In terms of the way the casino has handled this event, the vote is unanimous; it's been a huge success. The facilities are great, the tables and the dealers above average and the stocked buffet open to players, and media, hasn't gone unnoticed. Add to this the fact that the hall outside the tournament room overlooks the majestic Niagara Falls, and it's easy to predict that the WPT has found a permanent home here in Canada.
While all the administrative issues have been taken care of beautifully, there is still one facet of this event that will have to improve before it can compete with the bigger World Poker Tour events around the U.S., and that is the caliber of the players.
With a relatively small buy-in of $2,500 CAD and a field that has been capped at 300 it has become apparent that the level of play here at the Canadian Open just isn't up to par with what most of the visiting pros are used to. While this might seem like a plus, having a soft field through which the pros could cut a swath of destruction, for most it has turned out to be simply frustrating.
Of all the big names who started playing yesterday, there are very few who have made it to the money. Daniel Negreanu, Michael Mizrachi, Humberto Brenes, Joe Sebok, Isabelle Mercier, Gavin Smith, David Williams and others have all fell victim to players of inferior ability and skill. This is the problem when sophisticated players come up against more amateurish competitors. They, the amateurs, play mediocre hands from any position, they refuse to lay down long-shot draws and they generally follow a strategy that is sometimes incomprehensible to high-level pros. While these qualities will almost certainly lead to these players eventually busting, it makes for a veritable minefield across which the outnumbered pros are forced to traverse.
So far we've seen such brilliant plays as a person moving all-in after flopping quad fours and wondering why they didn't receive any action, an all-in bet and two callers after which the hands turned out to be Q-10, A-10 and K-Q, and one player who wasn't familiar with the concept of a string bet. All of this may sound harsh, but in talking to most of the pros, it was the general consensus that the field here just isn't what they're used to facing.
This isn't to say that they aren't a lot of skilled players that have come here to Niagara to compete, but it's undeniable that we've seen a lot of rookie moves in the last two days. It is surprising though because it's a fact that poker is popular in Ontario and Canada and has been for a long time. Not to mention the fact that many of the players who are here are the very same you would find at other WPT events in the U.S. and around the world.
The $2,500 buy-in could certainly have something to do with it since there are many who wouldn't even consider shelling out ten large for one event but find the opportunity to be on TV, even if it is just in Canada, for a quarter of that very appealing.
The last two days notwithstanding, the players who have made it this far obviously have some game. There has been plenty of fast action and chip pushing so far, and it will only get better going into the final two days. The two chip leaders, Scott Clements and Artur Kulczycki, have put on quite a show and both have mountains of chips to show for it. As we approached the bubble today, both these players were using their chips well and pushing the small stacks all over the place.
In one hand in particular, Kulczycki came over the top of a player who had made a substantial pre-flop raise and forced the person to reluctantly fold his hand. As he mucked he showed the cards, confident that he had made the right decision, an ace and a jack. Stone-faced, Artur flipped over his cards showing just a weak Q-J.
Clements has also amassed a huge stack by preying on the players who were desperately trying to make it to the money. Having won a WSOP bracelet this past year, a fact lost on no one since he brazenly displayed it perched on the top of his pile of chips all day long, Clements is no stranger to final tables or winner's circles. With the number of chips these two have, they will almost certainly be a force for the rest of the event.
All in all though, this has been a great event so far, and with the commitment on the part of the Fallsview Casino, it's a tournament that will only get better in the years to come.