Poker’s Lost Year?

We’ve come to the time of the year when many reflect on the last twelve months and look at what occurred. Whether it was good or bad, many times we can come up with highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be), and remember the excellence of the past 365 days. Then came 2020…and, if we’re to be honest, this past year will go down as poker’s “lost year.”

What Happens When Nothing Happens?

The year got off to a rather sad start as poker players came to grips with what was the end of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. For the first time since 2004, poker players didn’t flock to the sunny climes of Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort on the Bahamas and it was greatly missed. It seemed to be a precursor of what was to come.

Without the PCA, the Aussie Millions took center stage in the poker world. Without the competition of the PCA, the Aussie Millions Main Event pulled in a record 820 entries, which was eventually won by local favorite Vincent Wan. Even the High Roller event became a hometown festival as Aussie Kahle Burns, fresh off being inducted into the Australian Poker Hall of Fame (alongside the World Poker Tour’s Lynn Gilmartin), won the largest $100K High Roller event since 2015.

Things were motoring along, as the L. A. Poker Classic and its monstrous schedule kicked off and the European Poker Tour started its festivities in Sochi, Russia. The World Poker Tour had several tournaments in various stages of play, with some of the tournaments delayed for their “Final Table Festival” in Las Vegas at the end of April. All seemed to be right with the world…

And then COVID-19 reared its head.

Since mid-March, the world of poker has been shut down. Casinos worldwide have been shuttered, tournament schedules have been paused and cash games, at least in a casino, have been nonexistent. The EPT canceled three tournaments (in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Prague); the WPT has seven events from its Season XVIII season that have no results (including the L. A. Poker Classic, one of the postponed final tables); even the venerable World Series of Poker, which had run for 50 consecutive years, had to “postpone” its action worldwide (more on this momentarily).

To put it bluntly, there is little that we can look back on as a good thing in poker for its “lost year.” But let’s try…

Hey – Have You Heard About ONLINE Poker?

With casinos shut down and no way to access the poker rooms, poker players rediscovered that you could play poker online. If there was one thing that could be said was good in poker in 2020, it is that online poker rooms worldwide saw significant revenue increases. In New Jersey, record setting numbers for the operations there were seen in the first couple of months following the COVID lockdown, and this was true for Pennsylvania’s online gaming industry also (including the only poker operation in the state, PokerStars PA).

The WSOP, locked out of having a live event, decided it would be best to have TWO online events to hand out the bracelets taking up space in the storage closet. They ran two schedules, one for players in the U. S. through their WSOP.com outlet and the other through GGPoker for the international players, and it was thought that all was right with the world when Stoyan Madanzhiev won the GGPoker “Main Event” and picked up the moniker of “World Champion.”

Or did he?

You see, the WSOP got greedy at this point and, in November, decided they were going to have a “hybrid” WSOP “Main Event” that would truly crown the “World Champion.” It had all the earmarks of being the event to crown the mythical “World Champion” – $10,000 buy in, freezeout format – but the international players competed online first and then live at King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, to determine a “champion” and the U. S. (which also competed online at WSOP.com before switching to a live final table) completes their segment and crowns a “champion” on Monday. Those two players will then meet for a million dollar “winner take all” on December 30 and THAT person supposedly will be the “World Champion.”

It seems to be a proper coda for what has certainly been poker’s “lost year.” There will be no “Player of the Year” except in statistics only – how can you crown a “player of the year” when there were nine months when competition was nonexistent? There will be no WPT Player of the Year except on paper, nor a similar figure on the EPT. While the WSOP will crown what they think is their “World Champion,” they’ve only embarrassed themselves with this late-year money grab and the dismissal of Madanzhiev’s work.

Like much of the rest of the year, let’s just forget that 2020 existed for poker. The New Year is coming and, as there is a return to normality in the cards (no pun intended), perhaps we can get back to what we all enjoy – the live world of poker – instead of having it all shut down or shuffled off to the online realm. We’ll have to be patient, but it will return to the way it was – provided the poker world can do the right things.

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