Tournament poker has long been a game that has pushed the boundaries. Although it is widely loved by the millions around the globe that play every day, its greatest lure is the promise of a life-changing pay day.
Take the World Series of Poker as an example. A total of 6,372 players have forked out the $10,000 entry fee (or qualified via satellite) for this year’s WSOP Main Event and it’s easy to understand why when you look at the first prize of more than US$8 million that awaits the victor.
The WSOP is the pinnacle of the poker world and it’s an amazing spectacle to walk into the Rio All-Suite Casino in Las Vegas each summer to witness the incredible sea of people all there for the game we love.
But how much is too much when it comes to poker tournaments?
With more and more big events cropping up around the globe – WSOP Europe and WSOP A-PAC, the Aussie Millions, WPT, EPT and APPT among them – the fight to stand out from the crowd is becoming more dogged.
The solution, it seems, is to offer bigger buy-in events. In 2006, the Aussie Millions launched the $100k Challenge – an AU$100,000 buy-in event that was touted as the biggest buy-in tournament in the world.
A few years later, after other tournaments began matching them, the Aussie Millions launched a $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller event in order to reclaim the crown. It didn’t last long. Last year the WSOP held the world’s first ever US$1 million event – The Big One for One Drop – which attracted a field of 48 professional players and businessmen and a whopping prize pool of US$42 million.
The tournament certainly achieved its goal of attracting widespread publicity with Antonio Esfandiari claiming he record US$18 million first prize, but at what cost?
It used to be that poker players dreamed of moving up the list of all-time tournament money winners. A few years ago – before all these events began cropping up with increasing regularity – Australia’s 2005 WSOP Main Event winner Joe Hachem told me this was one of his primary career goals. But that was back when it was a contest open to all.
For most, playing in such huge buy-in events is a pipe dream that can simply never happen.
Instead, the all-time money list is now a shoot-out between the elite few who can afford to buy-in in the first place. It is no longer a record of lifetime achievement at the poker table.
Esfandiari is a great poker player with some tremendous achievements to his name, but should he sit at the top of the all-time money list? He currently holds the No.1 spot with a bit over US$25 million, but three-quarters of that came from a single event in which he had to beat just 48 players to win. Hachem beat around 5,500 to win US$7.5 million in 2005. Take out Esfandiari’s massive pay day and he would lag well behind Hachem’s career earnings of $US11 million.
It’s a skewed playing field.
Perhaps it is time we separated the winnings for big buy-in tournaments from the rest? Do we set a limit of, say, $50,000? Less even?
Then again, does it even matter? Are we making a mountain out of a molehill?
Either way, it’s an interesting debate and some food for thought as we head deep into this year’s WSOP Main Event.