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World Poker Tour's Matt Savage Discusses Coronavirus Impact On The Live Tournament Scene

The Tournament Director's Association Co-Founder Shares His Thoughts On The WSOP Postponement, Rescheduling For The Fall and More

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Matt SavageThe live tournament poker scene has been on an indefinite hiatus for more than six weeks due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of events and series have been postponed or canceled since the initial wave began on March 12. On April 20 the 2020 World Series of Poker, was officially postponed, with a potential rescheduling for the fall targeted by organizers.

In the wake of the WSOP’s postponement, Card Player spoke to World Poker Tour Executive Tour Director Matt Savage about the monumental news, how it might affect the WPT and other tours this fall, and much more.

Card Player: What was your reaction when you heard that the WSOP was being postponed?

Matt Savage: Everybody was expecting it at some point. I know that there were a lot of people out there betting on whether or not it was going to take place this summer. Not everybody felt like it was going to happen. You know, the WSOP is an important part of the poker landscape and the summers in Vegas are a big part of a lot of professional and amateur player’s lives. Even though we knew it was coming, it still kind of sinks your heart when you hear that they are moving [the series] and people won’t be coming to Las Vegas this summer.

CP: As one of the co-founders of the Tournament Directors Association, what are your thoughts about the particular challenges facing TD’s and poker room managers during the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak?

MS: I posted something on the TDA Twitter account back on March 10th, just days before the poker world began to shutdown. [Author’s note: the tweet included six procedures Savage recommended during this pandemic. It can be found below.] It basically said that we needed to make a lot of changes and that poker probably needed to make these changes a long time ago. The cleanliness, the hygiene and things that people needed to be doing that weren’t really looked at until this happened and should have been. People shouldn’t have been sneezing into their hands. People probably shouldn’t have been eating at the table. Even though we had this come up this year, there are things out there that people should have paid more attention to before this outbreak. So I think it’s kind of a wake-up call, not only in the poker world but the world in general, that we need to be doing better to make sure that we’re not getting sick. People are getting very sick and dying because of this. If one positive comes from this, I believe it is that people will take these issues more seriously.

CP: Can you tell me a bit about what you’ve been working on in your capacity as the World Poker Tour’s Executive Tour Director since the shutdown began? The WPT works with so many venues around the globe, there must be a lot to coordinate.

MS: Unfortunately we had to postpone the WPT Venetian event, but a lot of the events leading up to the summer can be postponed and then the WPT usually has most of the summer off. I did cancel the WPT500, but we now have time to collect our thoughts and focus on what we’re going to do for the future. We have ClubWPT, the official subscription online poker game of the tour. So we have other avenues that we’re trying to go out there and be a part of. We also have all of our episodes airing on Pluto TV. We’ve kind of turned our focus to that. We have had a few layoffs at the company, but hopefully, those people will be able to come back when we come back.

But for us as a tour, when each stop returns is basically up to our partner casinos. We are going to ensure that our partner casinos, when they reopen, are taking the advice of the experts and the doctors and medical professionals out there that are providing guidance on how we can come back. When they open, we’ll be there for them and hopefully that is sooner rather than later so that we can get back to playing live poker, get back to playing live tournaments and of course have the World Poker Tour continue as it was before.

CP: The WSOP normally coincides with the ‘offseason’ for the WPT. If the WSOP is rescheduled for the fall, as organizers have said is their target, how might that affect the WPT and other tours who could have events already scheduled for those timeslots?

Savage at the 2008 WPT Bay 101 Shooting StarMS: As you know, we have a schedule and it’s going to be up to us, with our relationships that we have with our partners, to do what we can to ensure the best turnout and best event. We never like to go over the top of the WSOP or any other major event or tour because we feel like it’s important that we respect the players and their wishes, while also trying to make it a great event for our partner casinos. We will look at those dates, when they’re announced, and try and make adjustments where we can so that we have a great and successful series.

CP: In addition to an increased focus on ClubWPT, the tour is also partnering with partypoker to put on the first WPT Online main event. The main event has a massive $5 million guarantee and will get going in a couple weeks. Can you share any thoughts about how online events might have a renewed prominence in the poker world moving forward?

MS: The WPT is very excited to be a part of partnering with partypoker. It’s going to be our first champion to have their name added to the WPT Champions Cup in an online event. I think it’s going to be a massive success and we’ll see how this goes, but there is obviously a big chance that we will do more with them. I mean there’s $40 million in series guarantees and Rob Young has reached out to me and we’ve discussed some things like structures and other logistics. I’m very happy that they’re working with us and I’m excited for the series.

CP: The WPT set a few final tables early in 2020 that were delayed with the plan being to play to a winner in April with the action streamed and recorded for future TV broadcast. Those events are currently on hold due to the pandemic. What can you tell me about that situation?

MS: We want to make sure that not only are our partner casino, in this case the Luxor and the HyperX Esports arena are ready to go, but also that we are making sure that our player safety and our staff safety is paramount. So we are ready to go at that venue as soon as things open up and hopefully, the players won’t have those travel restrictions at that time. We need to be very cognizant of that as well, to make sure that we can get everybody to those final tables and do it in a safe manner. So like I said, we’re ready to go as soon as things change and I believe that the players are as well. All the players that made the final tables in question have been paid out sixth-place money. I hope that those players are doing fine and that we can get cards back in the air as soon as it is safely possible.

CP: What would you say to players with questions about when they can get back to the tables?

MS: The top priorities for us are to make sure that the players are safe and make sure our staff are safe. The WPT does not make the decisions on when we can resume. It is essentially up to our partners to make sure that they’re comfortable with their policy and procedures going forward, and we at the WPT will be ready when that happens. For me, I’m hopeful that we’ll come up with some kind of vaccine or antibody test that will be able to ensure that people are safe when they come back. I know that a lot of different casinos and casinos that I worked at are looking at ways to make sure that we can test people on property. So, I’m hoping that it comes back later this year. And I would expect a lot of the players are ready to get out and play. I’ve talked to a lot of players already that said they’re ready to come back now. And then, as you said, there are those that say that they’re not going to come back for a while. It’s a confusing, difficult time. Nobody really knows what to expect. But I guess what I could say is that the WPT will be ready when this is all over.Spade Suit