Monday, March 9, 2020

Suppose They Gave a Poker Tournament & Nobody Came?

Poker & The Coronavirus

I am a victim of coronavirus. 

No, don't get me wrong.  I don't have coronavirus, thankfully.  But I am a victim of it, nonetheless.

More accurately, I am a victim of the hysteria surrounding it.

You see the other day I went to Walmarts to do my weekly shopping.  And a lot of items were just missing from the shelves. 

Even before I started shopping, I noticed that those disinfectant wipes that they usually have as you enter—you know, to sanitize your shopping card—were missing.  Apparently they were all out of them.

I wasn't in the store for five minutes before hearing an employee tell a shopper that they were all out of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and alcohol (the kind you sanitize things with, not the kind your drink).  And as I did my shopping, I saw that all those things were indeed missing from their shelves. 

Also missing:  water.  I mean bottled water.  All gone.  Mostly missing was hand soap, they had maybe 10% of their usual stock on the mostly empty shelves.  Toilet paper was available, but that section was at about 25% capacity.

It was kind of ridiculous.  Why this virus should produce a run (so-to-speak) on toilet paper is a mystery to me.  The virus is not known to produce gastric distress.  But perhaps the threat of the virus has a lot of people scared shitless, thus the stocking up of TP.  Apparently some people bought hand sanitizer as if to prepare for a year of shortages.  And people must be using those disinfectant wipes and alcohol to rub down every item in a 100 yard radius.  And I guess they think the virus will get into the water system and infect our water?

I'm not a doctor or an epidemiologist—and I don't play one on TV—but I don't think this kind of panic is anywhere near warranted.  I could be wrong of course.  Perhaps in a month, the last surviving human being on the planet will come across this blog post and get a good laugh at it.  But that seems unlikely to me.

I mean, I use Vegas as my reference.  Late last week they reported the first known case of Covid-19 there.  Think about that. If any place is susceptible to an epidemic, it's has to be Vegas.  Thousands of people flying in and out every day, from all over the world.  It's gotta be the germ capital of the world.  I can't count the number of colds I've contracted there.

If the virus was as bad as the panic would seem to indicate, by now every single resident of Vegas would be dead by now.  At least, everyone who spends a few hours a week in a Vegas poker room (or really any part of a casino) would have contracted the disease, right?  Those cards, those chips, they're filthy and germ-ridden.  You mean to tell me no one from China or Italy or South Korea or the state of Washington who has the virus (and presumably doesn't even know it) has found his or her way to a Vegas poker table by now?

And it seems to me that unless you're old (over 70) and/or have a chronic medical (respiratory) condition, it isn't that serious if you do get it.

But with a willing media needing something to hype, they are making it sound like this is the end of the world.

Thus the shortages.  Thus I am a victim.

My non-professional advice….relax

Now, I could be a victim of this virus in another way.  And that has to do with my job.  If you pay attention to poker Twitter—or any other place poker is discussed—you've no doubt seen some discussion that the WSOP could be cancelled this year.

Up until a few days ago, I thought this was a preposterous suggestion that could never come to pass.  I just never believed the health risks would warrant it.

Now I'm not so sure.  Seeing how the panic and hysteria have set in, I have a genuine concern that enough people will be scared off that they might just decide that it wouldn't be profitable to hold it this year.  I still think that's a long shot but I can't rule it out.  After all, conferences and conventions all around the world have been cancelled because of concerns over this virus. And they just cancelled a major professional tennis tournament because one person in the county (presumably not connected with the tournament) tested positive for COVID-19.

Needless to say, such a cancellation would be quite a blow to the poker world.  And if poker series in Vegas and elsewhere start getting cancelled, I wouldn’t have much work to do, would I?  (Yes, it's always about me).

I started thinking about this when I was writing my next Ante Up column last week.  In order to write it, I ended up begging a few poker room managers/tournament directors to give me an advanced peak at their summer schedules so I would be able to write about their series.  I got a few to review, and for the moment, all the schedules appear to be prepared assuming business as usual.

That means that, as in the past, a large percentage of the scheduled tournaments have guarantees.  And the guarantees on based on normal attendance, based on how many folks showed up last year.

I can definitely see a problem with that.

Now I assume if the WSOP does actually get cancelled, most of the Vegas series around town will be cancelled too.  I mean, those series are all based on the belief that every poker player in the world will flood Vegas to play in the WSOP and these other series.  With no WSOP, the poker players certainly won't be coming to Vegas in the numbers we're used to. 

But I started wondering what happens if they hold the WSOP and vast numbers of players are afraid to attend? That they stay the hell away out of fear. 

Most of the WSOP events do not have guarantees, so they could just run them and have smaller fields and therefore smaller prize pools.  They might just decide to forego the guarantees on the events they run that usually do have guarantees in order to insure they don't have any huge overlays.

I could see that happening.

But what do the other venues around town that run summer series do?  They pretty much rely on their guarantees to attract players, to compete with the WSOP and the other venues.  Guarantees are expected these days.

But what if, at some point, it becomes obvious that this summer, people are just not going to show up in the numbers that they usually do.  You can be sure that all these poker rooms around town that offer these summer tournaments around town are not going to just have overlay after overlay on their poker tournaments day after day.

At what point will they change things? After a big overlay or two?  Or before anything even starts because they see reservations down and hear from their regular players that they are staying away?  You can be sure that if there is still widespread panic over COVID-19 come May, those guarantees will be reduced or removed.

Since, again, this is always about me, let me just say that if they all do change their schedules and their guarantees at (near) the last minute, I would have the opposite problem I alluded to earlier.  Instead of too little work to do, I would be overwhelmed, changing details and guarantees on tournaments I already entered once.  In fact, I might have so much work to do at the last minute I'll be wishing the coronavirus had already taken me out.

Of course, it's not just the guarantees that will be affected.  Whole tournaments will likely be cancelled.  The summer is when you see a whole lot of mixed games/non-hold'em events run, not just at the WSOP but all around town.  They can offer them because the sheer mass of poker players tends to ensure that there are enough players in town who have interest in these events (which are much less popular the No Limit Hold'em tournaments). Some of these events typically do not have guarantees (though plenty do). But with a lot less people coming to town, can they even afford to run them if they will be poorly attended—even if they don't have guarantees?

Another thing to consider is that poker players look at all the schedules around town to plan their trips.  When can a week in Vegas (or whatever amount of time they have to take off) get them the most bang for the buck, i.e., the most tournaments that they want to play?  If they plan based on certain mixed game events, and also certain big guarantee tournaments, what happens if those events get cancelled?

It'll be a mess, to be sure. 

And if the venue decides to run events as planned, and sees they are getting hammered by overlays, how long before they do remove or lower the guarantees?  Obviously once a tournament starts, they can't (legally) lower or remove the guarantee.  But they can do it before hand (after a day or two of big overlays on their previous days' tournaments).  How much before?

Well, legally I think they can do it right up until the first card is dealt—assuming they announce that and offer a refund to anyone who wants to opt out before seeing the first hand.  But on a practical basis, what is enough "notice"?

As I said, people plan months in advance.  If players come to town and find out a day or two before a big guarantee is gone from an event they planned their trip around, there will surely be some upset poker players.

How would you feel if you were about to buy into a tournament with a huge guarantee only to see a sign at the registration window informing you that the guarantee had been removed or greatly reduced?

Or would it be the case that if this was necessary, the health news would be such that this was pretty much expected and no one willing to play would be surprised or disappointed?

Because that's what, at this moment in time, is what I think is most likely to happen.  The WSOP will take place, as will the other events around town. And they may have to take a look at any tournament offering a guarantee to see if it is still realistic.  And players will hopefully be understanding.

How much notice would you consider fair for a change or an elimination of a guarantee?

Of course, what we would all love to see is that everything gets back to normal relatively soon, in time for a very normal Vegas poker summer.  And I still think that is very possible, and perhaps even likely.  That's certainly what I'm hoping for, as I'm sure you are all (because it would mean the threat from the virus has either been greatly reduced or it turned out that it wasn't the threat some have feared).

I guess we'll see what happens.

In the meantime, relax, take a deep breath, don't panic and drink a Corona.


  1. I recently heard someone refer to the virus as "ca ron' a" - all soft vowel sounds. It was probably someone in the beer industry.

    In other news, a co-worker just told me her husband's Las Vegas convention in April has been canceled.

    1. Yep. They're cancelling conferences left and right.

  2. Well Rob I do not have the virus blues but I do have the its just not worth it to me to pay high plane fares and rooms and facilities fees and then come up with the entry fees blues. I will not be attending for the sixth consecutive year. I have the money for local tournaments so I will be playing here. The thrill of going to Vegas is gone so the virus just gives me one more reason to skip the whole thing. Vegas will survive and I will too. Have a great summer.

    1. Cool Ed. I don't think Vegas was counting on you showing up anyway!

  3. I drank so many Coronas and had so many lap dances in Vegas, i'm surely immune to anything. No panic here.

    1. Getting the Coronavirus from motor-boating a stripper would be a cool story to tell the grandkids....if you live long enough to tell them!

    2. Depends how many and how did the motorboat thing before you!

  4. That has to rank among the wittiest comments you've ever made.

    1. Thanks, Arch, but I'm not sure which comment you are exactly referring to?

  5. its odd theres more cases of coronavirus in Houston here than u have back home.

    1. Really? I guess it's a factor of how the disease came to Houston.

    2. It is just a matter of time. Vegas will catch up and surpass Houston if the traffic to Vegas continues. A big factor is the long incubation time. Most patrons to Vegas casinos are visitors, so they come and pass it on to mostly others visitors whom bring it back to wherever they came from.

    3. Wynn and Mirage have or will close their poker rooms.

  6. Minnesota poker room just sent this email:

    Here are some of the safety steps we are taking now or have always taken at Running Aces:
    • We have added staff to increase frequency on cleaning all surfaces and "high-touch" areas like our front doors, kiosks, ATM machines and table rails.
    • Our chips are being continuously washed with an onsite chip cleaner on a daily basis.
    • We have added additional hand sanitizing stations throughout the entire facility.
    • Playing cards are replaced multiple times per day reducing the amount of times guests touch the cards.
    • We have created greater flexibility in our policies for our staff to make sure all employees that feel ill remain at home until they are safe to return.

    1. Yeah, the L.A. rooms were doing stuff like that, but hey are now all closed basically because of government order.

  7. How come that doesn't apply to San Diego rooms?

    1. It's a county to county thing, not a statewide thing. I also believe that none of the rooms that have closed were actually ordered to do so, it was somewhat voluntary. You know, they were just strongly urged to close.