OP-ED: What Exactly is a ‘Major’ Poker Tournament?

PokerGo is currently airing the inaugural British Poker Open, a high-stakes poker tournament series in London that Poker Central immediately dubbed a “major,” meaning it’s a more important, or at least more prestigious, event than most others. But what sort of criteria should be used to define a major, and is the BPO worthy of inclusion?

WSOP Main Event poker tournament

We all know the WSOP Main Event is the most important poker tournament of the year, but do players agree on which other events matter the most? (Image: wsop.com)

The question is simple, but the poker community has never truly answered it with a general consensus. Outside of the WSOP Main Event, and perhaps the WSOP Poker Players Championship, no individual poker tournament has officially been classified as a “major” by the industry as a whole.

A few others have been thrown out there over the years, and some of those tournaments no longer exist. So what is a “major” poker tournament? It seems like such a simple question, but the answer has never been defined … until now, here at CardsChat.

I’m not ready to label any event – save for the WSOP Main – definitively as a “major” just yet. But as a fan of the game, I would like to discuss what criteria should be used before we bestow such status on any particular game of cards.

Rhetorical Semi-bluff

The first run of the newly created British Poker Open got underway last week in London at the Aspers Casino in Newcastle upon Tyne, and wrapped up Thursday. The tournament series consisted of 10 events, with buy-ins ranging from £10,000 to £100,000, and is followed by the £250,000 Super High Roller Bowl London, which was perhaps ambitiously insta-dubbed a “major” by its host, Poker Central.

Through nine events, the series averaged just 22 players per tournament. Event #10, which wrapped up Thursday, drew 12 — just more than a single-table sit-n-go or special episode of “Poker After Dark.”

The Global Poker Index requires at least 32 players for a tourney even to count in its rankings. Only one event during the British Poker Open has qualified for GPI Player of the Year points.

So, no matter what they say on any PokerGo livestreams, I just can’t bring myself to call the BPO a “major.” Who knows though? The mini-festival might one day become a big deal in poker. More likely, however, is that next year’s series – if there even is one – will again be ignored by most of the poker community.

Attempting to attach “major” to any inaugural poker event seems silly. You have to earn that distinction. And it’s clear, based on low player turnout and lack of fan give-a-rip, the BPO is no major. Heck, at this point, it’s not even a minor. At best, it’s an elective.

What’s Special About the WSOP Main Event?

On the other end of the spectrum is the WSOP Main Event. This $10,000 buy-in poker tournament, now 50 years in existence, attracts over 7,000 players each year. Unlike the British Poker Open, poker fans actually care about this event, and for good reason.

The Main Event, considered poker’s world championship event, is televised each year on ESPN. No poker tournament generates more buzz on social media or on poker forums. Legendary pros such as Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan are past world champions.

The Main Event is also partially, if not fully, responsible for the growth of poker. In 2003, amateur Chris Moneymaker, an accountant from Tennessee, shocked not just the poker community, but the general public too, when he beat a field of mostly pros to win the $2.5 million first-place prize.

Many non-poker fans enjoyed watching an Average Joe like Moneymaker win millions in a poker tournament. They could relate to him, which turned millions of people who played poker into fans of the game. It’s hard to imagine the British Poker Open, or really any other tournament, could possibly mean this much to the growth of poker.

In 2003, there were 839 entries — at the time massive for a poker tournament, especially one that cost $10,000 to enter. In 2019, the field size grew to nearly 8,000, with Hossein Ensan taking home $10 million and a coveted bracelet, in a tournament that only 44 others, including some of most legendary players, have won. (Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, and Johnny Chan won it twice, Stu Ungar three times.)

The Main Event is so prestigious that Chris Moneymaker made the Poker Hall of Fame in 2019, essentially on the basis of his 2003 title. Since then, he’s been a fine ambassador and has cashed for an additional $1.3 million in live poker tournaments, but his popularity was all built on that one storybook performance. I’m pretty sure that if Ben Tollerene ever makes the HOF, it won’t be because of his £840,000 cash in a two-day live stream.

History of Golf Majors

Golf is one of the most popular sports among gamblers. So, naturally, I figured using the PGA Tour as a benchmark for classifying a poker tournament as a major was a brilliant idea.

Each year, there are four golf events classified as majors – the US Open, Masters, PGA Championship, and The Open Championship (formerly the British Open). These tournaments draw the highest TV ratings and generate the most buzz on social media and sports talk shows. A golfer’s legacy is defined by how well they perform during the majors.

If a golfer wins dozens of non-majors but never earns a title at one of the four majors, he won’t go down as an all-time great. Simply put, majors mean more, both to fans and to players.

All four PGA Tour majors have been around for at least 85 years. The Open Championship is the longest standing major. It was established in 1860. So, as you can tell, these are well-established golf events. The tournament hosts didn’t create the events a few weeks ago and then immediately dub them a “major” like, say, Poker Central did with the British Poker Open.

So, is Four the Magic Number?

The PGA Tour has just four majors. Other golf tournaments, while meaningful, and each with their own story, don’t have the significance in terms of prestige or money as the majors. So, if we’re going to narrow things down, should poker have the same number of majors? My answer is no, and I’ll explain why.

There are thousands of poker tournaments worldwide each year, if not each month, going on worldwide just about every day. In golf, however, the PGA Tour hosts only one sanctioned event each week. Therefore, as a sheer matter of numbers, I believe we should classify more than just four poker tournaments as majors.

But, I also don’t believe the list of poker majors should be all that lengthy. If we select hundreds of tournaments, we’ll have a couple of majors every week and that will water down the events. You can’t expect poker fans to devote their attention to a big tournament every week.

So, what is the magic number? I think I know, and will I’ll make my case in a future column here at CardsChat. Stay tuned.

Jon Sofen
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.

Comments

Tenek26 wrote...

It is very interesting to watch the broadcast of such strong games, it would be good if poker were made one of the sports.

korneel wrote...

I think 4 majors are a good number.
Maybe 6, but more would be just too much.

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