What does the upcoming year have in store for the poker world? After COVID-19 put us all on tilt in 2020, we can only hope for a more prosperous year, starting with the return of major live tournaments.
I made some predictions for 2020 a year ago, but I won’t spend much time revisiting them, simply because most of our picks were based on live tournament play. Given that only a few major tournaments ran in 2020 due to COVID-19, there’s really no point in rehashing the poker year that wasn’t.
Instead, we’ll move forward to what will hopefully be a better year for us all.
Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Save Live Poker?
Regardless of your political affiliation and thoughts on the vaccine, it’s likely we won’t see a return to normalcy in poker until the coronavirus is either defeated or, at least, barely existent. That is especially true for the pandemic in the US, given that most major tournaments take place in America.
The bad news is the virus is spreading like wildfire around the US and in other parts of the world. But, there is some hope in the months ahead, as a vaccine has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It will take some time to vaccinate the masses, and many people say they’ll refuse to take it. However, experts project as many as 100 million Americans will get vaccinated by the end of March.
Assuming the vaccine is effective in stopping COVID-19, that means it won’t be long before the virus slows down. That should be good news for live poker, as states will likely relax restrictions on businesses as soon as the coronavirus is no longer as serious of a threat.
Timing is Everything for the WSOP
While we should all be thankful a vaccine is on the way, we still don’t know how many people will refuse to take the vaccine and how long it will take to vaccinate enough people to reach herd immunity. So, there are still reasons to wonder if the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas will be canceled for a second straight year.
I’ll go the optimistic route and predict there will be a summer series, but turnout will be lower than normal. And if I were the one making the decisions, I would bump the series back a month to start in late June instead of late May. Why? Because I think May-June is pushing it a bit. One month extra could make a world of difference.
Remember, it’s going to take some time to distribute the vaccine. Until enough people are vaccinated, it’s hard to imagine events such as the WSOP running. But I do believe the series will run eventually in 2021. I just expect a lower turnout simply because there will still be certain individuals who aren’t quite ready to attend large gatherings.
Global Poker Index Player of the Year Contenders
We had very few major live tournaments to cover in 2020, so there isn’t a true Global Poker Index Player of the Year winner. Assuming the live poker scene returns during much of 2021, the race for POY should be quite entertaining.
There are so many potential contenders as the high-roller scene is quite competitive these days. The usual suspects — Alex Foxen, Stephen Chidwick, Justin Bonomo, Bryn Kenney, etc. — will likely be in contention. Don’t sleep on Timothy Adams and Kahle Burns, two players who were off to great starts in 2020 before COVID-19 struck. And Ali Imsirovic, if he puts in the volume, has as good of a shot at winning POY as anyone.
Masks Will Remain Prevalent in Poker Rooms
No one enjoys wearing a face mask to the poker table. I think I speak for most poker players who can’t wait for the day in which masks will be a thing of the past. But I also think that we’re unlikely to see that glorious day come until 2022.
Even once the vaccine begins distribution, face masks will still be required in most states and in many businesses, including casinos. I’m hopeful that by the time the WSOP rolls around, mask-wearing will be a thing of the past, but I don’t expect that to happen.
My best guess is that masks will be required by all players at the 2021 World Series of Poker, and in most poker rooms around the country. Perhaps, by the end of the year, we’ll have moved on from face coverings. I say “perhaps” because I don’t want to get your hopes up.
We’ll be Over These Heads-Up Challenges
Heads-up poker challenges were a huge hit in 2020. The Galfond Challenge drew some attention earlier in the year and now the Doug Polk versus Daniel Negreanu match is the talk of the poker community. But these intriguing battles are going to fizzle out eventually, likely in 2021.
Take the Galfond Challenge as the prime example. Phil Galfond’s first match against “VeniVidi1993” was quite entertaining. More than 20,000 viewers watched the final session, but then the poker community stopped tuning in to his next matches against “ActionFreak” and Chance Kornuth. Poker Twitter seems to be over the Galfond Challenge.
Polk and Negreanu lured us all in and the live-streams are hitting 20,000 viewers daily. That’s great news for poker, as it shows there is interest in the game. The problem is, there simply aren’t any other potential heads-up matches left that are nearly as intriguing as Polk vs. Negreanu, two long-time rivals with massive fan bases. And the increase in attention to these heads-up battles is also largely due to the lack of major live poker tournaments to follow in 2020.