How a COVID-19 Vaccine Will Impact Live Poker Tournaments in 2021

5 min read

Want the live poker tournament scene to return to normalcy at some point in the near future? Then get the COVID-19 vaccine, and tell all your friends and family to do the same.

live poker covid vaccine
Live poker isn’t getting back to normal until you take this shot. (Image:

This isn’t a pro-vaccine article, and we aren’t being paid off by Pfizer or BioNTech to write this. Nor are we here to scold you if you don’t trust the vaccine that’s currently rolling out in the US. If you don’t feel being vaccinated is necessary, or you question the safety of the vaccine, that’s your right. We aren’t going to pass any judgment. Your body, your life, your beliefs.

But you should know the likelihood of major live poker tournaments returning in the US in 2021, including the WSOP, is low if the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t successful.

Impact of COVID-19 Vaccine on Live Poker Tournaments

We haven’t seen any major live poker tournaments since mid-March. The 51st annual World Series of Poker was canceled thanks to the global health pandemic. The World Poker Tour, Super High Roller Bowl, and every other major event was non-existent over the past nine months. No one can say for sure when those tournaments will return, but there may be some good news on the horizon for tournament grinders.

Two COVID-19 vaccines are ready are now being distributed in the US, and early trials indicate an expected 95% efficacy rate. So, assuming the clinical research is accurate, most of those who take the vaccine will have immunity to the virus. It should be noted, however, that researchers still don’t know if those who are vaccinated can spread the virus to others.

More than 200,000 Americans are catching COVID-19 daily, and more than 315,000 have died since February. Until a significant percentage of the US population is immune from catching and spreading the virus, it’s unlikely we’ll see any sort of normalcy with poker tournaments and life in general.

That includes the WSOP, which attracts thousands of players each summer, all cramped together, breathing all over each other, inside the Rio convention center. Hence, the reason the 2020 WSOP was canceled, as it most assuredly would have been dubbed a super-spreader event. That’s also the reason the series is unlikely to return in 2021 if COVID-19 is still spreading like wildfire.

What to Expect Going Forward

Pfizer and BioNTech have already begun distributing their FDA-approved vaccines to healthcare workers and some essential workers. A third company — Moderna — just had its vaccine approved for use.

Despite the beginning of the vaccine rollout, President-Elect Joe Biden anticipates tough times ahead. The Democratic politician, at a recent press conference, urged Americans to stay vigilant over the holidays.

“Taking the vaccine from a vial into the arm of millions of Americans is one of the biggest operational challenges the United States has ever faced,” Biden said.

The President-Elect also gave a grim outlook for the country he’ll soon lead, stating that “experts think it could get worse before it gets better.”

The vaccine will be rolled out in phases, and it will take months before everyone has an opportunity to get vaccinated. Healthcare workers, essential workers, nursing home patients, and elderly folks with preexisting conditions will be eligible to receive the vaccine in the first couple of phases.

Biden’s nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that he believes it may take until late spring to finish vaccinating the high-risk population. That means the young and healthy crowd may have to wait for quite some time to take the shot.

The Impact on Live Poker Tournaments

It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 began spreading in the US, and the number of new cases continues to rise at an alarming rate, making it clear that the virus isn’t going away without a vaccine or some other way of reaching herd immunity. As the experts have made it clear, it’s going to take some time — months — to get enough people vaccinated to where the virus is no longer a serious threat in the US.

What does that mean for major live poker events such as the WSOP, WPT? Simply put, you shouldn’t expect those events to return any time soon. But if enough Americans get vaccinated by the summer, perhaps that will encourage tournament organizers to begin prepping to host major events later in the year.

That brings us to another issue we haven’t yet mentioned — the anti-vaxxers. In late October, a USA Today poll indicated only 26% of Americans said they would be willing to take the vaccine right away once it became available. That number has since nearly doubled, as USA Today’s newest survey suggests 46% of Americans say they’re good to go, and 32% more said they’d wait for others to get the shot before they do so.

So, it appears that a large chunk of the US population won’t be hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine this year. That’s good news for poker players who so desperately crave the return of major live poker tournaments in the US.

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