Why the WSOP Main Event Doesn’t Need a $10 Million Guarantee

WSOP-Money-BraceletLet me start this column by saying I was very happy with the majority of changes Caesars made to this year’s World Series of Poker schedule. The return of the $10k Championship events was music to my ears as was the more equal ratio of No Limit Holdem to other events.

That being said, I do have columns to write, and there is one particular aspect of the WSOP schedule that I’m not overly enthused about; the $10,000,000 guarantee for the winner. So let’s get down to the nitpicking.

It’s simply overkill

When Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event back in 2003 do you remember how much money he won? That’s right $2.5 million. And it was a massive story. “Amateur wins $2.5 million in poker tournament!”

The year before the largest payout in Main Event history Joe Hachem won $7.5 million.

The point is, we didn’t need a $10 million payday to lure in players then.

Obviously times have changed and plenty of tournaments over the years have handed out $2.5 million prizes, but $10 million just seems like overkill to me. I’d love to see flatter payouts up top, and here is why.

For the average person, take me for example, there isn’t much of a difference between winning $5 million and $10 million, both are complete life-changers and hard to even fathom, so the notion that a $10 million first place prize will pull in more players than a $5 million prize is a bit of a fallacy, at some point the law of diminishing returns comes into play and I think it’s at about $5 million.

And when it comes to pro players I’m positive they aren’t going to appreciate the added variance.

It almost assures deals will be cut

Unless Daniel Negreanu is at the final table you can bank on a multi-way deal being struck if the difference between 1st and 2nd place is $5 million, and the 9th place finisher is going to get way less than $1 million.

So if the WSOP’s intention with this change to the tournament was for it to be decided out in the hallway on a break than they will likely get their wish, but considering the WSOP’s anti-deal making stance I doubt this is what they want.

Why is this bad, and aren’t deals always being made? Yes, deals are prevalent at major tournaments, but a significant deal at the WSOP Main Event final table might affect the quality of play and/or cause some disinterested reactions, and since this is the only tournament many people watch on TV, this could be terrible for poker if we see an all-in fest because the prize-money has already been spoken for before the November Nine even takes their seats.

Tournament payouts are already too top heavy

Is the winner of a tournament twice as good as the runner-up? Are they 10-times better than the 9th place finisher? Because this is essentially what the current payout structures in poker are telling us.

The truth is that the difference between the winner and the 9th place finisher is usually predicated on one of them being on the winning end of a coin flip.

With these top heavy payout structures we’re also putting professional tournament poker players at the mercy of variance. Think about, the difference between a poker legend and an also-ran could be winning a coin-flip in the WSOP Main Event with 8 players left, and maybe pulling a two-outer from their ass with four players remaining in the PCA Championship.

Those two events, just two lucky or unlucky cards at the right time, is the difference between sponsorship deals and never having to work again and being just another poker player grinding tournaments looking for a backer.

I’m not saying min-cashes should be increased, or that we should reward players who like to squeak into the money, but the current structure that rewards only one or two players (sometimes three or four) is just as bad, and actually probably worse for the long-term poker economy.

We need to flatten the payouts for the people that were in legitimate contention to win the tournament.

My idea for WSOP Main Event payouts

You probably have an idea of what I’m going to propose, but here it is, in all its radical majesty: $5 million goes to the winner and subtract $500,000 from each place down to $1 million for 9th place.

First off, it doesn’t change the total amount of money awarded at the final table. Last year about $26.6 million was won at the final table; under my structure$27 million would go to the final table participants.

Second, it reduces variance and rewards everyone for making the final table. Last year the range of prizes was $733,000 to $8.3 million; under my structure it would be $1 million to $5 million. Think about it this way; in 2013 you had five chances to win $2 million at the final table; under my structure you’d have seven.

Under my structure every place would receive more prize-money except for 1st and 2nd. 2nd place would lose about $600,000, while first place takes the only real hit, over $3 million.

Why do I think this would be beneficial? In addition to the points I made throughout, this super-flat payout structure should make for a more exciting final table.

There won’t be any deals being cut; that’s for sure, and nobody will be trying to Tuan Lam their way into a pay-jump (which would now be relatively small) when the tournament is down to four-handed play, since the prize-money still up for grabs would be $3.5 million to $5 million, instead of $2.7 million and $8.3 million. This should entice players to want to win the Main Event instead of squeaking up another pay-jump.

With a flat payout structure and no deals, we should see each person playing aggressively and going for the win, but not to the point of reckless play that often comes when all of the prize-money has been chopped up in private.


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