A Brief History of WSOP Europe
With the fourth annual World Series of Poker (WSOP) Europe being played out in London right now, we thought it's an appropriate time to have a look at the brief history of these bracelet events as well as some ways in which it could improve.
Harrah's Entertainment, owners and operators of the WSOP, launched WSOP Europe in 2007. One major reason for the new series of tournaments was to hold WSOP events where Harrah's could legally accept registrations from online poker rooms. Beginning in 2007, they were forced to cease accepting direct registrations for the WSOP in Las Vegas from online poker rooms due to legal concerns. As a result of this, attendance in the 2007 WSOP Main Event was down more than 27% compared to 2006. And so, WSOP Europe debuted as a way to boost the WSOP brand in wake of the damaging U.S. legal situation.
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Another appealing reason for creating WSOP Europe is that players as young as 18 could participate whereas the minimum age in the U.S. is 21. Eighteen year old Norwegian poker phenom Annette Obrestad capitalized on her opportunity to play in WSOP events as a teenager and promptly won the inaugural WSOP Europe Main Event, a £10,000 buy-in event. Her win grabbed the attention of the poker world and added £1,000,000 to her budding career winnings.
That year, 362 players participated in the WSOP Europe Main Event. A total of just three events were played. Thomas Bihl and Dario Alioto captured bracelets in the other two.
The 2008 WSOP Europe expanded its schedule by just one tournament leaving a total of four bracelets up for grabs at the Casino at the Empire in London. I had the chance to play in the Main Event of that series after winning the £10,000 buy-in package online. Because of the currency exchange fluctuations of that day, the buy-in for that tournament amounted to over $19,000, which made it easily the largest buy-in poker tournament I've ever played. By contrast, to get into this year's £10,000 buy-in Main Event, one need only come up with a little more than $15,000. Last year, it was even less.
The experience gave me an interesting glimpse at WSOP Europe and helped me understand why the series of tournaments have remained fairly unpopular in terms of participation. For starters, the facilities which host the events are quite small. Registration for the events is capped at a fairly small number. When Phil Laak won his first bracelet last week in the £2,650 buy-in six-handed event, he faced a sold-out field of just 243 foes. Since only a few hundred players are able to participate in WSOP Europe events at their current venue, the series remains considerably unpopular and mostly just an opportunity for established pros to face each other for another bracelet. The 2008 WSOP Europe Main Event remains the toughest multi-table tournament I have ever played. I had the unusual experience of having little doubt that I was -EV in that tournament which made for a discouraging trip across the pond.
The 2009 WSOP Europe Main Event was won by Card Player Magazine founder Barry Shulman. Interestingly, Shulman's son Jeff played in the WSOP Main Event November Nine final table just a couple of months later. Barry's win put Jeff in an interesting position to become the first (and almost certainly last) father and son duo to win both WSOP Main Events in one year. Unfortunately for the Shulman's, Jeff had to settle for 5th place and $1.9 million in the Vegas-based Main Event.
2010 and Onward
This year's WSOP Europe schedule features five events. There is a £2,650 six-handed event, a £5,250 pot-limit Omaha event, a £1,075 no-limit hold'em event, a £10,350 heads-up event, and a £10,000 championship event. With such few events and small facilities, WSOP Europe remains the most elitist series of poker tournaments in the world. For four straight years now, Harrah's continues to make WSOP Europe inaccessible to the average poker player. This is unfortunate since the series originated as a way for online qualifiers to get back into the game.
By holding such few events with such large buy-ins, Harrah's sends a pretty clear message to the poker world that they're really only interested in catering to the best of the best and the richest of the richest in the poker world. This is unfortunate since the Vegas series is essentially the exact opposite. As such, WSOP Europe has something of a diluting impact on the overall WSOP brand. Since bracelets are awarded in WSOP Europe events, there's no denying that professional players have distinctly greater opportunities to chase WSOP gold. This is something that Harrah's has previously claimed to stand against when they removed the "amateur unfriendly" $1,000 rebuy events from the WSOP Vegas schedule.
It would be nice to see WSOP Europe move to a larger facility and be held in a different country each year. It would also be nice to see the schedule expanded to include perhaps a dozen or so events that feature a more affordable average buy-in cost. These changes would help entice more casual players into the game and probably result in an increased level of popularity in poker among Europeans. However, I would be very surprised to see any of these changes implemented. Harrah's has ran WSOP Europe as an elitist-friendly series of tournaments for four straight years now, and there doesn't seem to be any motivation on their part to change this.