The Bracelet Means Something

It’s not all about the money

There’s one thing that always catches me off guard and brings upon a feeling of utmost surprise and disappointment. Year after year, we see coveted pieces of WSOP gold on eBay or in pawn shops as players, who yearned for that pinnacle, that moment of exhilaration that makes you a true poker champion, opt to get rid of the one memento that represents that greatness.

Matt GlantzWinning a World Series of Poker bracelet is a dream for every player who has ever taken a seat at the table. If you’re lucky enough to win one, you’ve also just won a nice chunk of cash, which, after all, is the reason that professionals play the game. While money comes and goes, the bracelet remains … as long as you don’t hock it for a few buy-ins.

As the industry began to swell post-Moneymaker, the WSOP realized that they had a unique opportunity to satisfy demand and make more money by boosting the number of events each year. As a result, some argue that the bracelets have become a bit watered down. I’ll admit that at times, looking at a schedule filled with $1,500 no limit hold’em events, I shared that same concern, but also understood that, there are so few bracelets out there that they will always retain significant value.

Over the past few years, the WSOP removed the $10,000 buy-in “World Championships” events and replaced them with lower buy-in initiatives that would produce larger fields. It was smart on the WSOP’s behalf, but the pros knew their chances of winning bracelets were becoming smaller as a result. Navigating the minefields is a challenge for even the best of players and some of them felt that the WSOP had turned a blind eye to the pros and their openly discussed dilemma.

The reality is that the WSOP was always listening, and this year, finally addressed the concerns of its most loyal patrons. On the 2014 schedule are 16 events of at least $10,000 which will mean smaller fields and a different level of bracelet winners.

While this strategy may seem as a way to truly create an elite tier, and it will, the WSOP also took an interesting approach to building momentum about the games themselves. Paired up with almost all of these $10,000 events are $1,500 buy-ins in the same games which tells another smart, calculated WSOP initiative. In previous years, the higher buy-in events were of a game variation that the casual player couldn’t play. By creating the two-tier offering, lower bankrolled players can aspire to reach the bigger games and, as the WSOP is concerned, keep the games that make this the most prestigious and diverse series in the game alive.

“I believe it’s important for the WSOP brand to showcase the top players with the $10,000 Championships while also offering the same disciplines at a more comfortable $1,500 buy-in level for the masses,” said Matt Glantz, one of the players who championed this initiative.

Pleasing the two distinct markets is one of the biggest challenges the WSOP faces each year and is the reason for so much debate every winter as planning progresses. Trying to accommodate tens of thousands of consumers isn’t easy, but the WSOP tries to fill the niches and appease its loyal base with these maneuvers.

As a result of the WSOP’s enhanced focus on the “world championship” events, the champion’s gallery at the Rio this summer should look significantly different than in past years. Instead of the familiar face found once every 20 events, a repeat champion or established pro should dominate the storylines early and often. Through this system, the WSOP has attempted to re-establish the idea that the majority of bracelets will be awarded to the best in the world. They are bringing back a refocused goal for all players and for those that can afford these high buy-ins, the ability to say that they beat the best of the best on the game’s biggest stage.

But let’s get back to the actual bracelet for a moment. In a world full of staking and swaps, what are the pros really playing for? It’s generally common knowledge that the majority of those that have made the November Nine have limited pieces of their action. The millions that the players earned for their historical finishes are far from the number you’d find in their bank accounts. Every player manages their own bankrolls in some way and most of those that are routinely staked are stuck in make-up, desperate for a big score and their path to freedom. After a big WSOP success, their backers, often found cheering loudest at the final table, can take their recent winnings away, but the bracelet belongs to the player … and they should cherish that.

I’m hoping that the players who emerge victorious understand that the game really isn’t all about the money. The bracelet means something. It’s part of our history and the fabric of what intrigues outsiders to our world. We often wonder what it would take to bring more enthusiasm and while big prizepools make the headlines, the accompanying photo with a big smile and bracelet in the air can ultimately leave an incredible lasting impression.

June 2014