WSOPE: Could The WSOP Reign in Spain?

Casino Barcelona

Casino Barcelona, home of the EPT, is one venue that WSOPE administrators may consider if the tournament series leaves France. (Photo: Neil Stoddart/PokerStars)

The administrators of the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) have made no secret of their discussions over another potential move for this tournament series. Rumours persist that after three years in France, the WSOPE could be on its way again, this time perhaps to Spain.

Ty Stewart, the Executive Director of the WSOP, told Bluff earlier this week that the WSOPE was “always going to be guided by what’s best for the players and that will create the biggest prize-pools”. And of all the markets in Europe, the Spanish certainly seems to be the most buoyant.

The Main Event of the European Poker Tour (EPT) in Barcelona in September this year attracted 1,234 players, the most in its 10-year history. The buy-in was €5,300 and the prize pool close to €6m. Barcelona and London are the only two venues on the EPT calendar that have appeared during every season, and the Spanish leg now regularly outstrips its equivalent in England.

The recent success of the EPT in Spain is all the more remarkable when compared with some of the other stops. Numbers are slowly falling on the EPT in London (604 in Season 10, down from 647 in Season 9), Sanremo (797 in Season 9, down from 837 in Season 8), Deauville (782 in Season 9, down from 889 in Season 8) and at the Grand Final in Monaco (531 in Season 9, down from 665 in Season 8).

The “boom” cities, meanwhile, are Barcelona (Spain), Prague (Czech Republic) and Berlin (Germany), where numbers continue to rise.

However, the location alone is not the be all and end all of a tournament series. The World Poker Tour (WPT) also visits Barcelona but its €3,500 main event in April this year attracted only 249 runners. In May 2011, the last time the WPT was in Catalonia, there were 215 entries. And despite tinkering with the buy-in — from a high of €7,800 in 2007 — the most entries ever seen at a WPT event in Barcelona was the 326 who played in 2010. There were 172 in 2009, 253 in 2008 and 226 in 2007.

There are other significant factors that have contributed to the success of EPT Barcelona, and ones that the WSOPE may wish to emulate if it decides to head over the Pyrenees this time next year.

A couple of years ago, the EPT organisers decided to incorporate their flagship main events into full two-week poker festivals that also overlap with regional tours. The Estrellas Poker Tour, a series of lower limit tournaments that plays out across Spain, hosts its grand final as part of the EPT festival, bringing an exceptional number of lower-stakes, recreational players to the city.

They then have their pick of 30 events, with buy-ins ranging from a €110 hyper turbo to a €50,300 Super High Roller tournament. Typical fields therefore comprise pros dropping down in limits and amateurs punching above their weight — in other words, the magic formula that keeps the WSOP in Las Vegas so popular. There are also plenty of €2,000-€5,000 buy-in events to keep everything suitably prestigious.

Ironically, it seems, the EPT has maintained its popularity in Europe by emulating the WSOP of Las Vegas, while the WSOPE itself does not stick to its tried and tested formula. The side event schedule at this year’s WSOPE features only six open tournaments plus a ladies event, each awarding bracelets. So far they have attracted an average field of 289 players (ladies event excluded from calculations; High Roller has not yet started). By comparison, the Estrellas main event in Barcelona, a €1,100 tournament that was treated as an EPT side event, had a field of 1,798 players and a prize pool of €1.75m.

Casino Barriere has arranged some satellites and a nightly €400 turbo in Enghien-les-Bains this week, but this is not really a “festival” by current standards. Admittedly, there are restrictions on the poker variants permitted in France — only hold’em and Omaha can be spread — but the EPT is under the same restrictions in Deauville and managed 28 tournaments there in February, attracting 782 players to the main event. The WSOPE dropped its H.O.R.S.E. tournament after only two years in London, in any case, offering only hold’em and Omaha in 2009 and 2010.

Another main talking point at the WSOPE this week has been about whether bracelets harvested here “count”. Although no one is specific about what “count” really means, the implication is that WSOPE tournaments do not carry sufficient cache to be considered alongside those contested in Vegas, largely owing to the field sizes.

The discussion is moot to a certain degree: If anyone representing the World Series of Poker hands over a bracelet, then its recipient has every right to insist it counts. But perhaps the solution to issues over field sizes and worthiness of bracelets can be solved simultaneously. If more events are scheduled, more people will likely consider the trip worthwhile and if that means giving the winners of the smaller tournaments rings or watches or hair-clips or whatever, then so be it.

Barcelona could well be the perfect venue for the WSOPE, but only if the World Series of Poker itself remembers what makes it so special.

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