There was a time not too long ago when the worldwide poker tournament calendar was essentially empty outside of the World Series of Poker. Then the World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour came along, adding all sorts of events at the beginning and end of the year. Then smaller regional tours began to spring up, a few independent tours and tournaments made their mark, and within just a few years the tournament calendar was overflowing. Now there’s plenty of poker all year long, including the period that used to be the doldrums before the WSOP. Here’s a look at five tournaments worth paying attention to over the next few months.
1. EPT Madrid, Casino Gran Madrid, Madrid, March 12 − 17
Spain has been on the poker map ever since Carlos Mortensen won the WSOP Main Event back in 2001, but the arrival of the European Poker Tour gave the country a case of poker fever.
Barcelona has been a tournament mainstay for some time now, both for the EPT and the WPT, but Madrid only got its first internationally significant tournament when the EPT held its Grand Final there last year. Though that tournament has moved back to its old home in Monaco this year (see below), the stop in the Spanish capital was such a success that EPT management couldn’t resist scheduling a regular-season event there for Season 8.
A full complement of side events is on the schedule for EPT Madrid, including a €10,000 8-max event with a single reload option and a €3,000 heads-up tournament. But the big draw is the €5,000 EPT main event, which is almost sure to meet the 600-player cap given the EPT’s continuing popularity throughout Season 8 and Madrid’s status as one of the finest cities in Europe.
2. WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown, Hard Rock Casino, Hollywood, April 18 − 23
3. WPT Jacksonville Best Bet Open, Orange Park, Jacksonville, April 28 – May 2
There is no faster-growing poker market in the United States right now than Florida. Thanks to the state legislature’s decision in 2010 to lift the caps on tournament and cash-game buy-ins, the Sunshine State has become one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dark time for American poker. Several Floridians, including all-world tournament pro Jason Mercier, had already made names for themselves in the poker world, but the legal shift made it possible for others to stake their claim to fame without leaving home.
The WSOP Circuit (in Palm Beach) and the World Poker Tour (both up north in Jacksonville and down south in Hollywood) have cashed in on the game’s growing popularity in Florida this season. The buy-ins for those tournaments were relatively low at $1,600 (WSOPC) and $3,500 (WPT), but now the WPT is prepared to test the market with back-to-back events featuring bigger buy-ins at the same poker rooms where it had success earlier this season.
The Seminole Hard Rock Showdown in south Florida will sport a $10,000 buy-in, a first for the state, while players at the Jacksonville Best Bet Open will have to pony up $5,000 to play. The last Hard Rock event drew 295 players and the last Jacksonville tourney attracted 393. If these new tournaments can register even remotely similar numbers, that would put them on par with WPT events in other American locations. Should that happen, Florida events could become a mainstay on the WPT for the foreseeable future.
4. EPT Grand Final, Monte-Carlo Casino, Monaco, April 23 – May 1
The setting, the size and strength of the field, the amount of money up for grabs, the chance to go down in poker history – in nearly every respect, the EPT Grand Final is the definition of modern poker tournament prestige. After calling Madrid its home last season, the EPT Grand Final returns to Monte-Carlo Casino in Monaco this year. It’s one of the single most impressive venues in the world for a poker tournament, and a fitting one for the richest poker tournament in all of Europe.
Over the seven years of its existence, the EPT Grand Final has seen its field grow from 211 players in 2005 to as many as 935 in 2009. The last few season have seen slightly smaller fields – 848 in 2010 and 686 last year in the smaller Madrid venue – but the prize money up for grabs has remained greater than in any other European tournament. The seven winners have collected a combined $15,073,320, with the 2008 champion, Canada’s Glen Chorny, claiming the biggest share at $3.196 million. (Pieter de Korver’s 2009 win was larger in euros, but those euros were worth less in 2009.)
The schedule for this year’s EPT Grand Final includes a total of 37 events, including one Super High Roller and two High Roller tournaments and the €10,000 Main Event. With the EPT Player of the Year award still very much up for grabs – Ondrej Vinklarek and Roberto Romanello are in a virtual dead heat, with Martin Finger, Steve O’Dwyer and Jonathan Duhamel still within striking distance – there should be plenty of drama in Monaco as the month of April draws to a close.
5. WPT Championship, Bellagio, Las Vegas, May 4 – May 26
There was a time when this tournament was one of the single most prestigious events outside of the WSOP Main Event. The $25,000 buy-in guaranteed a field stacked with star players, the Bellagio provided a picturesque setting for high-stakes poker, and the WPT’s television presence made it a sure bet that the event’s winner would enjoy a boost to his reputation. From Tuan Le winning his second title of the season in 2005, to Carlos Mortensen becoming the only player to win the WSOP Main Event and the WPT Championship in 2007, to David Chiu’s come-from-behind win over Gus Hansen in 2008, the WPT Championship has provided plenty of memorable moments over the years.
It still holds on to some of its prestige thanks to a long history, but the WPT Championship has definitely fallen a few notches over the last few years. Many of the factors leading to its decline have been beyond the WPT’s control – a sluggish economy and a US government crackdown on online poker haven’t helped much – but regardless of the cause, turnout has been a problem for the WPT Championship the last two years. The 2010 installment won by David Williams drew only 195 players, easily the smallest field for the event since Alan Goehring defeated 110 other players in 2003. In 2011, champion Scott Seiver and 219 other players turned out, a step up from 2010 but a far cry from the tournament’s poker-boom heyday.
The WPT has been on the upswing lately so there’s a good chance that this year’s field will grow once again. But even if it remains in the same neighborhood as the last two events, the winner isn’t going to complain – even last year’s relatively anemic turnout was still enough to build a prize pool worth $5.3 million.