The WPT Championship at the Wynn is just wrapping this week and even those who didn’t win millions are happy with a well-run series that brought huge numbers of poker players to Vegas. The ambitious guarantees also inspired poker rooms all over Vegas to run their own series to take advantage of the thousands of players who came to town for the event.
I knew when I saw the schedule that I was going to play a few of these events. A $15 million guarantee? I think that makes it the biggest tournament ever run outside of the WSOP, and with the number of free seats the WPT gave away on Twitter, the field was bound to be soft. And, a good number of mixed-game events had me drooling.
The schedule looked great, but I had concerns. How was the Wynn going to handle this many players? Where would they find the space, and the dealers, for that many players? The Wynn has never run a series this big, not even close. But I’ve played enough tournaments in that building to know that Barry, their tournament director, knows how to handle his business. And the WPT has been doing this for a long time. So, I was hopeful.
My hope wasn’t in vain. The venue, the staff, and the WPT did a great job overall. Let’s start with the good stuff because there is a whole lot more of it than there were negatives.
The Wynn WPT took place in a beautiful space
The smaller events were held in the usual space just outside the poker room at Encore. Unlike some venues that run events on their casino floor, the space wasn’t ringing with slot machine noises or full of smoke. Bathrooms were nearby and never crowded, and the tables were spaced out far enough to make sure that someone wasn’t bumping into my chair every 30 seconds.
The big events were held in a huge ballroom space at the back of the Encore building near the parking garage entrance. Speaking of parking, it was easy and free, another bonus when compared to most tournament venues in Vegas that either charge for parking or require players to park a quarter mile away and hike in.
The larger space was a beautiful room with over 100 tables and enough space to feel comfortable, even with a thousand players. Huge screens on the walls showed us a few soccer and football matches while we played, and the peace and quiet was nice when compared to the constant calling out for cash game seats through the loudspeakers at the WSOP.
The dealers from the venue are always great. I play at the Wynn frequently and the staff is great, from dealers to waitstaff and floor people. The traveling dealers were also solid, and I didn’t run into a single bad dealer. At a large tournament series, this can be rare, and the only event to compare this to is the WSOP, where there are frequently inexperienced dealers because of the incredible number of staff it requires.
The timing was perfect for a big WPT event
I’ve always hated that our biggest poker tournament series all happen in the summer. When I was traveling to Sin City for the summer events (I live in Vegas now), I hated coming here when it was miserably hot. The great weather here happens in the spring and fall, but at least in December, your car won’t be 160 degrees if you park outside. Having the series at exactly the halfway point between each summer series gives us a nice boost in tourism and available tournaments for local players at a time when we can really use it.
The WPT has already announced that they’re going to do this again next year, and I think the plan is to make it a second huge poker festival in Vegas every year. If that’s the plan, then we welcome it and hope that it blows up even bigger next year.
The series wasn’t perfect
As big poker series go, this was a solid event. But it was a big poker series, and the trend in recent years has been to soak players for as much money outside the event as possible. The food options were a good example of this. A kitchen that was hardly a better value than the WSOP’s widely mocked Poker Kitchen was located outside the venue, and the cafe near the event closed early every night.
The variety of excellent restaurants at the Wynn is second to none for casinos in Vegas, but none of them are cheap, and every one of them was booked up on dinner breaks during the larger tournaments. I knew to go across the street for burgers or tacos, but most players didn’t, and there was some complaining from players who went hungry because every restaurant was full with a long wait.
There were also a few minor hiccups, with players discovering that they were in a different room for Day Two, or events not starting exactly on time. But for their first time, this was run much better than I would have imagined. I would have taken the under on most of the elements of running this series, and I would have lost on most of those bets.
Here’s to hoping
I would love to see this become what players are already calling “The Winter WSOP,” though I’m sure the WPT wouldn’t want it to be saddled with that particular moniker. But the WSOP isn’t just the World Series of Poker. For players, it is also venues all over town hosting other events, with buy-ins at every size and poker players everywhere. It’s summer camp for poker.
And now, we might have a holiday version of the same thing — a winter camp. Real competition for the WSOP might be really good for everyone. There haven’t been any real challengers in the past, and I know many people who would love to see a little heat on Caesars to be a little more generous with their approach to players.
I had that $4 million already spent, too …
I busted early on Day Two of the main event after getting three premium hands in the first five hands of the day. First place was well over $4 million dollars and the field was still full of qualifiers who won free seats on Twitter or in other giveaways. I felt really good starting Day Two, so the bust out was disappointing, but I’ve busted a lot bigger tournaments over the years and walked away feeling fine and glad that I don’t have to rely on poker for my entire income as I did for nearly 20 years.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s WPT and maybe making time to play a few more events. If I’m really lucky, maybe I can grab one of those $10K seats they give away on Twitter.