For the past couple months, much attention has been devoted to the action at the 2020 World Series of Poker Online. Well, the event has now wrapped up as of this past week. It’s time to take a look back, not just at the Main Event that gave it a proper sendoff, but also to the entire scenario.
If you’re just joining us for the first time in this column, the World Series of Poker Online provided a kind of replacement for the actual World Series of Poker. That event is usually the highlight of the poker season and has been a television staple for the past few decades. But due to precautions taken around the world, including Las Vegas where the tournament takes place, a postponement was necessary.
Since many modern players are well-versed in poker at the top online casinos, in stepped the online event. It began with tournaments held at WSOP.com for players based in Las Vegas or New Jersey, the epicenters of American gambling. GGPoker more than picked up the slack with events for players on international soil.
Concluding the Main Event
This past week featured the conclusion of the action, as the tournament that everyone was anticipating, the No-Limit Main Event, took the spotlight. Leading into the Main Event, organizers promised a $25 million guaranteed prize pool. When more than 5,800 players entered with a buy-in of $5,000, the prize pool rose to over $27.5 million, making it the highest in the history of online poker.
It all started two weekends ago as the field was winnowed down to just 38 competitors after the various flights sorted themselves out. Those 38 players were back at it last Saturday, winnowing the field down to the final table. Even though every one of those players was guaranteed a nice sum, all eyes were on the ultimate prize of over $3.9 million for the winner.
From there, the lead changed hands a few times. Wenling Gao of China did the hard work of dispatching several players in all-in battles. But when it came down to two players and head-to-head action, Gao found herself at a significant chip disadvantage to Bulgaria’s Stoyan Madanzhiev, who kept slowly and steadily as the others fell by the wayside.
On the hand that decided it, Gao seemed to be in the driver’s seat with a pair of aces to Madanzhiev’s unsuited six-seven. But when the flop came out three-four-five, Gao was in deep trouble. Hoping that Madanzhiev was bluffing the straight, she went all-in after an eight came on the turn, but, when the cards were flipped, she knew that there was no chance on the river.
Madanzhiev’s earnings in tournaments to that point were extremely modest and were immediately dwarfed by the winner’s share of the purse. Gao came up short in her efforts to become the first ever woman to capture the WSOP American Main Event. But her consolation prize wasn’t too bad at all, as she banked over $2.7.
The final four in the World Series of Poker Online Main Event (Tyler Rueger of America finished third and New Zealand’s Thomas Ward finished fourth) all bagged over $1 million. 728 of the 5,802 entries ended up with some sort of payout when all was said and done.
The Big Picture
And so it was that the World Series of Poker Online event came to its essential conclusion (there were some more bracelets handed out in some tourneys held over the past week) with one of those wild twists of fate that Hold’em style poker can bring. The game play over the past few months was filled with that kind of drama. But the question remains about whether or not this online action quite filled the void of the live version of the WSOP.
The New York Times ran an article this past week talking about the intrigue surrounding this year’s version of the WSOP. They talked about some of the highlights, including the memorable bracelet won by one player from a grocery store parking lot. And they also took a look at the lows, such as technical glitches that ranged from whole events having to be rescheduled to single hands where players were locked out from making the plays they wanted.
The article also talked about the oddities of the location requirements for the tournament. For the first stage on WSOP.com, players had to be settled in New Jersey or Nevada to take part. Once GGPoker took over, players could not be on American soil if they wanted to play in the different bracelet events.
On the one hand, this seems absurd, especially for something purporting to be the official World Series of Poker. While many top American pros could spare the expense of a jaunt off the Mexico for a month of online action, the location requirements likely scared some folks away.
But, by the same token, players from countries outside the U.S. had much greater access to the action that they might have enjoyed if they were forced to travel to Vegas for the live event. Let’s put it this way: Could you have envisioned a final head-to-head between players from Bulgaria and China in the Vegas event?
Looking through social media following the Main Event was interesting. On the one hand, there were many people exhilarated by the Main Event and the action that took place during all through the past month. But there were a lot of contrarians as well, people questioning the legitimacy of it and comparing it to run-of-the-mill online events that take place all the time.
It’s a debate that isn’t likely to subside within the poker community very soon. But perhaps the best way to look at it was to say that this online version of the World Series of Poker was the best that could be done under the extreme circumstances.
Final Thoughts About the 2020 WSOP
Could it have gone smoother? Yes, of course. And there are many improvements that could be made going forward.
As for the location issues, those will be hard to overcome unless American laws change. Perhaps by the next time something like this is undertaken, more states will allow online gambling. It seems like a long shot to see the federal laws change anytime soon, considering how slow those wheels turn.
The other question to be answered will be what happens to the online event if some semblance of normalcy returns and the event can take place in Vegas sometime in the future. Will it disappear? Or will it be a compliment to the live proceedings?
As the great 80s band Asia once said so wisely, only time will tell. Until then, we thank the 2020 World Series of Poker Online event for the memories.