Who needs football on Sunday night?

We know that it is World Series of Poker time, and as such, the World Poker Tour is taking a break, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your fill of WPT action. This past Sunday marked the first television episode of WPT Season XVIII. Broadcast on the Bally Sports network (formerly Fox Sports), the season will be split into a dozen hour-long episodes spread over the same number of Sundays.

First up is the Gardens Poker Championship final table, which will consist of three episodes. Similarly, the WPT Borgata, WPT L.A. Poker Classic, and the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, will likely be split into three episodes each (the WPT has not published the complete television schedule).

Patience is a virtue

The kickoff final table, the Gardens Poker Championship, holds a unique place in World Poker Tour history, or even poker history in general. It began in January 2020 and when the six-handed final table was determined, play was paused and delayed until April of that year as part of the World Poker Tour’s efforts to create a poker “festival” of sorts with multiple final tables all at the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas over the course of a few days.

But as we are all well aware, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the world last year (and still is). In our little niche on this planet, live poker tournaments were cancelled or postponed for the vast majority of 2020. One of the first was the Gardens Poker Championship, which had already reached its final table. That was followed by the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open and the WPT L. A. Poker Classic, which were also waiting to hold their final tables in Las Vegas.

The WPT Gardens Poker Championship was finally completed this March, prompting my friend Earl Burton to call it “probably been the longest poker tournament in the history of the game.” The other two tournaments finished up in May.

“Our fans have been very patient waiting for the Season XVIII episodes and we are excited for Sunday night,” said World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska last week, before the first episode on Bally Sports. “The action from Season XVIII promises to live up to the expectations of our audience.”

Qing Liu almost went back-to-back

Markus Gonsalves won the WPT Gardens Poker Championship, besting opponents such as Qing Liu and Chance Kornuth. Qing Liu was probably the most intriguing story of the final table. He beat 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event champ Joe McKeehen heads-up to win the WPT Venetian Main Event. As it turned out, because of the long Gardens Poker Championship delay, the Gardens final table took place the day after Liu’s Venetian win. As such, he had the opportunity to become the first person to win WPT titles on consecutive days. There had been back-to-back title winners before, but never on two calendar days in a row.

Liu, of course, was unable to pull off the feat, but it was still a wonderful week for him, regardless. WPT victories on back-to-back days could happen in the future if the Tour sticks with its delayed final tables. Someone could make two or more final tables that happen to be in that delayed group and then win them in a row in Vegas.

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