Is there too much of a good thing?

The Winning Hand

Ages ago (OK, maybe only about five years or so), poker wasn't the worldwide phenomenon that it is today.

Poker rooms, and their wealth of characters and personality, were being replaced with alacrity by the monotonous dinging and clanging of slot machines and their automaton-like wiles. A quick look at the recent history of the game reveals this in spades.

In 2002, there was only a handful of what would be called "high-dollar" buy-in events. For the year (and admittedly this is a rough estimate by yours truly), there were only 15 tournaments that had buy-ins that crossed the $5,000 mark in the United States, with six of them being contested during the run of the World Series of Poker that year.

Two other tournaments, the World Poker Challenge in Reno, Nev., and the U.S. Poker Championship in Atlantic City, were particularly surprising by today's standards. The WPC and its $5,000 buy-in only drew in 32 entrants for its tournament. It has since gone on to become part of the World Poker Tour, with great success.

The USPC with its $7,500 buy-in tournament was only able to capture the attention of 72 players and saw exponential growth up to this year (but that was due to the dilemma of television coverage).

Let's fast-forward the tape now to 2007. You can't take a breath from one week to the next without a major tournament being contested in some location around the world. Between the WPT, the WSOP and its Circuit (and premier in Europe), the European Poker Tour and a wealth of "minor" poker tours (Heartland Poker Tour, Grosvenor British Poker Tour, Asian Poker Tour, U.S. Poker Tour, etc.), the tournament calendar is stocked with a plethora of high-dollar tournaments.

The first quarter of 2007 alone featured more top-dollar tournaments than the total tournaments in 2002 and there were still nine months of the year to go!

Two recent tournaments come to mind that may have suffered as a result of today's abundance of competitions. The WPT's Turks & Caicos Poker Classic was able to draw only 137 players to the felt. It could have been bigger but the fact that it was run in conjunction with the second tournament I'm thinking of, the EPT's London event (392 runners), surely had some effect on the turnout at both.

Admittedly, the rebirth of poker has done a great deal for the game. Casinos that once either were considering closing poker rooms or had none at all suddenly saw the value in having them as a part of their operation.

The WSOP has grown at an astronomical rate since 2002, and since its birth that same year the WPT has yet to be slowed down. Even outside of the tournament poker scene, cash games are thriving and poker rooms are packed to the gills. There is a serious question to ask when you look at these issues, though: Is it too much of a good thing?

The tournament poker world is potentially the most troublesome issue. With anywhere from three to five major tournaments (or more) in any given month, professional players are stretched to their limits, both financially and in expertise.

Taking the costs into consideration, it could conceivably cost a top tournament poker player in excess of $1 million if they were to play in every event. Furthermore, it would be virtually impossible to play world-class poker for a long stretch. While some players have shown the ability to get on a short run and have success in a couple of events, it is normally timed in a couple of weeks rather than a couple of months.

This not only puts a burden on the top pros (which events do they play?), it means the grinders who have fair success in the tournament game are hard-pressed to decide which tournaments are their best options.

As to the amateur who wants to take a shot, his or her decision as to when and where to go is even more difficult.

Perhaps the most obvious remedy is to reduce the number of events, something that is not very likely to happen. With the differing agendas of the poker tours, the casinos and the players themselves, there is no way that in the near future we will see a reduction in events.

A more realistic alternative is to schedule tournaments in a much more "player-friendly" manner, avoiding overlapping tournaments, which would allow for more participation in major tournaments from those more active players in the game.

In the cash-game world, the situation is leading to the death of many of the non-Hold'em games, unfortunately. Everyone today seems to want to play the game they see on television and neglects the other exciting disciplines that poker has to offer. Next time you are in a poker room, check out the board and see if you can find a Seven-Card, Omaha, Hi-Lo or split game going on (don't even bother to try to find a Razz or Five-Card game in operation). More than likely, it isn't there.

This is something that will only change when the mindset of the players begins to change. While most newcomers are drawn to Texas Hold'em, nowadays some are finding out about the pleasures of Omaha and its intricacies, and Seven-Card and its logical and mathematical side.

As these more adventurous players gain more experience, we could see a rebirth of these games in cardrooms around the world.

We should revel in the current state of the game. It doesn't appear to be slowing down, for the most part, and should continue drawing veterans and newcomers to the felt to ply their skills.

With a little help from the major tours, the casinos and even the players, it is possible to create a more level playing field for all involved, as opposed to the persistent battleground that we see on the schedules now.

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