Top Stories of 2023, #2: Live Poker Continues to Boom
It was not long ago that the live poker world was put under lock on key as it, and the rest of the world, found itself in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the coronavirus was PokerNews' top story of 2020, and rightly so.
Live poker returned in drubs and drabs throughout 2021, including the return of the live World Series of Poker (WSOP), with a mini poker boom achieved the following year in 2022. It turns out that spike in live poker activity during 2022 was not a flash in the pan because live poker in 2023 continued booming throughout 2023, including right up to year-end.
Record Attendances at the 2023 World Series of Poker
The WSOP is usually a good barometer for the state of the live poker world. The longest-running and arguably most prestigious live poker tour of them all always attracts players in droves, but the 2023 WSOP in Las Vegas was something else.
Most live poker tours had experienced increased attendance by the time the 2023 WSOP rolled around in May, but nothing prepared the poker community for what lie ahead. As the series completed its first quarter, with 20 events having crowned their champions, 18 saw an uptick in attendance, which boded well for the $10,000 WSOP Main Event.
Some 8,773 players turned out in force when Jamie Gold became the 2006 WSOP Main Event champion. A handful of Main Events surpassed 7,000 entrants in the coming years, while Espen Jorstad outlasted 8,662 opponents on his way to becoming the 2022 WSOP Main Event champion.
With attendances of other events off the charts, everyone had their fingers crossed for the 2023 WSOP Main Event being the biggest ever. Those finger-crossers were not left disappointed because 10,043 entries were processed resulting in a record $93,399,900 prize pool and a $12,100,000 top prize for Atlanta's Daniel Weinman. It is not outside the realms of possibility that the upcoming 2024 WSOP Main Event could be even larger than this year's; we shall see.
New Record in the WSOPE Main Event
It wasn't only in Las Vegas were the WSOP set new records but in Rozvadov, too. The 2022 WSOP Europe Main Event set a new benchmark when 763 players bought in, but the 2023 edition blew that out of the water with 817 entrants. Former professional basketball player Max Neugebauer was the main beneficiary of the juicy prize pool because he came out on top and walked away with a cool 1,500,000 for his victory.
Poker in Paradise in December Stanislav Zegal
December 2023 was one of the busiest months on record for live poker grinders. Not only was the PokerStars EPT Prague festival and the WPT World Championships in full swing but the WSOP, alongside GGPoker, decided to run the inaugural WSOP Paradise in The Bahamas, too!
Some of the attendances were nothing short of remarkable considering the competition the WSOP Paradise faced. For example, Martin Raus of Canada fought his way through 2,233 opponents in the $1,100 Mini Main Event, while 533 players parted company with $25,100 in the GGMillion$ High Rollers Championship, including worthy winner Samuel Mullur, who banked $2,736,300.
Stanislav Zegal triumphed in the inaugural WSOP Paradise Main Event, defeating Michael Sklenicka heads-up for the $2 million top prize. The 3,010-strong field was not enough to hit the $15 million guarantee, but it was a superb turnout under the circumstances.
The European Poker Tour and Return of the North American Poker Tour
There were only five stops on the PokerStars European Poker Tour (EPT) during 2023, but each attracted players from far and wide. The EPT made its debut in Paris in February, and despite some initial teething problems, and impressive 1,606 players competed in the EPT Paris Main Event, with Romania's Razvan Belea emerging victoriously for a 1,170,000 score.
Mike Watson became only the third player in EPT history to win two Main Events when he triumphed in the EPT Monte Carlo Main Event, bulldozing his way through a 1,098-strong field on his way to collecting 749,425. The event's attendance was the joint largest for this stop.
Barcelona is always a popular stop on the EPT calendar, and 2023's edition was no different. A field of 2,120 entrants made the 2023 EPT Barcelona Main Event the second-largest EPT Main Event field of all time, and Frenchman Simon Wiciak is the man who took it down. Wiciak scooped 1,134,375 after a heads-up deal with Brazilian Joao Oliveira (1,048,555).
PokerStars then jetted off to sunny Cyprus, making its second debit of the season. The combination of glorious weather and five-star accommodation helped the $5,300 EPT Cyprus Main Event draw in a 1,320 entry crowd. Dutch star Gilles Simon was the last man standing; he helped himself to a $1,042,000 first-place prize.
The curtain came down on another hugely successful EPT season in picturesque Prague. The 1,284 opponents Ireland's Padraig O'Neill left in his wake was another all-time high for EPT Prague, with the 1,030,000 prize O'Neill collected more than doubling his lifetime earnings in the live poker arena.
The PokerStars North American Poker Tour (NAPT) returned to action following an extended 12-year hiatus, and boy did it surpass all expectations. It took place at Resorts World Las Vegas immediately after Las Vegas hosted its first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix. Every event posted impressive numbers, with the $1,650 buy-in NAPT Las Vegas Main Event seeing 1,095 players battle it out for a slice of the $1,500,000 prize pool. Poker dealer Sami Bechahed is the name written into the NAPT history book under the heading NAPT Las Vegas Main Event champion, an accolade that came with $268,945. PokerNews expects big things from the NAPT in 2024.
World Poker Tour Puts Up a $40 Million Guarantee
In December 2022, the World Poker Tour (WPT) put on a $10,000 buy-in event at the Wynn Las Vegas called the WPT World Championship, and slapped a $15 million guarantee on its prize pool. A field of 2,960 entrants created a $29,008,000 prize pool, and Eliot Hudon claimed $4,136,000 of that princely sum.
Everyone knew the WPT would run the event again in 2023, but they had no idea the WPT would guarantee $40 million! The amount was ambitious in its own right, especially with EPT Prague scheduled for the same time, but hen the WSOP came in and announced the WSOP Paradise.
Although the tournament failed to reach its guarantee, the fact it attracted 3,835 entrants when players were only allowed to re-enter on the next available Day 1 made the 2023 WPT World Championship a massive success. After a week of intense poker action, Dan Sepiol came out on top and saw his $10,000 investment swell to $5,282,954 in time for Christmas.
Every side event obliterated its guarantee, including the $1,100 WPT Prime Championship, which saw Calvin Anderson bank $1,388,280 after beating out 10,511 opponents.
Speaking of WPT Prime, that mid-stakes tour has gone from strength to strength in 2023. WPT Prime headed to Australia, Cambodia, France, India, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Slovakia, Spain, and Vietnam this year and pulled up trees on every stop. Being able to win packages and passports to WPT Prime events online at WPT Global has helped matters, but the tour's popularity proves there is a thriving market for live tournaments costing $1,000.
Triton Continues Thriving
The Triton Poker Super High Roller Series sees tournaments with buy-ins that mere mortals can only dream of playing. The tour stopped off in Vietnam, Cyprus, London, and Monte Carlo this year, and some of the game's biggest names took down those Main Events.
Talal Shakerchi outlasted 134 opponents in the $100,000 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series Vietnam Main Event, and saw $3,250,000 land in his bank account.
Jason Koon won the $100,000 Cyprus Main Event for $2,451,082, with Ramin Hajiyev banking $4,122,554 in a $200,000 buy-in Luxon Invitational event.
Timothy Adams was the London champion (he won $4,185,000), while Matthias Eibinger was crowned the Monte Carlo champion and received $3,461,261 for his efforts.
Largest-Ever PokerNews Cup; Other Tours Enjoy Plentiful Success
Our very own PokerNews Cup broke its attendance record in 2023, thanks to 2,331 players buying in at the Golden Nugget and creating a guarantee-busting $1,356,642 prize pool. Johnny Kelly got his hands on the lion's share of the pot, namely $176,540. We have big plans for the PokerNews Cup, so stay tuned to our plages through the coming year.
888poker LIVE's 2023 tour will go down as one of the most successful in its history. The Coventry Main Event, in the UK, saw Yiannis Liperis return home having turned his 888 buy-in into 120,000. 888poker recently announced the dates for the 2024 installment of the 888poker LIVE tour, including details of a new UK-based tour that looks incredibly exciting.
Speaking of the UK, the long-running Grosvenor UK Poker Tour (GUKPT) completed its 17th season, and what a season it was. There were so many highlights that we could have filled this article with GUKPT content alone. However, one standout performance was the ever-popular Goliath, which saw a record turnout of 11,493 players fighting it out for a share of 1,324,000. Alex Todd slayed the Goliath, securing a 176,860 payout despite the tournament ending in a six-handed chop. The 2024 GUKPT schedule can be found here.
Shout-outs also must go to the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT), the PokerStars UK & Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT), the WSOP Circuit, The Festival Series, the awesome Kings of Tallinn, Irish Open, Asian Poker Tour, and the EA Poker Tour among others.
So much work goes into the planning and execution of any live tour, regardless of the buy-ins offered. Everyone who had played a role in hosting and unning a live poker event in 2023 deserves a pat on the back and a long rest over the holidays. Don't get too comfortable, though, because live poker action will come at you thick and fast throughout 2024. We cannot wait!
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