The Poker Tour War For Superiority Is Hurting, Not Helping

Written By Martin Derbyshire on May 3, 2018

For the first time in what seems like a long time, big-time poker players had a big-time choice when it came to where to play this week.

For the most part, major poker tours around the world have steered clear of one another in what has been a decade of unprecedented growth. Each clearly saw the benefits of scheduling events around, rather than against, each other. Each knew they were ultimately trying to attract the same group of players.

They knew forcing those players to choose between them would only hurt them all. They knew competing for space on the calendar would only result in smaller fields and smaller prize pools. The kind of things that can have a major effect on an event and tour’s overall marketability.

The smaller, more intimate poker tournament is a tough sell in a community where everyone is trying to maximize personal earning potential.

Giving the WSOP its due

As they grew into the powerful entities they are today, the World Poker Tour and PokerStars’ European Poker Tour always left the end of May to the middle of July to the World Series of Poker. With much of the poker world descending upon Las Vegas, Nevada for the six-week duration of the series, it’s a move that made sense for all sorts of reasons. Not the least of which was the fact any event running at the same time as the WSOP outside of Vegas is bound to be an epic failure.

However, the cease-fire in the war for poker tour supremacy extended to the rest of the year as well. The WPT, EPT, and smaller upstart tours looking to compete with them often visit the same locations around the world. Obviously, they do so on different dates. Most also make stops in places that appear to be their exclusive domain. However, they always seemed to make sure to schedule these events in weeks where the other tours were dark. It was an effort to maximize potential attendance at each and it worked.

Tour and event organizers may not have sat down and figured it all out on the calendar together. It was always more of an informal thing. However, they always seemed to respect one another enough to play nice and figure out a way to split up the poker pie in a fair an equitable manner for all involved.

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Good for players?

Players certainly benefited from this understanding between them. The calendar was filled with high-stakes poker action around the globe. The tours didn’t seem to be competing with one another on that calendar very often. So, players could be assured events were maximizing attendance. In turn, this maximized each players’ earning potential no matter where they went.

Players had choices. However, the choice was to go or not to go, rather than to play here or there.

Unfortunately, all that went out the window this week.

As the calendar turned from April to May, the WPT kicked off its $10,000 Bellagio Elite Poker Championship event at Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, the EPT was in the middle of its 2018 PokerStars and Monte-Carlo Casino EPT €5,300 Main Event in Monaco.

Plus, the 2018 partypoker LIVE MILLIONS North America $5,300 Main Event was going on at the Playground Poker Club in Montreal, Canada.

All for one and one for all

Running these events against one another had to hurt them all. The partypoker event in Montreal drew 1,954 entries, the most of all three tournaments. However, it wasn’t enough to cover the event’s ambitious $10 million guarantee without dipping into the fees.

The EPT in Monte Carlo drew 777 entries, creating a €3,768,450 prize pool. That was a bit more than the 727 entries and €3,525,950 prize pool the 2017 PokerStars Championship Monte Carlo event posted last year. However, it pales in comparison to the 1,098 entries and €5,325,300 prize pool put together the last time the EPT was in Monaco in 2016.

Finally, the WPT drew just 126 entries to it’s Las Vegas event, creating a $1,222,200 prize pool. In comparison, the last time the WPT held a $10,000 buy-in event in Las Vegas was its WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December 2017. It was held at a time when there was little else going on in the world of high-stakes tournament poker and drew 812 players, creating a $7,876,400 prize pool.

A new era for the poker tour

A new era has been ushered in for poker tours around the globe. EPT founder John Duthie is now running the show at partypoker. He criticizes PokerStars every chance he gets. Plus, he seems hell-bent on ending that organization’s dominance of the live tournament circuit. Even if that means going heads-up with them on the tournament calendar.

In the meantime, it seems PokerStars and the WPT have spent the past couple of seasons throwing every marketing idea they’ve ever had at the wall to see what sticks. It smacks of a desperate effort to hold on to market share. Unfortunately, several of these ideas haven’t worked out as planned. Particularly the ones that have involved competing on the calendar with other tours.

Clearly, the cease-fire in the war for poker tour supremacy has ended. The tours are going up against each other in a way they rarely have before. Now, players have new choices. The battle is back is on. And it will ultimately be up to those same players to decide who wins it.

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Written by
Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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