I’ve been fortunate to have been with the World Series of Poker Circuit since Day One.  

I remember my earliest discussions with those who work in the poker industry.  We talked about what the WSOP Circuit might be, what we thought it would eventually become, and what place it would ultimately take among the plethora of major poker tournaments and tours which are now spread all over the world.

Back in 2005 when things began, we all agreed the timing was perfect to take the WSOP to new heights.  After all, the poker boom was in full swing.  The WSOP had doubled in size during each of the previous two years.  And best of all, Harrah’s Entertainment owned and operated a string of casinos and hotels all around the country, many of which were perfectly suited to welcome the most prestigious event in all of gaming.

Indeed, the idea behind the WSOP Circuit was brilliant.  Instead of players coming out to the WSOP once per year, the WSOP would now travel out to them – placing stops all around the country.  Players unable to make the trip to Las Vegas during the summer months suddenly had the option of competing in a similar environment and playing against many of the most famous names in poker much closer to home.  The Circuit would run nearly year around, which meant about once per month on average a WSOP-related event being held somewhere in the United States.  

The WSOP Circuit’s earliest years were a smashing success.  There were more casinos interested in hosting an event than calendar dates that were available.  Hotel rooms filled up.  Many events sold out completely.  ESPN also televised several WSOP Circuit championships during the first two years.  Once these programs aired on television, the consensus view was that they were just as exciting as any gold bracelet event played in Las Vegas.  It seemed the WSOP Circuit had not only arrived, but would be the premier tournament franchise attached to the most respected poker event in the world.  

But things almost never turn out quite the way they were intended nor envisioned.  Somewhere along the way, WSOP Circuits lost some of their early glamour.  Perhaps it was just the inevitable reality that WSOP tournaments weren’t a one-of-a-kind attraction anymore.  Players got used to seeing the WSOP come to their hometown casino each year which diminished the novelty of hosting high-profile poker events.  But nothing hurt the WSOP Circuit more severely than the departure of television cameras from its championship events.  Any other tour series would have folded immediately from the drastic reduction in national exposure.  But due in large measure to undeniable player loyalty and some extraordinary efforts by Circuits properties, most WSOP Circuit events continued to attract big crowds.

During 2007-2009, most WSOP Circuit stops prospered.  Just about all Circuits added poker events to their schedules.  Some schedules went from eight to ten gold ring events up to 15, or as many as 20 in some cases.  Other non-gold ring tournaments were added, too.  In short, the poker pie was cut into some pretty thin slices.  But even a global recession and a major economic crisis did not significantly hurt overall WSOP Circuit numbers from one season to the next.  In fact, new attendance records were set at some WSOP Circuit events held last year. [1]

But achieving mild successes is often not enough, especially with something attached to the biggest event in poker.  Indeed, everyone who works on the WSOP strives to make things better.  Not content with the status quo and doing merely what’s proven to work in the past, key executives at Harrah’s decided to ramp up the WSOP Circuit into something that promises to be much bigger, better, and more popular to just about everyone who loves the game of poker and plays in tournaments.

This year’s WSOP Circuit promises to be the most exciting in history.  The 2010-2011 schedule runs from August (2010) through May (2011).  The tour includes at least 13 stops, the most ever.  Perhaps the biggest change that players will recognize is the implementation of a player points-ranking system which will be in effect throughout the season.  Points will be awarded for all official open “gold ring” events, with the top finishers accumulating a tally at each Circuit stop.  At season’s end, the top ranked players will be eligible to participate in what is called the WSOP Circuit “National Championship.”

Prior to the National Championship, there will be four Regional Championships held around the country.  Each Regional Championship will have a $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em event.  These four Regional Championships will be given two-hours of national television coverage, per stop.  This season's Regional Championships will take place in Chicago (Hammond, IN), Harrah’s Atlantic City, Harrah’s Rincon, and Harrah’s New Orleans.

The showcase event of the WSOP Circuit season will be the National Championship, which will be the first of its kind.  The special event will take place at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, to be held sometime in May 2011 -- just prior to the start of next year’s World Series of Poker.  Only 100 players will qualify to compete for a $1,000,0000 prize pool.  Furthermore, the national champion will receive a the most coveted prize in poker -- a WSOP gold bracelet.  The National Championship will also be televised.

Based on what’s taken place at the first WSOP Circuit stop, players already appear to be excited about the new concept.  The first WSOP Circuit stop of the season just wrapped up at Horseshoe Council Bluffs (Iowa) at the end of August.  The overall numbers were up.  But what was most striking was the huge increase in Main Event participation.  The championship buy-in was reduced to $1,500 this year, from $5,000 in previous years.  The number of players increased from 46 up to a whopping 251.  Even more striking was the prize pool, which increased by 70 percent over last year.  Not many poker tournaments, if any, can claim they quadrupled attendance and came close to doubling the amount of money in the prize pool.  But Council Bluffs did exactly that, which is a sure sign that poker players are excited about the new WSOP Circuit concept and vast improvements.  

Indeed, the early reports from Council Bluffs revealed players were playing in more events in order to try and accumulate ranking points.  As excitement builds and more players become eligible for the National Championship, there's little doubt that successive WSOP Circuit events will experience an increase in attendance.  This means more excitement, bigger fields, more cash games, and bigger prize pools for everyone.

Coming up next are ten gold bracelet tournaments to be held at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, which run October 2-12.  That will be followed by the WSOP Circuit stop at Horseshoe Hammond (Chicago), which runs October 15 -27.  Hammond will also host the first televised Regional Championship, which is a $10,000 buy-in event.

No doubt, the WSOP Circuit has come a long way since its humble beginnings back in January 2005.  This year’s tournament series should be the biggest ever.  We invite you to come and be part of the action and try to make your mark on poker history.

For a full list of WSOP Circuit dates and tournament schedules, please click HERE.

Footnote 1:  Last year’s opening event at Horseshoe Hammond (Chicago) drew 1,412 players, which was the biggest turnout in WSOP Circuit history.