After the World Poker Tour moves the Tournament of Champions from Florida to Las Vegas, Lee Davy, sits down with Matt Savage to ask him a few questions about the first two years of the new format.
In 2015, the World Poker Tour (WPT) made a bold statement when it curtailed the WPT Championships and replaced it with the WPT Tournament of Champions (TOC).
In an attempt to hype up the prestige of the event, only Main Event winners in that season would be invited to play, free of charge, and supplementing the field would be the WPT Champions Club members each paying $15,000 a pop for a seat.
There was also a new home.
For the first two years, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida hosted the WPT TOC. The first event was a perfectly scripted fairytale with Farid Yachou winning the $381,600 first prize, and host of premium prizes including a 2016 Corvette. Yachou qualified for the event by winning in Amsterdam in his first live tournament. Daniel Weinman won the second championship for $381,500 and sledge full or prizes including a brand new 201 Audi S5 Coupe.
The decision to change the format, effectively cutting off the ability to become involved unless you were a WPT Champion angered and frustrated some of the more vocal grinders who weren’t in that unique club. And even some of those who were in the club said they wouldn’t compete in the new format.
But things change.
In 2015, Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi told me in an interview that it would be unwise to pay $15,000 to enter an event containing nothing but a field of champions. In 2017 he finished runner-up to Weinman.
For Season XVI, the WPT has decided to move the home of the TOC to the ARIA in Las Vegas, and so it gave me a perfect opportunity to speak to the WPT’s Matt Savage about the first two years of the WPT’s Premier Event.
Here is what he had to say.
1. Why does the WPT have a Tournament of Champions?
The WPT Tournament of Champions was established to crown the champion of champions of the World Poker Tour, and also to reward WPT Champions Club members with a true “championship” event.
2. Who is it for?
The WPT Tournament of Champions is a prestigious event reserved for WPT Champions Club members. To become a member of the WPT Champions Club, one must win a WPT Main Tour event. Each season, the WPT Tournament of Champions is open to our champions, both new and old. Players from the current season gain entry as part of their prize for winning a WPT Main Tour event, with accommodation and travel included. Past champions are eligible to buy-in for $15,000.
If your name adorns the WPT Champions Cup, you are eligible to compete in the WPT Tournament of Champions.
3. Why Will They care?
WPT Champions care very much. Collectively, they are some of the most loyal poker players in the world, and they have shown us that they care very much in the first two editions of the WPT Tournament of Champions.
Belonging to the WPT Champions Club is an exclusive honor that only 250 members of the poker community belong in. Eligibility to compete in the WPT Tournament of Champions is held in the highest regard, and we’re confident in saying that all of our champions are very much positive towards the WPT Tournament of Champions.
4. What do the people you want to serve want?
Something we’re very proud of at the World Poker Tour is being the player-friendly tour. In regards to the WPT Tournament of Champions, we’re offering our champions a true championship that allows us to celebrate the WPT Champions Club in the tremendous manner it deserves.
If I was a player, and if my WPT colleagues were players, what we would want as poker players and as champions? We’d want a special event dedicated solely to us that provides great value. At the WPT, that is what we strive to deliver each season with the WPT Tournament of Champions.
5. What do they believe?
Champions believe in being treated like champions. As a winner of a World Poker Tour event, you are a member of an extremely exclusive club of players that have triumphed at the highest level of the game. We understand these players believe in being rewarded for such accomplishments, and it is why we want to honor them accordingly with the WPT Tournament of Champions.
6. What will they say to friends after competing in the TOC?
It is our goal that every WPT Champions Club member leaves with a memorable experience that keeps them coming back each and every season. Additionally, we strive to have WPT champions leave the event with the urge to tell other players, “Hey, you need to try and get into this tournament. It’s unbelievable.”
7. What happens because the TOC exists?
Establishing the WPT Tournament of Champions has allowed us to achieve a couple of key goals. First, it allows us to crown the champion of champions each season. Second, and this point cannot be emphasized enough, it allows us to give WPT Champions Club members the outstanding tournament experience they deserve.
8. What are the TOC’s greatest strengths?
The superior player experience, the white-glove service, and the immense amount of value added.
The WPT has gone to great lengths to provide not only a remarkable player experience but also to provide exceptional added value. In each of the first two seasons, the WPT Tournament of Champions had $100,000 added to the prize pool.
In Season XIV, the WPT Tournament of Champions awarded a Corvette to the winner and all competing players were presented with special gifts, such as a luxurious Biaggi travel bag.
In Season XV, the winner took home a brand new Audi S5, a custom poker table from BBO Poker Tables, seat in Tiger’s Poker Night Presented by World Poker Tour, and a one-week stay with Wyndham Extra Holidays. Also in Season XV, all participants received a custom-fitted pair of Maui Jim sunglasses.
This is, of course, not to mention the luxurious Hublot watch the winner receives.
As you can see, the WPT goes all out for its champions. No matter if you’re the WPT Tournament of Champions winner or simply a participant, all players benefit.
9. What weakness is going to get in your way if you don’t address it?
The WPT is constantly looking to improve, and every season there are new things we look to address. This is one of the reasons we’ve held a bi-annual player forum that all players are invited to attend. While I can’t pick one specific thing out as our weakness, I can confidently say that we’re always listening and always looking to get better.
10. What are the primary lessons learned from the switch to the new format?
The primary lesson learned is that we understand what our players want, both WPT champions and aspiring ones, and that we need to listen to the best of our ability.
By establishing the WPT Tournament of Champions, we learned that our champions want to be treated as such, and we’re extremely thankful for the reception the event has received. We also learned that non-champions strongly want a final, high buy-in WPT Main Tour event that serves as the season’s last chance to win into the WPT Tournament of Champions. That’s why we introduced the WPT Finale and will look to replicate this model going forward, as players loved it.
We’re pleased that both the move to the WPT Tournament of Champions and addition of the WPT Finale have worked out, garnering a lot of recognition and appreciation from the players.
11. What promises are you going to make and keep?
That we will do whatever it takes to honor our WPT Champions Club members and provide a player-friendly experience.
12. Why the change of venue?
The WPT Tournament of Champions was always meant to be flexible with its location. We are very grateful for the first two seasons of the event to have been held at Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida. They set the standard of excellence that the WPT Tournament of Champions demands and we know that Aria Resort & Casino is a first-class venue that will do the same.
While many casinos have expressed interest in hosting the WPT Tournament of Champions, we couldn’t be more excited to have Aria as the host of the Season XVI event. Aria is a world-class resort, and Sean McCormack and his team are top notch. Plus, coming to Aria allows us to return to Las Vegas, the home of many WPT champions and players, and the place where it all began for the World Poker Tour.
13. Where would you like to see the TOC go from here?
We would love to see the WPT Tournament of Champions continue to thrive and give our champions a best-in-class experience to end each World Poker Tour season.