Interpreting a Number:  What Does “226” Mean?
 
Putting Things into Proper Perspective in a Post-UIGEA Poker World

Hammond, IN – The World Series of Poker Circuit is back!  In fact, it’s bigger and stronger than ever!

If anyone would have made a friendly wager than a tournament series that had pretty much been flat for more than three years could double the buy-in of one of its premier events, and then actually increase attendance over previous years, many critics would have either laughed or gladly faded the proposition.  Or, both. 
 
But pay off all the “yes” bettors.  That’s exactly what happened at the first-ever World Series of Poker Circuit Regional Championship, held in Chicago.

The $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Regional Championship which began on Monday attracted 226 entries.  That’s not the biggest field ever for a WSOP-related tournament.  It may seem rather small compared to the monster-sized numbers that came out of the WSOP in Las Vegas during the summer.  It’s not even the biggest WSOP Circuit event.  But, the number “226” may be one of the most impressive numbers of any poker tournament held anywhere this year.

There’s no other way to interpret the number “226,” other than being a spectacular figure and major accomplishment that benefits not just the revamped and much-improved WSOP Circuit for this season.  Poker players too, all over the nation, who enjoy experiencing the excitement of the game’s premier tournament series will have more options at casino venues closer to home as the Circuit makes its way around the nation.
 
When the overhaul of the WSOP Circuit was first being discussed several months ago, many critics suggested this was the wrong time to introduce a new mega buy-in poker tournament, even something sounding big like "Regional Championship."  Many observers questioned whether or not the launching of another $10,000 buy-in competition to a schedule that seems already saturated with big buy-in poker events would be possible, particularly in the midst of comparatively tough economic times and in the midst of a post-UIGEA climate [FOOTNOTE 1]. 
 
Indeed, perhaps this pessimism was even justified.  The national poker tournament series that began six years ago has certainly endured the inevitable ups and downs which go along with being the industry leader.  But bold new initiatives are the trademark that have made the WSOP into poker's biggest global attraction.  While poker tournament attendance elsewhere has declined at some venues and remains stagnant at others, the numbers coming out of Chicago these past two weeks suggest the WSOP is bucking the odds and continues to exceed even the most optimistic expectations.

Consider the overall attendance numbers here at the Horseshoe Casino (Chicago).  The first tournament (Event #1) set an all-time record for the biggest turnout in the entire history of WSOP Circuits, with a whopping 1,611 entrants.  Next, the Main Event Championship not only shattered the old record set three years ago, it more than doubled the previous high mark at 872 players.

But the real test of success and benchmark of public perception was the $10,000 buy-in Nationally Televised Regional Championship.  This was the first tournament of its kind and was the largest buy-in tournament on the WSOP Circuit since the height of the poker boom, back in 2007.  The question everyone was asking was – would they come?

Players not only came, they surpassed all expectations.  The number “226” is pretty much in line with the average number of players who attended televised $10,000 buy-in WSOP Circuit Championships during the boom era from 2005 to 2007. [FOOTNOTE 2]  Even during its heyday, when ESPN was televising similar WSOP Circuit Championships, most of those tournaments drew in the 200-250 player range. 
 
The 226-player field in Chicago created a total prize pool amounting to $2,101,800.  That is the biggest prize pool in more than three years.  The payout nearly quadrupled the size of the average WSOP Circuit Main Event last year, which averaged just under $600,000.  The winner will receive $525,449 -- which is the biggest WSOP Circuit prize in more than three years.  This all took place, not in Las Vegas or Los Angeles – both proven poker markets with an enormous player pool of prospective entrants who live in the vicinity – but near Chicago, which is a great American city, but not exactly the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of the perfect place to stage a $10,000 buy-in poker tournament in its first offering.

The Nationally Televised Regional Championship is a bold new idea.  It was admittedly, very risky.  Nothing like it has been tried before.  Had only a handful of poker players turned up in Chicago for major poker tournament as some feared, the end result would have been, well -- embarrassing.
 
Instead, the only embarrassment rests with those who did not show up, missing on the golden opportunity to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool on national television.  Players will not only compete for more than $2 million in prize money.  The final nine will automatically win seats into the $1 million freeroll tournament called the WSOP Circuit National Championship, to be held in Las Vegas next May – just prior to the start of the 2011 WSOP.  Only 100 players will qualify to play in what will be a Gold Bracelet event, making it one of the most attractive overlays ever in poker.
 
Many of game’s top players arrived in Chicago to show their support.  Among the well-known names which entered the Regional Championship were – Barry Greenstein, Gavin Smith, David Baker, Chris Bell, Chad Brown, Nick Binger, Matt Brady, Doug “Rico” Carli, Eric Froehlich, Matt Glantz, Blair Hinkle, Frank Kassela, Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler, Kathy Liebert, Jeff Madsen, Jason Mercier, Sorel Mizzi, Tony Rivera, Vanessa Selbst, Dan Shak, Shannon Shorr, Justin Smith, Matt Stout, and Steve Zolotow.

There’s no doubt that the 2010-2011 WSOP Circuit season is going to be a smashing success.  In fact, it already is.  All three Circuit stops held so far have enjoyed a dramatic rise in attendance, not just for preliminary tournaments, but for Main Events, as well.  Overall prize pools are also up at all three WSOP Circuit stops, thus far.

So one thing bears repeating -- The World Series of Poker Circuit is back!  In fact, it’s bigger and stronger than ever.

The next WSOP Circuit stop will take place at the Imperial Palace Casino Resort and Spa, in Biloxi, MS.  The ten-event schedule will take place October 28 through November 10.

The next Nationally Televised Regional Championship is set to take place at Harrah’s Atlantic City.  The tournament runs December 4-22.  The $10,000 buy-in Regional Championship runs December 19-22.



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Footnotes:

[1] When the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act was passed in 2006, most agreed that the poker boom ended (at least temporarily), in the United States.

[2] Here are the attendance figures from the first season of the WSOP Circuit for each of the $10,000 buy-in Main Event Championships:  Atlantic City (249); San Diego (209); Las Vegas (222); Lake Tahoe (173); New Orleans (259).  Hence, this Regional Championship at 226 compares quite favorably with those pre-UIGEA days.