The Mini WSOP
Poker players who come to Las Vegas in the summer for the WSOP are left with disappointing alternative tournaments to choose from. The WSOP naturally brings a lot of players to town for the summer including scores of those who have no interest in poker's marque series of tournaments and instead prefer to play smaller offerings at other casinos or cash games. Collectively, the poker industry has room for improvement when it comes to luring players to the desert during the summer heat.
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The Deep Stack Extravaganza at Venetian has established itself as the best alternative to the WSOP for poker tournament players. However, this series could improve in many ways. A glance at the Venetian schedule yields a horribly vanilla series of tournaments: 51 events, all but 5 of which are no-limit hold'em, and all but 6 of which have a buy-in of exactly $350 or exactly $560.
There is room in the market for a series of tournaments that effectively serves as the "Mini WSOP". The Venetian's Deep Stack Extravaganza could be that series, but it currently is not. There is no Mini WSOP. There's the WSOP and then in a distant, distant second is the Deep Stack Extravaganza where you can bet good money today's tournament looks awfully similar to yesterday's.
The Venetian's series of tournaments are already wildly popular simply because they exist. Poker players love the action and there are hoards of gamblers whose bankrolls cannot withstand the action at the Rio but fit in perfectly at Venetian. But the Venetian's tournaments could be so much more popular, and here's how:
• Add $100 rebuy events. These would be like crack-cocaine to the poker community. Live rebuy events are awesome and they are unfortunately something the WSOP no longer offers. Such an event would attract tons of action from a wide range of players include those whose bankrolls are incredibly modest and those who have lots of cash to blow. These would undoubtedly be some of the softest tournaments in town every summer and put more people on a plane to Vegas to chase their poker windfall fantasy.
• Add six-handed tournaments. Nine-handed tournaments are boring. The Venetian currently offers day after day of nothing but nine-handed tournaments. Yawn. People want action! Spice things up with six-handed events and even a four-handed event.
• Give winners something memorable. The WSOP gives away gold bracelets. We've seen what those have done for generating participation in poker. There's no reason the WSOP's annoying little cousin can't follow suit. Award event winners with a nice ring or even better, a watch. Poker players love timepieces. At the WSOP you gun for bracelets, at the Venetian, you gun for watches.
If the Venetian cannot step up and and create a consensus Mini WSOP, someone else should. Who else could host such a series of tournaments? Who better than Harrah's? They already own rights to the WSOP, so their Mini WSOP could actually be called the "Mini WSOP". Hold it at a different location than the main WSOP action: you go to the Rio for the WSOP and you go to Paris, Planet Hollywood, or Caesars for the Mini WSOP. Spread a series of 50-60 highly unique tournaments that will have players with smaller bankrolls descending on the city by the plane loads. They could have a $300 heads-up event, a $500 8-game event, a few $100 rebuy events, events with turbo structures, events with incredibly slow structures, even a few bounty tournaments.
The mini-tournament-series-that-mirror-a-larger-schedule-of-events concept has been produced with tremendous success in online poker. There's no reason it can't work at the WSOP too. Give out watches to Mini WSOP event winners and sit back and watch as poker's talking heads argue about how many watches it takes to be as prestigious as one bracelet. It'd be great for the game and there's no reason it can't be done. If the Venetian can't do it, Harrah's should. In the latter case, I wouldn't hold my breath. That leaves the Venetian with the task of stepping up to the plate and making their Deep Stack Extravaganza more exciting.