The 2018 World Series of Poker isn’t too far around the corner, with the annual festival of 78 official gold bracelet events kicking off May 29th. After participating each of the last three years, I’m ready to make some predictions for this year.
The Main Event will top 8,000 players. Last year’s Main Event drew 7,221 entries, up from a range from 6,350 – 6,750 each of the preceding four years. Driving the increase will be players harvesting the profits from cryptocurrency speculation and business types flush with cash or expecting to be flush soon as the result of the massive U.S. corporate tax cuts.
Women will win more. #MeToo will be alive and well at the WSOP. This year, I predict a woman will win more than $1,000,000 in cashes, compared to top cashes in recent years of $689,000 in 2017 by Esther Taylor-Brady and $500,000 in 2016 by Lisa Meredith. The top candidates to blast through the million dollar mark include Loni Harwood, Kristen Bicknell, Liv Boeree and Maria Lampropulos. Women will win at least four bracelets (compared to two bracelets in 2017 and three in 2016).
A new TV villain will emerge. Let’s face it, as a slow moving game, poker can be painful to watch unless there are some very relatable villains. In 2016, William Kassouf played that role #LikeaBoss, infuriating other players while calmly justifying his antics as “speech play.” Not since Jamie Gold in 2006 has the WSOP had such a good TV villain. Ironically, this led to one of the worst decisions ever made by WSOP management, the creation of the “Jamie Gold rule” that prohibits players from discussing the contents of their hands while the hand is still live. To expand it’s TV and online streaming audiences, the WSOP needs both villains and colorful characters, and psyching out one’s opponent is and should be part of the game. #HateableIsRelatable
Cryptocurrency will dominate hallway and after hours debates. Led by the likes of Doug Polk and Calvin Ayre, it seems like a lot of successful poker players now think they are experts at speculative investing in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and numerous others. This is such a laughable fallacy I don’t know where to begin, so check back for a separate blog post trashing this bullshit. Nevertheless, I predict cryptocurrency will be discussed ad nauseam this summer at the Rio, especially as I predict a lot of first time Main Event entries will be funded by crypto profits.
Seven figure prop bets will make headlines again. In 2016, the big story was a drunken Vanessa Selbst laying 180:1 on a $10,000 prop bet that Jason Mercier would win three bracelets that summer. A third Mercier bracelet would thus cost Selbst $1,800,000. After Mercier won two bracelets early in the series (plus a runner-up finish), a flurry of charges, denials and negotiations entertained us bystanders while Mercier chased bracelet #3 and Selbst chased ways to hedge or buyout her risk. Look for prop bet king Bill Perkins to tempt numerous high profile pros with prop bets for physical challenges (past best include swimming, weight loss, lunging, and bicycling), and new bracelet challenges. Leave a comment with the prop bets you would most like to see at this year’s WSOP.
WSOP management won’t make any notable player or audience friendly changes. There are many things the WSOP should do to make the series more player friendly and more audience friendly for their TV and streaming partners. But they won’t. The last meaningful change was flattening the prize pool so payouts now reach the top 15% of entrants.
- Pace of play – In 2017, WSOP changed its rule for players to “call the clock” in an effort to speed up play, but this still requires time to elapse, a dealer to call for a floor supervisor, the supervisor to arrive and evaluate the situation before any countdown begins. Every major televised sport has pace of play rules. Starting in 2017, the World Poker Tour and others successfully implemented a 30 second “shot clock” at multiple sites. WSOP should do the same… but they won’t.
- Make the ballrooms comfortable – when you go to Las Vegas in June, you shouldn’t have to pack your bags like you are making a trip to Alaska in January. The ballrooms at the Rio are notoriously cold; I’ve worn four layers of long sleeves and thermal fleece and still shiver. It’s absurd! They need to raise the temperature… but they won’t.
- Enhance prize pools – While the WSOP likes to brag about the size of its prize pools and the Main Event’s status as the richest annual poker tournament, it remains a fact that these prizes are 100% plus funded by the players. For the Main Event, 6% of entry fees are removed from the prize pool to cover various overhead and profit. For smaller buy-in events, as much as 18% is taken off the top. Yet everywhere you look, there are sponsors and other ancillary sources of revenue. The WSOP is making money from TV and streaming contracts, corporate sponsors, vendor displays, merchandise and food sales, hotel rooms and more. Can you name any other televised world championship sporting event where the competitors put up ALL of the prize money and some extra to pay the organizer’s overhead? The WSOP should add to the prize pools, not take away… but they won’t.
- Repeal the Jamie Gold rule and roll back other behavioral restrictions – as noted earlier, the Jamie Gold rule is just plain awful. Other rules discourage excessive celebrations and theatrical behavior. Yet look at the NFL’s success in relaxing its end zone celebrations rules last fall, actually encouraging the players to have more fun after scoring touchdowns. The WSOP could learn from the NFL… but they won’t.
- Cash game comps – in the Rio’s regular poker room, the maximum rake is $4, and you earn Total Rewards comp credits based on the amount of time you play. In the WSOP cash games ballroom, the maximum rake is $5, and the tables are not enabled with card swipes so no comps are credited to your account. In 2015, cash game floor supervisors fairly liberally gave out $10 food vouchers upon request. The next year, they were much stingier. They should reverse these inequities and treat cash game players like valued (and profitable) customers, or at least as good as they are treated in all of the other Caesar’s casino poker rooms in Vegas (Rio, Caesar’s, Planet Hollywood, Harrah’s, etc.)… buy they won’t.
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