Now that the last starting flight for the Main Event is in the books, it’s time to look back over the numbers produced by this year’s World Series of Poker and see how they stack up against last year’s. As it turns out, there’s some good news and some bad news.
It’s a little bit tricky to compare one WSOP to another, because the schedule changes from year to year. The first thing to do, then, was to try to match this year’s events up against equivalent events from last year. In the case of $1000 and $1500 full ring No-Limit Hold’em events, of which there were many last year, I matched up those events which were closest in event number, since overall attendance tends to wax and wane over the series.
Having done that, I used a spreadsheet to calculate the percentile difference in registration for each event which had a direct equivalent in last year’s series and color-coded the results: red for attendance down by 5% or more, green for a 5% or greater rise in attendance, orange and dusty green for smaller changes, and grey for less than a 1% difference either way.
At first glance, the situation seems pretty grim. Of the 52 events which have 2014 events, 29 (56%) were down significantly, while only 8 (15%) showed comparably large gains. Fortunately, many of the larger percentile drops were in events which had small fields to begin with, however, so the overall contraction for these standard events was only 4.9% (64,884 vs. 68,212 total), a similar drop to what we’ve been seeing annually for the past few years. Overall, the money brought in by these events was about $10.5 million less than last year.
The good news is that registration is in fact well up if you include the new events this year (found on the second page of the spreadsheet); those that were removed from the schedule only drew 14,148 last year, while the events which replaced them drew 38,522 this time around. That’s not an entirely fair comparison, of course, as over two thirds of the new entries came by way of the Colossus and the Lucky Sevens, both of which featured lower buy-ins than anything available in past years, and which were re-entries to boot.
You could instead compare the money collected for the events which were switched up, in which case you find that the new events’ total take is down to $55 million from the $70 million of last year’s removed events. That’s not fair either, though, because most of the money last year came from the Big One for One Drop – it’s hard to compete for prize pool with a million-dollar buy-in event, no matter how many people you’re getting.
So, if you exclude last year’s Big One and this year’s One Drop High Roller, you get the result that the new events pulled in about $16.5 million more than those which were cut, which is greater than the $10.5 million shortfall in the standard events. Thus, the series as a whole actually generated $6 million more in buy-ins than last year when you exclude One Drop events. It therefore seems fair to say that although poker as a whole is still contracting, the Colossus and Lucky Sevens fulfilled their purpose in bringing in enough new blood to compensate.
The event which saw the biggest decline in entries was the $1500 Split Format Hold’em, down over 40%; this is roughly the same format as the Mixed-Max events which appeared last year. Last year’s experiment saw both a $25,000 event and a $1500; the high-roller version was already cut this year, and given the precipitous decline of the smaller one, the concept is likely to be written off as a failed experiment. I would be surprised to see one on next year’s tournament schedule, which is kind of a shame because it’s an interesting and challenging format.
Also down by over 30% were $1500 Seven-Card Stud and $1500 Limit 2-7 Triple Draw, so it may be that recreational players and lesser pros aren’t yet ready to embrace limit games after all.
Unfortunately, all the Championship events (including the Poker Player’s Championship) were down in attendance as well, except for H.O.R.S.E., which managed to get 204 runners, a whopping four more than last year. Pot-Limit Hold’em suffered the worst of these, down 20% from 160 to 128.
Strangely, the event which made the strongest gains was $1500 Razz, up 31.3% from 352 to 462. It would be tempting to look at this as a sign that Razz might be a potential gateway game to get new players into the mixed games, but it’s important to note that this was the first event to start up after the Colossus money bubble burst, which would have produced a wave of players busting out with just enough money in pocket to jump into another low buy-in event. The next four events at $2500 and lower also showed more modest gains, probably for the same reason.
Some of the mid-series No-Limit Hold’em events did well too, particularly in the aftermath of the Monster Stack which is likely to have produced a similar but smaller effect to the “Colossus bump.” There’s also the fact that most of the events which were cut from the schedule this year were low buy-in vanilla NLHE events, with only the Colossus and Lucky Sevens to fill the demand; since those two were placed at the beginning and end of the series, it’s natural that the remaining NLHE events towards the middle of the series would draw a few more people.
Finally, the $3000 Six-Handed NLHE event was well up, to 1043 from 810, and the $5000 Six-Handed and $1500 Shootout Hold’em events also showed more modest gains, so despite the unpopularity of Mixed Max/Split Format, it may be that more players are becoming comfortable with short-handed play.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.