Comparing WSOP Vegas and WSOP Europe
I had the privilege of being one of, at most, 362 players to participate in both this year's WSOP Main Event and WSOP Europe Main Event. Despite sharing what is essentially the same name, the two events have very little in common. For starters, the European event drew just 5% of the number of entrants who participated in the Vegas event. Also, the European event has a £10,000 buy-in which is nearly twice as large as that of the Vegas event.
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One thing the tournaments have in common is their structure. Each event starts players off with 20,000 chips and 2 hour blind levels. Having done well in Vegas at this summer's Main Event, I foolishly expected the London event to be about equally juicy. However, after taking my seat in London, I quickly learned that most of the participants in WSOP Europe were at least competent tournament players.
The Vegas Main Event is loaded with amateur internet qualifiers, celebrities just hoping to survive for a few hours, home game heroes hoping to go back home with a story, and washed up degenerates taking another long shot at glory. WSOP Europe had no such players. Even the internet qualifiers, most of whom won a satellite through event sponsor Betfair Poker, were solid players. I immediately recognized two players at my starting table, Yuval Bronshtein and Steve "Zugwat" Silverman, and I was at one of the fishier tables: Bronshtein, who gained fame for winning two FTOPS events in one day this August, busted two players in the first hour!
Each seat of Yuval's victims was filled with equally awful players. Just when I was beginning to thank my lucky stars for being amongst relatively fishy company, the floor staff came by and informed us they were breaking our table. I journeyed to my new seat to find Nenad Medic and Barry Greenstein sitting one and two to my left. Ouch! Also at that table were £5,000 pot-limit Omaha champion Theo Jorgensen and a skilled young German player named Florian Langmann who finished 2nd in last year's EPT London event. For dinner, I joined a German friend of mine, Johannes Strassmann, and a few of his friends at a steakhouse. Langmann was among the Germans at that table. At one point, he took a break from discussing strategy in German and said to me in English, "oh Cory... I'm just telling everyone about how I'm a really tight player." I laughed along with them; it only took a few orbits at Florian's table to know the exact opposite was true.
After dinner, we walked back to the cramped Empire Casino to resume play. The WSOP in Vegas takes place in a massive convention hall nearly large enough to contain an indoor football field. WSOP Europe is not nearly as spacious; tables were crammed into tight quarters throughout the casino. Some tables replaced stools and tables in a bar, others were on upstairs on various balconies, and some were even tucked away in a hidden room at the end of a long hallway. This disorganization was compounded by a table numbering system that followed no logical scheme. For example, tables 19 and 14 were upstairs while tables 8 and 16 were on stage downstairs. I had an easier time dealing with Nenad Medic to my immediate left than I did locating my new table.
Unlike the WSOP in Vegas where I had a fairly effortless climb from 20,000 up to 42,000 on day one, I struggled in London bouncing between 14,000 and 28,000 for much of the day. The peak came when I overbet all-in on a QT52J board with a turned set of 2s against a Finnish player that looked about twelve years old. I think my overbet was puzzling to him; he stood up and put on his jacket before reluctantly sliding the last of his chips into the pot.
Only on rare occasion did I manage to open a pot without having Nenad or Barry (or both!) join in behind me. My bustout hand was no exception. I raised under-the-gun to 1,050 with Ace-King of hearts. Nenad, Barry, and four others made the call before the player in the big blind joyfully shoved all-in for 4,500. I attempted to isolate by shoving all-in for 15,500. A middle-aged Englishman called and showed pocket Jacks. The short-stack's hand wasn't exactly ideal for me: King-Queen. The jacks held and I was sent to the rail with 9 minutes left in the fifth and final level of day one.
I enjoyed the experience of WSOP Europe, but I can't say returning next year is high on my priority list. The event isn't promoted enough to attract schools of fish and ponying up £10,000 to sit at a table full of pros isn't exactly an appealing investment.
I was surprised that this event didn't grow in its second year. The 2008 WSOP Europe had exactly the same number of participants as its inaugural running. I believe this year's event will be telecast on ESPN in America, which could marginally help to boost its popularity for next year. However, based on my observations, I doubt WSOP Europe will ever amount to anything more than a glorified WSOP Circuit event. Organizers originially hoped that an explosion of popularity for poker in Europe would lead WSOP Europe to being as large as the Vegas spectacle. Even after 18 year old Norweigian Annette Obrestad won last year, the tournament didn't grow one iota in popularity. This is a signal that we are clearly not in the midst of a European poker boom many have been expecting.