Evolution of the WSOP Circuit
The World Series of Poker (WSOP) Circuit was created in 2005 during the height of the poker boom. The idea was simple: instead of offering players just one series of WSOP events held in the same place each year, why not create a tournament series "circuit" to expand the WSOP brand around the U.S. And so, the inaugural WSOP Circuit schedule was launched featuring ten events held all over the country in places like New Orleans, Atlantic City, and Lake Tahoe.
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In the first year, which would prove to be WSOP Circuit's most successful year in terms of participation, prize pool size, and overall exposure, most of the final tables were recorded and aired on ESPN. Players such as Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, and Erick Lindgren appeared at televised final tables vying for huge cash prizes. Poker was alive and well.
Initially, the buy-in to the championship event of each of these series was $10,000. By flooding the global poker tournament schedule with more $10,000 buy-ins than ever before seen, a bubble eventually formulated. There simply just wasn't enough money in the poker economy for the WSOP Circuit to sustain a schedule of all $10,000 buy-ins. Sure, 50-100 successful pros could manage to show up at each event, but they quickly lost their interest once it became apparent that each field contained a fairly small handful of truly "bad" players. After all, although there are a few exceptions, anyone who is genuinely "bad" at poker is considerably unlikely to come up with $10,000 to invest in themselves in a poker tournament.
Moreover, ESPN decided it's network had become too saturated with poker shows and decided to discontinue airing WSOP Circuit events before the tour ever really got off the ground. These shifts gave Harrah's Entertainment, owners and operators of the WSOP, no choice but to retool their WSOP Circuit concept.
The first evidence of WSOP Circuit Version 2.0 popped up in 2006 when the buy-in for most championship events on the schedule was reduced to $5,000. This created a regional-effect in which pros were less likely to travel to the venues since the buy-in was reduced while amateur locals were more likely to participate since it's much easier to win a satellite into a $5,000 tournament than a $10,000 tournament. About twice as easy, to be exact.
For a few years, WSOP Circuit stuck with this $5,000 buy-in approach. Marque poker pros like Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, or Phil Hellmuth effectively disappeared from the tour. With no possibility of TV exposure and prize pools that became smaller than what they'd really care to spend their time chasing, poker's elite faces generally decided to let the amateurs and lesser-bankrolled pros battle it out in the WSOP Circuit.
This succeeded for a time, but WSOP Circuit participation continued to dwindle year-over-year with the $5,000 buy-in structure. One of the WSOP Circuit Main Events I played in 2008, held in Indiana, drew a paltry 84 players. Recently, it became very common for the $5,000 buy-in events to have fewer than 100 players which simply wasn't getting the job done in terms of upholding the WSOP brand.
So for the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit schedule, which started in August at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Harrah's decided to lower the buy-ins for all championship events to $1,500. Their reasoning behind this is quite solid. Since the $5,000 events weren't really attracting any out-of-town professional talent and they weren't really attracting any of the local players either who couldn't afford such a large buy-in, why not make a shift to directly cater to one side of that spectrum or another?
Clearly, they were not about to raise the buy-ins in hopes of luring the marque pros back. That model already failed. Their only choice was to throw in the towel on trying to have an ultra-prestigious tour of tournaments with massive prize pools. Instead, they have fully embraced the "regional" concept. The buy-ins have been lowered so much that unknown pros grinding the tournament trail are likely to decide it's not worth traveling around the country for a bunch of $1,500 events.
And so, the WSOP Circuit Version 3.0 was born. It's objective? Create a roving tournament schedule with a massive amount of participation from people within a ~500 mile radius of the tournament's venue. After all, even casual, amateur players might be willing to come up with $1,500 to play in an official WSOP event being held in their backyard. The Council Bluffs event drew 255 players, which is by no means a ton, but it's also not bad for a $1,500 tournament in one of the armpits of America. The next event on this year's schedule is in Indiana in a couple of weeks. It will be interesting to monitor the field sizes for these $1,500 events based on their location.
A new event was added to the schedule for early January in Durant, Oklahoma. This venue will cater to the greater Dallas metropolitan area. Myself and TwoGun, another operator of PokerTips, plan to pay a visit to this event and get a first-hand glimpse of the new $1,500 buy-in WSOP Circuit era. Here's to hoping Harrah's has succeeded in luring bad players back into their WSOP Circuit championship events!