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By almost all measures, 2020 has been a terrible year. But with COVID-19 vaccines all but ready for deployment, the question of what live tournaments will look like in 2021 is looming large.
Anyone invested in poker has seen the problems live events have encountered this year. Cancellations and changes of setting due to lockdowns, safety concerns, and travel restrictions have been common.
Operators have adapted, however, and with life slowly looking like it might return to normal, can we expect a full schedule of live tournaments next year? We spoke to the World Poker Tour (WPT) and Partypoker executives to find out.
COVID Can’t Stop Live Tournaments Returning
Trying to predict the unpredictable is virtually impossible, but we know that both companies are pushing for a return to normality as quickly as possible.
The WPT recently announced a DeepStacks event in Taiwan. From there, the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open is scheduled to take place in Florida on Jan. 22.
Partypoker is also planning to take its tournament bandwagon back out on the road in early 2021. Alongside the WPT, it plans to host a $3,300 live tournament at Casino Sochi in February.
“We only have WPT Russia planned currently because, at this moment, they are our only live partner running MTTs successfully. The safety of our players is paramount, so we’re not currently planning to offer live events on the same scale as before until the market conditions are clearer,” Partypoker Live President John Duthie told us.
As you’d expect, all plans are currently marked with the word “provisional.” The imminent roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines is giving everyone hope that normal life, and therefore live tournaments, can resume in the coming months. But, again, it’s hard to be certain during uncertain times.
COVID Vaccinations Raise Debate
One thing we can be confident about is that a full calendar of live tournaments will return at some point in the future. The question is, will things be the same?
We’ve already seen images of facemasks and plexiglass screens at poker rooms in Europe and North America. Will there be additional requirements for live tournaments?
Much of the talk on social media and in mainstream publications recently has been about vaccinations. Australian airline Qantas recently said its passengers will have to prove they’ve had a COVID-19 vaccine before flying.
“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say, for international travelers, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” Qantas boss Alan Joyce told Australia Nine News.
British minister Nadhim Zahawi has also suggested that companies in the UK could make vaccinations a condition of entry.
“I think you’d probably find that restaurants and bars and cinemas and other venues, sports venues, will probably also use that system as they’ve done with the app,” Zahawi told the BBC.
Partypoker and WPT Not Set on COVID Freedom Passes
We asked Partypoker Live President John Duthie about his plans moving forward. His view is that local policies and public opinion will guide his decisions.
“[COVID safety measures] are handled by the casino and, by law, as it’s their license used to run tournaments. We will cross-check the conditions on a case-by-case basis as we approach the events to ensure our customers will be safe and comfortable with the processes in place,” Duthie told us.
In regard to so-called vaccine freedom passes, Duthie confirmed that there are no immediate plans to make them mandatory. However, he told us that professional and public opinion will guide Partypoker’s decisions in this realm at a later time.
“We would explore [proof of vaccination] if our customers requested it. We always talk to our community to devise policies for live events, and [to] offer the best customer experience,” Duthie continued.
The WPT’s Vice President of Global Tour Management, Angelica Hael, offered a similar response.
“Since we are a global brand operating in multiple countries that are governed by various federal, state, and local authorities, we must be respectful of these governing agencies and each casino’s respective health and safety protocols,” Hael explained.
Although vaccines are generally beneficial, some people are wary of policies that enforce them. Therefore, it will come as good news to those people that neither Partypoker Live nor the WPT are taking an early hardline like the one announced by Qantas.
Innovation Will Continue
What else might 2021 have in store for tournament players? The live-to-online innovations of 2020 have been a huge success, and both tournament operators want to keep them going.
“It would appear the dynamics of the industry have changed. Running online festivals that would have been live is something that’s here to stay,” Duthie explained.
The Partypoker Live President also told us that hybrid events, similar to what the WSOP is doing with its Main Event, are another interesting area of innovation.
“Whether we can run online events into live events for the latter stages is hard to predict,” Duthie said. “It’s difficult to assess if customers need to cross borders and whether they are willing to travel to live venues. But it’s an exciting concept that we will look at on a case-by-case basis.”
We may also see more of the same from the WPT next year.
“You can expect that the WPT Global Tour will feature more international online events in the future,” Hael said. “The WPT prides itself in catering to everyone, no matter how they enjoy and consume poker. 2020 has shown us that there is a genuine appetite to play online, and we expect this trend to remain in many parts of the world.”
The message is clear: live poker tournaments will return, but the lessons of 2020 won’t be forgotten. But you’re wasting energy to postulate on vaccine certificates and further restrictions at this point.
Both Partypoker Live and the WPT are looking to resume normal service as quickly and safely as possible. Although mindful of local laws, the message from the top is that players can look forward to plenty of tournament action in 2021.
“We would always put our customers’ health first. Whenever we do run live events, our casino partners and local government rules will apply in all cases,” Duthie concluded.
Indeed, the two companies have adapted better than most this year. Through a combination of live events, online alternatives, and hybrid tournaments, the outlook for 2021 is far more positive now than it’s been for a while.