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Matt Matros -- Stop The No-Limit Insanity

Matros Argues For More Non-Hold'em Events

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Matt MatrosTen short years ago, the World Series of Poker consisted of 33 open events, only six of which were no-limit hold’em tournaments. I don’t think it will shock anyone to learn that things have changed, but I doubt many realize just how drastic the difference is. In 2013, there will be 34 open no-limit hold’em events at the WSOP — more than all the 2003 open events combined. Sure, some of this year’s no-limit events are heads-up, or short-handed, or ante-only, but they’re still no-limit events, aimed squarely at players who already love the game. Here’s my idea. Why not spread more tournaments for games other than no-limit, and bring in as many new players as possible to the WSOP?

This year’s WSOP features one fewer seven-card-stud event than last year (a $1,500 buy-in and a $5,000 buy-in have been replaced by a single $2,500 event). Also taken off the board for 2013: $3,000 heads-up no-limit hold’em/pot-limit Omaha (PLO), $1,500 seven-card stud eight-or-better, $3,000 limit hold ’em, $2,500 mixed hold’em (a tournament I won in 2011), and $1,500 limit hold’em shootout. Those events haven’t been adjusted with different buy-ins — they are simply gone. Conversely, there are nine more no-limit hold’em tournaments than there were in 2012. And that’s too many.

No-limit players are maxed out as it is, and actually suffer from the problem of having too many choices. Let’s assume, for a second, that you want to play as many no-limit events as you can, but that you’re not willing to play more than one event at a time. That means when you make day 2s or 3s, you’ll have to miss events you would’ve wanted to play. (Either that or you could play all the tournaments and never make a day 2, but I don’t think anyone would consider that a better outcome.) A player could, in theory, pick his ideal 20 or so tournaments and just stick to that schedule, but in practice that’s not how poker players work. Poker players don’t want to risk missing value, so they buy into whatever the next tournament is, which inevitably leads to their missing good events. This disappointment is completely avoidable with a better schedule. The WSOP could cut down to 20 no-limit hold’em events with a day off in between each, and players would have the opportunity to enter — and win — every single no-limit hold’em event on the docket. In all likelihood, serious players would end up entering the same number of events with this abbreviated schedule as they would with the current one, because they’d never have to miss anything.

The WSOP is the only tournament series throughout the year to prominently feature events other than no-limit. But now even the WSOP is spreading no-limit Texas hold’em for 56 percent of its events, leaving the rest of the games to fight over the scraps. The easiest way for poker to continue its growth is for games other than hold’em to catch on in popularity. Imagine a world where a second game could draw 2,000 players for a $1,500 buy-in event. Attendance would skyrocket, which would be an obvious coup for the WSOP, and seasoned professionals would have more profitable events to play. This scenario isn’t as much of a pipe dream as it might sound. In 2003, the $2,000 limit hold’em event saw more entries than the $2,000 no-limit event (this is true — you could look it up.) While limit poker will probably never again be as popular as big bet poker, there is clearly room for some other game to stand alongside no-limit hold’em as a major draw, whether that game is pot-limit Omaha, no-limit ace-to-five, pot-limit Mississippi stud, or some game that hasn’t been invented yet. The best way forward for poker as a whole is growth and experimentation. The no-limit players will come regardless. Spreading more tournaments of the alternate games will eventually bring even more players into the WSOP. That’s a money maker for all of us.

There’s more to poker than hold’em, and there’s definitely more to poker than no-limit hold’em. Consider the beauty of all the other variants. We’ve got nut-bluff draws in pot-limit Omaha, raises to pick up half the pot in eight-or-better games, snowing in deuce-to-seven, and upcard tracking in the stud games. That’s just to name a few of the interesting strategies that don’t apply nearly as well (or at all) to hold’em, but are huge components of some other great games. These games are in danger of dying without the WSOP to help them along, and the WSOP risks stagnation if it doesn’t diversify. So please, World Series of Poker, bring back the events you cut this year for 2014, and maybe throw in a few other new games to generate buzz, attract new players, and keep things lively for those of us who patronize your tournaments six weeks out of every summer. In a few years, we’ll all be reaping the benefits. ♠

Matt Matros is the author of The Making of a Poker Player, and a three-time WSOP bracelet winner. He is also a featured coach for cardrunners.com.