live manner), EVERYONE has to be happy that the 2021 event is making its comeback. Earlier this year Caesars Entertainment, WSOP officials and the poker world breathed a sigh of relief that the 2021 World Series of Poker survived the COVID-19 pandemic and was scheduled, albeit later than its usual May timeline. Now, slightly two months out from the event, the specter of the virus is rising again and there are several ways it could affect the 2021 festivities.
Could the 2021 WSOP be canceled? Will they mandate vaccines? Masks? What are they going to do if someone comes up positive during the WSOP? Let’s take a look at these questions.
Cancel the WSOP? No Way…
There is absolutely no way that the “powers that be” at the WSOP are going to cancel the 2021 event. They may adjust tournaments, they may set limits on the number of players that can take part, they may even set up a “special area” away from the tournament floor so that players may play the final tables of the preliminary events. But one thing they will not do is cancel the 2021 WSOP.
The effects of 2020 are strong in the mind. Although the online options played out in an acceptable manner – if you want to count two separate events, one for U. S. players and one for international players as “acceptable – the end of year decision to have ANOTHER “Main Event” was not a good decision. All it did was lessen the achievement of Stoyan Madanzhiev (who won the online “Main Event”) and cheapen the victory of Damian Salas (the live “Main Event” winner). Thus, there is no way that Caesars, WSOP officials, or even state and local officials (the Las Vegas economy is still reeling from the 2020 shutdown) want to go to that extreme again.
Mandate Vaccines? Not Gonna Happen…
For those who would think that the WSOP can mandate the vaccine, that probably isn’t going to happen. If the WSOP were going to do something along those lines, then they would have said it back when the September rebirth of poker’s greatest tournament was announced. Additionally, this late in the game, there arguably isn’t enough time for players to be able to get fully vaccinated (for the Pfizer shot, it takes three weeks for the two shots, then an additional two weeks after the second shot for the vaccine to take effect). Although they are a private entity and can do whatever they like, the WSOP is not going to mandate a vaccine.
Cut Tournaments? Possible…
The schedule for the 2021 WSOP is a bloated one, trying to make up for the loss of last year’s event. WSOP officials should be ashamed for putting out an 88-event schedule because, even in normal circumstances, that would be nearly unworkable load on players, employees, and staff. But hey, they’re trying to make up for the “lost year.”
It is entirely possible that the WSOP is going to have to cut events from this schedule. If it turns out that they have capacity limits on the number of people that can convene (a serious possibility in the current Las Vegas climate), the WSOP will naturally cut cash games first, then satellite tournaments and “cash” side tournaments before they get to dumping events from the 88-tournament roster.
Something that also isn’t being thought of (I am sure that WSOP officials are…I hope) is the factor of staffing. You need to have dealers that are going to step up for these events and side games. You need to have well-trained floor staff who are going to step up for these events. Many of the “traveling dealers” who have worked WSOP in the past have said they aren’t coming back (citing many different reasons non-COVID related). If you don’t have the dealers, you can’t have the games.
Sequestered Final Tables? Possible…
Is there potential to see final tables sequestered away from the normal tournament floors in the Rio? This is possible, since it would be an area that could be kept spotless and (relatively) free from viral contaminants. This would also allow the WSOP to do something that might rear its head during the two months of play.
The WSOP could, if they have this sequestered area, demand that people who enter this arena have been tested for COVID-19. If someone pops positive, they would not be able to enter the final table and would, like Upeshka de Silva last year, be prohibited from playing. The reasons this might not happen? WSOP might not want to pay for the COVID testing that needs to be done and it may be difficult to find enough room to have a sequestered area for such final table activities.
Mandated Masks? Entirely Likely…
When it comes down to it, the most likely thing that the WSOP will do is what is already being done in many areas – the reintroduction of a mask mandate. Currently it is only for employees but, in this version EVERYONE, regardless of vaccination status, would be required to wear a mask while on the tournament floor. If you don’t want to wear a mask, you don’t get to enter the tournament arena. Pretty simple, don’t you think?
It also makes a great deal of sense. Regardless of your stance on the vaccine, masks prevent people’s potentially viral emanations from being spread into the air – why else do you think surgeons wear them? It is also something that the WSOP can mandate with ease. Once again, as a private entity, Caesars can do whatever they want in this arena and arguably should.
There’s two months to go before the cards hit the air for the 2021 WSOP. There’s a chance that the current Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus can be curtailed. However, statistics from the last month aren’t showing a “curtailing” of any increase in infections. While they may not cancel the event, officials with the WSOP have some serious decisions still at hand before the tournaments even start.