Are big buy-in events less fun than mid stakes?

Barry Carter shares his views on John Duthie's comments that events like the WSOP and EPT have lost their atmosphere for recreational players.

John Duthie of partypoker LIVE
John Duthie

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing EPT founder and now partypoker LIVE President John Duthie. In the interview he stated his goal to make his new tour all about recreational players enjoying themselves. He also stated he felt the EPT (now PokerStars Championship) was too serious and likewise he no longer enjoyed the WSOP. In interviews with other websites he has made a similar claim. 

I found his comments insightful and I mostly recognised what he was talking about. There is a distinctly different feel when you walk across the card room floor at an EPT type event than you do compared to perhaps a €500 Unibet Open level event. I was quite surprised to discover some people thought his comments were controversial. 

So are events like the WSOP and EPT too serious these days?

When poker gets serious

Not everyone takes the big buy-in events seriously

First and foremost, I completely echo his sentiment on making the enjoyment of recreational players the fundamental piece of the puzzle to grow the game. It shouldn’t need saying, but often does, that unless the casual players have fun, and win now and then, the game will no longer be profitable for the serious player. If everyone can walk away from the event having had fun, they’ll come back even if they lose.

I don’t specifically think the PokerStars Championship events are too serious, but I do think that once you get to the $10,000+ buy-in level, that’s when the fundamental mindset of the players shifts to a serious one. This is when the money really means something. Most Western poker players could justify playing a one off $1,000 tournament now and then and not care if they lose, but once you play the $10,000/€5,000 level events, winning is much more important.

This is when poker moves away from the social game to some extent and towards the sporting side of things. This is where the concentration of players becomes very highly weighted towards the professionals. This is also where the player pool all start to know each other, despite often being on different continents, so metagame and past history plays a big role.

I think John felt that this unwelcoming environment was in part created by the event organisers. I would argue that it is testosterone and an environment of intense competition that largely creates this atmosphere. Rather than any one tour being to blame, I just think shit just gets very serious at the $10k levels. Even the satellite winners into these events tend to be top players. This is why I suggested in the interview that the onus of responsibility is on the players to make the game welcoming.

Smaller buy-in, more fun?

888 live poker table
Is it more fun when there is less money at stake?

Duthie praised tours like the Unibet Open for being much more recreational player friendly, which I agree with. I think all the major tours which focus on the €200-€1,000 buy-in level events do the same, whether it is the PokerStars Festival, the Sky Poker Tour, 888Live and the partypoker LIVE Grand Prix.

These are the levels where the recreational players are much more numerous and the buy-in amounts are that which a poker fan with a regular job can easily justify playing in. So it is of paramount important they are made very welcome by players and organisers alike. 

I’m not excusing the $10,000+ events if they are unwelcoming, simply explaining why it is perhaps inevitable that they will feel more like a serious sporting event. There is a selection bias of serious players, playing for serious money and everybody has to bring their A-Game. Sometimes that makes for an intense environment. 

However, just because the circumstances naturally create a potentially unwelcoming environment, that does not mean that as a community we should accept it. There are still recreational players who play in the $10k events and I genuinely believe it should be everyone in the game’s top priority to make poker fun for them. The nosebleed players in Macau, Bobby’s Room and Super High Roller tournaments know this, because their player pool is very small and thus a rich recreational player is very important. Perhaps it is not as clear in $10k events when they have 500+ runners of mostly professional players.

Do you think higher buy-in events have lost their atmosphere? Let us know in the comments:

Share this page