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2021 may not have the smallest WSOP Main Event field since 2005 after all.
The World Series of Poker hasn’t yet announced an official tally or prize pool. All we have to go on right now are the unofficial single day totals reported over the course of the event’s six starting flights.
Adding those up, however, we get a total of 6,360. If the official numbers confirm that, then this year’s Main Event beat 2013’s attendance by a mere eight entries. That year marked the WSOP’s lowest point of the past 15 years, as the poker world was still reeling from the events of Black Friday.
It’s still a substantial drop from recent years either way. That’s assuming we don’t count last year’s Main Event which took place almost entirely online, and without a supporting series. The last time things took place as usual was 2019, and 8,569 players participated in that year’s event.
This year’s field is therefore down about 26% from 2019. That may sound like a lot, but it’s a pretty good number all things considered. Where direct year-to-year comparisons were possible, most of the series’ events saw drops of around one-third, and some were down significantly more.
Online Poker Report’s projection, based on comparable events like the Millionaire Maker and Pot-Limit Omaha Championship, was that the Main Event would be down by close to the series average, or perhaps a little more. We felt the 2005 total of 5,619 might be a reasonable over/under betting line.
Our readers on Twitter have consistently been more optimistic when we’ve polled them, and they’ve proven to be correct. In one poll, over 80% said the series would beat 2005. In another, about two-thirds said it would beat 2013 as well.
Sunday is always a big day for tournaments, so it was inevitable that Flight D on Nov. 7 would be the biggest of the six. Indeed, with 2,550 entries, that one day accounted for 40% of all entries to the tournament.
Even knowing that, however, the numbers for the early flights looked worrisome. Flight A, on Thursday, Nov. 4 got only 523 entries. The next two weren’t much better, with 845 and 600 respectively.
Sunday brought the total to 4,518, which alleviated the fear that the event might come up short of 2005’s total. However, it still would have come up shy of 6,000 entries if the final two flights had been along the lines of the first three. Monday and Tuesday aren’t usually big tournament days either, but Flight E got 797 entries and Flight F capped things off on a strong note with 1,045. Perhaps a lot of players were daunted by the lineups on Sunday and elected to come back for a later flight. Alternatively, many may just not have wanted to wait several days to play again if they made it through the first day.
All told, the first three flights together only accounted for 31% of total entries, while the final three accounted for 69%.
In a normal year, the Main Event only has three flights. It’s possible that adding three more increased attendance, but that seems a little unlikely.
That is, it’s the sort of event you’re either going to play or not. It’s hard to imagine someone deciding to spend $10,000 to participate in a 10-day tournament, but changing their mind because the starting day isn’t ideal.
But if the number of flights isn’t what matters, why was attendance so high?
Compared to other events with a $10,000 price tag, the Main Event draws a very casual field. That’s because it’s seen as a once-in-a-lifetime aspiration by so many players. Yet other casual events saw a greater year-on-year decline in entries than the more pro-focused ones. The $1000 Millionaire Maker was down almost 40% from 2019 attendance, for instance, while the $50,000 Poker Players’ Championship dropped just 15%.
The unique cachet of the Main Event itself is surely part of the reason. And that may in turn explain why attendance was so low for casual events early in the series. Perhaps recreational players were abbreviating their visits due to the time of year and COVID-related hassles.
The $400 Colossus provides some support for this theory. With its huge field and comparatively tiny buy-in, it’s the epitome of a recreational WSOP event. By the pattern set early on in the series, that should have meant a bigger-than average drop. Yet with 9,399 entries compared to 13,109 in 2019, it was down only 29%, less of a drop than most events in the first half of the series and only slightly more than the Main Event.
The conclusion we can draw from this is obvious, but bears saying: No matter what happens, the Main Event is always going to draw a crowd.