I personally am finding the second lockdown the UK is in much tougher than the first, probably because of the weather. However, all the positive news about vaccines has made it bareable.
We have had mixed signals in poker recently where this is concerned. The WSOP announced a live/online hybrid for the end of the year, despite the fact that the world does not seem ready for it. However, we saw the Aussie Millions cancel it’s 2021 event next year, suggesting we are far from out of the woods.
So when will live poker return to what it was like before? By ‘before’ I mean no mandatory masks, no plastic dividers between players and online operators running events with satellite qualifiers coming from all over the world. I think that is an important distinction because in some areas there is a version of live poker happening right now, but it’s not like we knew it.
It’s still a tough winter ahead
Assuming several vaccines are about to be approved we could be at the beginning of the end. But we still have a tough winter to get through before enough of them have been administered to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The first people to get them could be as early as next month, with a big percentage of the most vulnerable groups getting them in January onwards. We don’t need the whole world vaccinated to return to some sort of normality as long as those most at risk are taken care of.
The other innovation that could get us back to life as we knew it is rapid testing. It seems perfectly feasible that in early 2021 a casino could administer rapid tests to its patrons meaning that anyone testing negative could play there normally without mandatory distancing.
I think we will see something that looks like normal poker in parts of the world in February, when hopefully enough vaccines as well as improved testing will make more localised live poker a possibility. However, for events people travel to and qualify for online, the projections seem to suggest that around Easter time we should see some normality. So maybe the Irish Open will be the first event that people travel to from all corners of the world with a spring in their step?
Will poker ever be the same?
The bigger question going forward is what will normal look like after the year we have all been through? I am looking forward to getting back to the game as it was, but COVID will probably leave a mark on poker forever.
For example, will all the live events we loved still be there? My local casino, part of the Genting chain, announced all their poker rooms were closing permanently because of this and I suspect many other staples of the poker tournament calendar might not return.
I suspect a more positive impact of the year that was 2020 will be live events taking much more caution with hygine in general, especially washing the chips and cards we pass around so much. It is only in hindsight that I realised how often I would get ill after live poker events because the game really is a petri dish of germ spreading. Mask wearing when you have a cold should also be encouraged.
I also think having online legs of major events like the WSOP, EPT and WPT are here to stay, in moderation.
It might be premature getting excited about live poker right now but it is hard not to. Poker in 2021 will at a minimum look more like poker in 2019 than poker in 2020. It might take longer than I have predicted, but I look forward to seeing you at the tables next year.
When will live poker return to normal in 2021? Let us know in the comments: