Online poker rooms have recently announced their satellites to the World Series of Poker. We have covered the satellites of many cardrooms in detail in our WSOP section.
There are two major changes to this year's WSOP that affected many of the online poker rooms' satellites. First, the WSOP Main Event is incredibly long this year. Second, a $50k H.O.R.S.E. event has been added to the WSOP this year.
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Because of the large number of expected entrants, the WSOP Main Event will probably take about two weeks to complete. The number of initial players necessitates four "first days" and two "second days" this year (last year there was only three "first days" and all remaining players were merged for the second day onwards).
Unless a player is still in the WSOP, spending two weeks in Vegas during the summer is not exactly most people's idea of fun. In early August, temperatures in Vegas can easily get over 100° F (38° C). For the vast majority of players that exit the tournament within the first "two days" of the tournament, leaving Vegas to go back home after the "second day" of the tournament is probably preferable to missing another week of work to watch the tournament from the rails.
Keeping this in mind, it is advantageous for poker rooms' satellite packages to limit the amount of hotel stay included in the prize package. For example, Betfair's package includes hotel stay for 14 nights, which means money will probably end up being wasted on unwanted hotel stay. When the prize package is large, fewer seats are awarded in satellite events. If it's possible to trim a $15k package to a $14k package by cutting out unneeded hotel stay, it's generally advantageous to do so.
There are two efficient ways for a poker room to award a WSOP package. First, the poker room can just give the player a buy-in plus spending money for hotel and travel (around $2k is a nice amount). This way, the player can choose for himself the accommodations he wants and has plenty of money to do so. Money is always useful, so tacking on extra dollars in addition to the WSOP buy-in certainly doesn't do any harm. A $12k prize package is also small enough that the poker room can award a fair amount of these during any WSOP qualifier. Some sites structure their WSOP packages like this, Poker.com being one of them.
The best way, in my opinion, to structure a WSOP package is how Party Poker and PokerStars do so. They award players with a buy-in and $1,000 spending money. If a player chooses to wear PokerStars or Party Poker gear during the tournament, that poker room will pay for their hotel room while they are still in the tournament.
Party Poker hasn't stated clearly how long it will pay for hotel stay for players that bust out quickly (they may well be paying for two weeks hotel stay for everyone). PokerStars has stated it will pay for hotel accommodation for all players wearing their gear through August 4 (the end of the third day) and will continue to pay for players' hotel stay if they are still in the tournament after that. This is a good structure since most people who bust out within the first two days will want to head home anyway. People who are still in the tournament at that point will probably be in the money and will be more than happy to change their airline ticket to fly home later.
Compensating players for wearing branded apparel during the tournament is very beneficial to the poker rooms. While Harrah's restricts players from wearing commercial apparel at the final table, poker rooms get a lot of advertising value when people are shown on television during the earlier rounds of the tournament wearing their apparel.
Some poker rooms expect players to wear their apparel without compensating them. While this is reasonable for WSOP packages awarded through freerolls, it does not make sense for packages paid for by standard satellite tournaments. Most of the time, WSOP satellites are entirely paid for through players buy-ins, so the prize packages (which include the hotel stay) are entirely paid for by the players. The poker rooms even charge entry fees for these tournaments, which means the players are paying for both the package itself and compensating the poker room for hosting the tournament. The poker rooms do not have a legitimate right to pressure players to wear their apparel during the tournament (it should be noted that poker rooms almost never enforce this requirement on players). The fact that Party Poker and Poker Stars give something of value to players for agreeing to wear their apparel is a step in the right direction.
The other notable change to this year's WSOP is the addition of a $50k buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event. H.O.R.S.E. is a mixed game. Alternating rounds of limit hold'em, Omaha hi-lo, razz, seven card stud, and seven card stud hi-lo are played. At the final table, no-limit hold'em will be played. H.O.R.S.E. is popular among high-stakes players, and many of the really, really high stakes games played in Vegas are H.O.R.S.E. or another type of mixed game.
This $50k event was created to attract well-known professional players. Few people can afford to pony up $50,000 for a poker tournament, and even fewer people can play H.O.R.S.E. competently. Only seasoned poker professionals would really be interested in this event, so this tournament will probably be comprised mainly of well-known pros.
A few poker sites are offering WSOP satellites to the H.O.R.S.E. event, the most notable being Party Poker's weekly WSOP freeroll. Many players are excited about the H.O.R.S.E. event because they are much more likely to sit at the same table with a group of well-known professionals during the H.O.R.S.E. event than the Main Event. Expected value-wise though, this H.O.R.S.E. event is most likely a disaster for online players. Since most online players do not know how to play most of the games in the H.O.R.S.E. event well, they will probably be chewed alive by the professionals playing this event.
The qualifiers for the H.O.R.S.E. event are generally No-Limit tournaments, a game that is not even played in the H.O.R.S.E. event until the final table. This means the people that win seats to this event do not even need to have any knowledge of the games played in H.O.R.S.E.
To me, it seems silly for most people to attempt to compete in this event. I'm sure it's fun to sit with well-known poker pros, but I don't think it's $50k worth of fun. It's hard to complain about a weekly freeroll event that awards $150,000 worth of WSOP seats each week. It's a great opportunity for players to win something of great value for nothing. However, I disagree with Party Poker's decision to award a $50k H.O.R.S.E. seat as first prize. I think that money could be better used by rewarding 5 more WSOP Main Event seats, or perhaps by creating a WSOP megaprize that awards seats in a bunch of smaller WSOP events, hotel stay for about a month, and an entry into the WSOP Main Event.