WPT Downhill?

Feb. 5, 2012, Posted by Jeff.Kimber

WPT Downhill?

The World Poker Tour rolls into Venice this week, less than two months after it last landed in the north-east Italian city.

The WPT Venice Grand Prix is the second stop of 2012 after WPT Dublin, but is actually the 15th of 23 stops for the WPT, taking in North America, Europe and Africa. Stop 13 was also held at the Casino di Venezia Ca Vendramin Calergi, although it's been given the slightly less grand title of WPT Venice.

With a tournament on average every two weeks (near enough), is the WPT franchise being stretched too far?

While old favourites the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic, the Bay 101 Shooting Stars and the season-ending WPT Championship at the Bellagio are still present, this season has seen stops in Slovenia, Marrakech and Amneville to name but three.

In fact all three of these little-known stops have already taken place in season X, prize for anyone who can name the champion of any of them?

And that's where the stretched schedule lets down the WPT franchise, it cheapens the title of WPT Champion.

When the WPT launched, it was one of the big televised events, and every final was full of superstars.

Gus Hansen seemed to win every event, Daniel Negreanu wasn't far behind, and Phil Ivey was making finals for fun, but victory always eluded him.

All buy-ins were $10k, the same as the WSOP Main Event, and all the big names travelled to every event, with the rest of the field made up of local and a few online qualifiers as internet poker started to spread.

The only event to which none of that applied was the Grand Prix de Paris, the WPT's sojourn away from North America, the 'European stop' for which most of the American stars stayed at home.

The commentary team for WPT's was always Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, and their fantastic catchphrases and over-enthusiastic descriptions of the action made the show all the more watchable.

If ever there was a slow play, Vince would tell us that 'he's dug the hole, put the branches over it and he's waiting for the sucker to fall in'.

When the 'sucker' did succumb it was 'Bingo, bango, bongo' as the trap was sprung as the action took off.

Now with the extended schedule, the newer, more remote stops are not even televised, so Vince and Mike don't need to get their atlases out to try and find where they're off to next.

As one of the contributing factors behind the poker boom, the powers that be can't be blamed for trying to expand their brand and catch up ground on the European Poker Tour, which despite launching a couple of years later has caught up and surpassed the WPT in most poker players' affections as second only to winning a WSOP bracelet.

Perhaps what the recently-departed John Duthie did well in running the EPT though was not trying to over-expand and mop up all the desire for his tournaments throughout Europe and beyond.

And while the EPT has been spread around Europe and stopped in some pretty remote places, the season has always stuck to around 10 or 12 events and apart from the PCA, has stuck to home ground.

While it's fantastic for the people of Portoroz that the WPT rolled into their sleepy town on the Slovenia coast, 141 people ponying up E3000 in the hope of winning a first prize of E84,000 is not really the kind of tournament the WPT stood for.

Moreover, it cheapens the achievements of those that win the big WPTs, the ones with the big buy ins and the bigger, tougher fields, the premier events.

Players look on these newer WPT stops the same way they view WSOP bracelets won in Europe, which – admittedly with tongue in cheek – are counted as 'half bracelets' among sceptical traditionalists who feel the only place to win a World Series title is Las Vegas.

One achievement that shouldn't be lost in the 23 legs of this packed schedule is that of James Dempsey taking the Doyle Brunson Dive Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio just before Christmas.

In taking the prestigious title, Dempsey followed in the footsteps of previous winners including Daniel Negreanu, Gus Hansen, Joe Hachem, Daniel Alaei, Eugene Katchalov, and Antonio Esfandiari, turning his $10,000 buy-in into the $821,000 winner's prize.

Dempsey, already a WSOP bracelet winner, can now proudly call himself a WPT champ too, but surely his achievement, in defeating a loaded field in a super-deep stacked $10k in Vegas is worth more than winning a comp with a third of the runners paying a third of the buy-in in a town no-ones's heard of in eastern Europe somewhere?

Perhaps that is the answer, like in football, we need a Premiership and a First Division of WPT events, with the $10k buy-in, long-standing events making up the Premiership, and the rest in the division below.

That seems like a good idea until you do a bit of digging and find out the WPT Regional Series in the US and WPT National Series in Europe already exist in exactly that form, with smaller buy-ins and no WPT title or player of the year points for victors.

* Oh, by the way, those winners in Slovenia, Marrakech and Amneville were Miha Travnik, Mohamed Ali Houssam and Adrien Allain, just in case you were wondering. No I've never heard of them before or since either.

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