One Shot One Drop
by dtools22 | Published Jul 04, 2012
So for those of you who are unaware, the WSOP 2012 edition made history with an unreal $1,000,000 buy in tournament. At final tally, 48 of what must be the sickest individuals on the planet put up what some people consider a retirement plan’s worth of wealth to play in this historic tournament. When the dust settled it was a well-known pro, Antonio Esfandiari who took home the first place prize and a mind numbing $18.3million dollar first place prize. I watched this event from start to finish, via the live stream on the WSOP website for days 1 and 2 and then on ESPN for the final table. This was by far one of the most entertaining events of the year to watch. All the biggest names were in it so as a poker fan, getting the chance to watch all these guys do battle on such a grand stage was purely awesome. With all of that said, and all credit given where it’s due, it is my sincere hope that this event was a one-time affair and will never happen again.
When I first heard that there would be a $1,000,000 dollar buy in event at the WSOP I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. Guy Laliberte had come up with this earth shaking level of entry fee to support his charity and the official charity of the WSOP, One Drop. One Drop, “is a charitable organization that develops integrated, innovative projects with an international scope, in which water plays a central role as a creative force in generating positive, sustainable effects for local and foreign populations and in the fight against poverty” this quote taken directly from the charity’s website. It is dedicated to solving water related issues regarding the management of the resource. Personally, I think this is a great cause and I have a world of respect for Guy. Here is a man who literally came up from nothing, has amassed huge sums of wealth and influence, and he chooses to use those powers to make a lasting impact on the world in an incredibly positive way. I don’t want anyone coming away from this post with the impression that I dislike Guy or anything he is fighting for. He is truly an inspiring story and a man who deserves all the admiration tossed his way. If you want to learn more about One Drop, here is the link to their homepage.
I have two huge problems with the tournament that Guy came up with and the WSOP sanctioned for the 2012 festivities. This should not have been a bracelet event and as a corollary to that there should not have been player of the year points awarded for those that cashed. This event was created as a way to raise money for charity. The gaudy buy in was put into place so that the One Drop foundation could raise the maximum amount of money for their cause. Since this was intended to be a charity event the final outcome should not be the leading story the next day. I have all the respect in the world for what Antonio was able to accomplish, beating such a tough field of the game’s most elite players is admirable and should be lauded as a tremendous feat, but the big story shouldn’t be him winning. The story should be the millions of dollars that were raised, not the millions of dollars awarded to the first place finisher. One Drop comes off more as a sponsor of this event than a true benefactor. I understand that the pros certainly needed some kind of incentive to play in this event, otherwise why try to raise $1,000,000 to play. The pros had to either feel as though there was something to play for or that they had some kind of serious advantage that they could use as evidence of this buy in being a +EV spot and by putting together a field of the most gifted craftsmen in our industry it would be hard for any one of them to think in the long run there was a huge edge in this event. I understand that adding the WSOP bracelet to the final prize was intended to do that, and likely succeeded with some of the pros, however $18.3million dollars for first should be enough to get even the most cold-hearted pro’s blood boiling.
This next complaint I’m sure is going to come across as whiney on some level but just let me get to the end before you bust out the flamethrowers in the comments. I think this buy in is so huge that it sets a very bad precedent for poker events moving forward. We are in a modern revolution of the game of poker. The 1970s up through the early 2000s saw a completely different game of poker being played. Fields were smaller and bracelets were harder to come by because fewer were awarded. More often than not it was the same 20 faces always sitting at the final tables and competing for the top prizes. Being a professional was more about knowing the specific tendencies of your opponents rather than doing what was most fundamentally sound. Now, poker has boomed and blossomed to a point where the dynamic has completely changed. You have to wade through hundreds, often times even thousands of fellow combatants for a shot at that tournament’s title and you’re fortunate if you have any past history with those players. Part of winning a WSOP bracelet today is the fact that you waded through at the very least a few hundred other players to get to the top and had to learn about those players on the fly rather than drawing from extensive experience playing against them in the past. To create and event where the buy in is so high that the mass public can’t even dream of playing in it seems to me irresponsible. A poker tournament naturally reflects the climate of poker at that time. At the WSOP, the main event has become a litmus test for the popularity of the game, a fact that players must compete with in their daily grind as well as when the lights are on brightest. New faces are a part of the game more so today than in decades past. To award a major championship for what amounts to a 48 man super-duper high roller sit and go with a who’s who list of stars and give it the same weight as winning a major championship seems disingenuous to me.
Here’s a quantitative example to illustrate why I feel the way I do. The WSOP began in 1970 with a $10,000 buy in. When adjusted for inflation that number becomes $59,230.67 in 2012 money. Conversely today’s $10,000 buy in events would be worth $1,688.31 in 1970 money. The price of poker has gone down relatively speaking over the years and as a result more and more regular people can come by and play. The $1,000,000 buy in event this year would have been $168,831.45 dollars in 1970, nearly 17 times larger than the game’s top pros were asked to pony up. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the buy ins should remain fixed forever and that because the WSOP started with $10,000 buy ins it should always have $10,000 buy ins, but there is a natural progression to how these events should increase from an economic standpoint. The $50,000 player’s championship is a perfect example of this. $50,000 is still a lot of money, but now we’re talking about an increase that is within reason given how our economy has changed over the years. You are causing the entrants a similar amount of stress as you were in the 1970s. A $1,000,000 is so egregious that it stands completely apart from anything ever seen in the industry. If you want to see how I got the calculations I provided, you can run the numbers yourself using the link below.
On some level I’m sure my argument is not unlike the little kid complaining that he didn’t get any candy when his friend was able to walk out with a bag full. This level of buy in is so far out of my reach that it angers me and makes me feel excluded from the elite poker players of the community. But I feel like that’s not a problem unique to me. The tagline of the WSOP and poker in general is that anyone can play. Well when you make a buy in this high you break that illusion. Yes if the some Joe Shmo out there had $1,000,000 just lying around then he could still compete, but it’s so incredibly unrealistic a story that you break the very foundation of the game’s appeal. As a fan, this was incredible to watch and personally I don’t think you could have gotten a better final table for TV than the one you ended up with. I’m very happy for Antonio, for Guy, and for One Drop because this event was a tremendous success. I just hope this doesn’t now become poker’s new standard for big buy in events, otherwise I fear an already hurting industry will take another major hit due to the hubris of the game’s elite.
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