EPT vs WPT
When the European Poker Tour (EPT) began four years ago, it was unthinkable to suggest that it would one day carry more significance than the World Poker Tour (WPT). However, that time may have already arrived. One thing is for sure, the EPT is now more popular than the WPT. Recently, the $25,000 buy-in WPT Championship in Vegas drew less than a third of a run-of-the-mill EPT event in San Remo, Italy (337 players vs. 1,178 players). The EPT Grand Final, a €10,000 buy-in season finale, drew 935 participants this week in Monte Carlo. So for the first time, the prize pool in the EPT's premier event has far surpassed the prize pool of the WPT's premier event. The winner of the EPT Grand Final will walk away with over $3 million (as a side note, Dag Martin Mikkelsen, who we recently interviewed, is heading into the final table with a massive chip lead at the time this article was written; moral of the story, being interviewed by PokerTips leads to fame and riches). Yevgeniy Timoshenko won "just" $2.1 million for capturing the WPT Championship title.
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So how can this changing of the guard of the most popular poker tour be explained? Probably because of a few reasons.
Direct Online Qualifiers
From 2006 to 2007, the number of participants in the WSOP Main Event went from 8,773 to 6,358. How did this happen? Almost entirely because of the UIGEA. Despite the fact that poker's popularity maintained its strength during this time, land-based casinos in the U.S. were no longer willing to accept registrations directly from online poker rooms. Players who won a seat to the WSOP in 2006 were registered for the event directly by the site at which they won. Players who won a seat in 2007 were simply given the value of their package in cash. Understandably, this led to a significant drop-off in the number of players in the WSOP Main Event.
For the same reason, WPT is losing market share to the EPT. Casinos in Europe have no qualms with accepting registrations for their poker tournaments directly from online poker rooms. In the U.S., however, this no longer happens. Therefore, online poker rooms no longer offer satellites to the WPT since doing so would be mostly pointless. Contrast this with the EPT where a very sizable portion of each tournament field is composed of players who won their seat from an online poker room.
EPT More Pragmatic in a Recession
The majority of the events on the EPT schedule are priced around €5,000. On the WPT, all of the events are at least $10,000, if not more. There's just simply not as much money in the poker world as there was a couple of years ago. A significant portion of the world's wealth has been wiped away in the past year. There is no way for the poker world to be unaffected by this. As a result, players might find themselves looking for tournaments with a bit smaller of a buy-in than they're used to. Throw in the fact that the EPT has a lot of fishy online qualifiers, and it's a no-brainer for value-oriented players.
European Poker Boom
For a long time, people have anticipated a huge boom in the popularity of poker in Europe, very similar to the one the United States went through from 2003 to 2005. A boom of that magnitude isn't going to happen, but that doesn't mean poker isn't still doing very well in Europe. In the U.S., poker has fully saturated itself into culture. Everyone has been exposed to it. There will be no more rapid growth. The boom is over. However, the poker market is still experiencing some growth in Europe. Televised EPT events are still growing in popularity and helping pique peoples' curiosity in the game. For this reason, the EPT is benefiting much in the same way the WPT benefited years ago. Suddenly everyone wants to be one of the hot-shot TV superstars globetrotting and winning millions.
The international nature of the EPT also helps add a certain sexiness to it. This has not been lost on WPT officials. They are adding a few new non-U.S. events to their season eight schedule as an attempt to stay competitive.