Will Large-Scale Live Poker Events Return In 2021?

Robbie Strazynski is the founder of Cardplayerlifestyle.com and the translator of Pulling the Trigger: The Autobiography of Eli Elezra. A Global Poker Award winner (2018 Charitable Initiative of the Year), Robbie has been active in the poker media scene since 2009, producing popular written, audio, and video content.

After a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, the majority of humanity is rearing for a return to normalcy. In the poker world, that means pining for live poker events to return en masse in 2021.

We’re far removed from what’s colloquially referred to as “the Boom years,” but worldwide demand for poker is still strong. However, due to the raging coronavirus, only small pockets of live poker are being played worldwide. Many cardrooms are shuttered, and for the most part, larger-scale marquee poker events simply aren’t happening yet.

To compensate, so to speak, for the dearth of live poker options, players and operators alike have turned to online poker, causing a mini-boom in 2020. Faced with no other outlet, poker enthusiasts and legions of players that abandoned online poker years ago have rediscovered it over the past few months. Moreover, tons of new players have joined them, their interest stemming from discovering a new activity as their leisure options are limited while homebound.

Operators have responded to the increased demand as best they could, boosting prize pool guarantees and creating online versions of their popular live series, with the World Series of Poker, EPT, and Unibet Open being just a few examples.

While having online poker as an “alternative” option is undoubtedly better than no alternative at all, for a significant portion of poker players, online poker is just a temporary stand-in until live poker can return.

The Orbit Tackles the Poker Question

On the most recent episode of the roundtable poker discussion show I host, The Orbit, our panel discussed the issue of live poker’s return. Specifically, when posing the question, I inquired about the notion of shame being a factor in when some players might feel comfortable returning to play.

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There seemed to be a consensus among the panelists – Will Shillibier, Jeff Platt, Donnie Peters, and David Tuchman – that shame isn’t much of a factor regarding people’s readiness to return to the tables.

Instead, the panelists pointed to the re-emergence and eventual resurgence of live poker wholly dependent on the vaccine. As the rollout continues and inoculation becomes more widespread, more and more players are likely to feel comfortable with larger gatherings and a collective return to the live felt.

Return to Normal Will Vary by Locale

As for exactly when that point might be, it’s anyone’s guess. Poker’s lifeblood is liquidity, both in the live and online realm. Thus, it takes a critical mass of players to ensure larger-scale live events can run. The Americans on the panel noted that the rebound could vary from state to state, with regional markets having independent timelines. Shillibier, who is based in the UK, noted that international travel could likely be impacted for a long time to come, as the vaccine timeline will vary by nation. That would naturally affect attendance at events such as the World Series of Poker.

What’s certain is that a pandemic, while having wide-ranging longstanding effects, cannot extinguish poker players’ desire to be social and feel chips in their hands. For many poker players, the rush of making bets, calling bluffs, and stacking one’s opponents amplifies when you can stare across an actual, rather than a virtual felt. For one, I am optimistic that I’ll be hearing a room full of riffled poker in the months ahead.

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