Unpopular Opinion: Hossein Ensan Should Remain Poker’s World Champ Until Next Summer (Op-Ed)

No disrespect to Stoyan Madanzhiev and whoever wins the upcoming 2020 WSOP Main Event Part II, but Hossein Ensan should retain the title of poker’s world champion until we have a traditional World Series of Poker again.

Hossein Ensan WSOP poker

Despite what Ty Stewart wants, Hossein Ensan is still the champ. (Image: WSOP.com)

Ensan won the Main Event in Las Vegas last summer for $10 million. He did so the same way each world champion has done so since the late 1970s — by winning a live, $10,000 buy-in freezeout. Madanzhiev, on the other hand, won a $5,000 buy-in online poker tournament that permitted multiple rebuys.

The global health pandemic has forced the WSOP and sports leagues to adapt this year. Major League Baseball, for example, played a 60-game schedule, 102 games short of its normal season, with no fans in the stands. WSOP operators moved the live series in Las Vegas to the internet for an 85-event series on GGPoker and WSOP.com.

While the upcoming Main Event is a great idea for poker (TV exposure on ESPN), crowning a world champ based on who wins that tournament doesn’t seem right for a few reasons.

Hossein Ensan is Still the Champ in My Book

The first reason the WSOP shouldn’t anoint anyone a world champion next month is because it’s disrespectful to Madanzhiev. It seems like a slap in the face to him, almost like his incredible accomplishment wasn’t good enough for the World Series of Poker.

Madanzhiev won a historic poker tournament, which boasted the largest prize pool in online poker history (more than $27 million). He received $3.9 million and a gold WSOP bracelet — the first he’s ever won. He even showed poker Twitter a picture of his bracelet and a letter signed by GGPoker ambassador Daniel Negreanu stating, “Congratulations on winning WSOP Event #77: $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event.”

While it’s arguable that the GGPoker WSOP Main Event never should have been considered the world championship of poker for 2020, it’s still a slap in the face to Madanzhiev to crown someone else the champ.

Sure, the summer Main Event was far different than normal. The buy-in was cheaper than the customary $10,000 fee, it was played exclusively online, and rebuys were permitted for the first time. For those reasons, you could argue Madanzhiev never deserved to be considered the world champion.

But that same argument can be made for next month’s WSOP Main Event do-over. The upcoming “world championship” event is mostly being played online at GGPoker and WSOP.com. That differs greatly from the version Hossein Ensan won last year or Phil Hellmuth won in 1989. While the buy-in is the standard $10,000 and rebuys aren’t permitted, the world champion of poker has always earned that crown in person, at a Las Vegas casino. Not on the internet. Only the final table will be played live.

Why Do We Need a 2020 Poker World Champion?

In 1994, MLB’s players went on strike, forcing the cancelation of the World Series for the first time since 1904. No baseball team won a title that year. The situation certainly wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world for Major League Baseball. The Toronto Blue Jays, the team that won it all in 1993, simply remained the defending champs until 1995.

That’s the route the WSOP should take this year. By all means, host the hybrid online-live Main Event next month. Get that television exposure on ESPN. Given the lack of major poker tournaments since March, the poker world could sure use an event like this.

Just be aware, this idea seems like a slap in the face to Madanzhiev when you crown another player world champion in a mostly online event. Poker can do without a world champion in 2020. It’s not the end of the world. If Madanzhiev’s victory isn’t worthy of world championship status, there shouldn’t be a champ at all.

Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.


Ty Stewart wrote...

Jon, thank you for the thoughtful, balanced opinion. The most unfortunate thing in all of this is that we have been positioned as disrespectful to Madanzhiev. We were all-in on WSOP Online, pushing for a partnership which would deliver the highest guarantees ever and make history. His accomplishment to win the Guniness Book of World Records online event and nearly $4M can never be diminshed.

And while we appreciate the passion and loyalty of the poker community to defend the honor of one of its own, there was no bait and switch by the WSOP. We launched WSOP Online as a separate entity, with its own logo and brand identity. This is quite similar to the WSOP Circuit, or WSOP Europe, etc. all of which have Main Events. We were transparent from this press release in our desire to still congregate the WSOP in the Fall. We scheduled the event at a different price point and format. And we certainly would not have completely disqualified all american players to be eligible for our hallmark event, which has been hosted in the USA since 1970.

The only error here was one enthusiastic individual at sponsor GGPoker (note even the signature from GG Poker ambassador Daniel Negreanu and not myself or Jack Effel) in a warm attempt to give Stoyan something to accompany his bracelet in the mail, did not get approval and did not understand the importance of the nuance. They used the correct WSOP Online logo, but unfortuantely added the line of “51st Annual World Series of Poker Hosted by GGPoker.”

I regreat that error was made on this makeshift certificate we did not review, approve or even knew was in existence until Stoyan took to twitter following our announcement on the Main Event. I understand this is the risk you bare when you have a new, third party partner engaged in promoting your brand. But at the end of the day, our responsibility is broader than a perceived slight to one player who won nearly 4M this summer as a result of our willingness to pivot and embrace new formats. It is to use our platform to promote the game, to create unique opportunities for mass tournament prize pools and notiority for its participants. We were thrilled to deliver upon these ideals over the summer, and we hope that over the next few weeks, poker players will come to see the benefit of having a modified format for poker’s signature event vs. nothing at all. We look forward to personally awarding the World Championship Bracelet on ESPN in December, alongside a million extra dollars in prize pool, to whomever decides to chase this chapter in our history.


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