The 2022 World Series of Poker is now in its fourth week. It’s the first year of relative normalcy for the series after COVID-19 threw everything for a loop. It’s also its first year at its new home, spread between Bally’s Las Vegas and the adjacent Paris Las Vegas.
Already, the series has produced decent field sizes and plenty of drama. But will the 53rd edition of the series prove to be its biggest to date? That’s harder to say.
Before the series, WSOP staff were optimistic. Executive Director Ty Stewart said in a press conference before the series that he’d bet on the Main Event setting a new attendance record.
That seems like a reasonable prediction. Like most of the industry, the series took a blow in 2011 when the US Department of Justice cracked down on black market online poker. From 2013 through 2019, however, the series was back to growing. It added many new events to the schedule during that period and set a lot of other sorts of records.
It never quite beat the all-time Main Event attendance record, however. That bar remains where it was set way back in 2006, at the height of the poker boom: 8,773 entries. The 2019 series came close, with 8,569. If not for the pandemic, 2020 would probably have been the year for the Main Event to break into new territory.
At this point, we’re ten days from the start of the Main Event. Roughly half the 88 events on the schedule have reached their conclusions. Do we now have enough information to make the call as to whether Stewart’s prediction will come true?
Not quite. What we can say, however, is that it’s probably going to be close either way.
WSOP 2022 vs. 2019
There’s no sense drawing any comparisons with the past two years. The 2020 series didn’t happen in person at all (except for the Main Event final table). In 2021, it wasn’t at its usual time, it was shrouded in uncertainty, and travel restrictions plus COVID fears guaranteed that attendance would be low.
So, how does the 2022 WSOP compare to the last “normal” year for the series, 2019? Attendance does seem to be up a little overall, but not in a consistent way. Moreover, year-to-year comparisons are always difficult with the WSOP, because the schedule isn’t constant.
What we can do is compare specific events, which occur exactly once on the schedule most years. The various $10,000 Championships are obvious choices, as are the Monster Stack, Millionaire Maker and certain oddball events like the $2,500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball and $1,500 Dealer’s Choice.
Not all the events matching that description have run yet in 2022, but we’ve compiled the ones that have in a table. You’ll find it at the bottom of the article. Since we’re talking about records, the all-time attendance record for each is included, and the year in which it occurred.
The event with the field most similar in size to the Main Event tends to be the Millionaire Maker. Unfortunately, its field has shrunk 9.6% since 2019. On the other hand, the Monster Stack has grown 7.7%.
Out of the 16 events we’ve considered, nine have drawn larger fields in 2022, and seven have drawn smaller ones. Two have set new records. The average change from 2019 is positive, with 2.5% mean growth, and 4.4% as the median.
Main Event attendance would have to grow 2.4% from 2019 in order for 2022 to beat 2006. So, statistically, it looks like the series is on course to do so, but only just barely.
The Belated Bellwether
Last fall, before the rest of the Online Poker Report team and I moved to Bonus, I was asking the opposite question. I wanted to know not if the Main Event would be the biggest since 2006, but whether it would be the smallest since 2005. (It wasn’t, for those keeping score.)
To make my prediction, I started looking for a bellwether. Perhaps there was another event whose rises and falls in attendance tracked those of the Main Event quite closely.
As it turns out, there is (if we consider only the post-Black Friday years). It’s the $10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship.
Unfortunately, that won’t help us this year, at least not until the last minute. As it happens, the PLO Championship is Event #69 on the 2022 WSOP schedule. What’s #70? The Main Event. The two are lined up such that those who make the final table of the PLO Championship will have just enough time after its conclusion to register for the final starting flight of the Main Event.
Still, if you’re planning on making any last-minute prop bets with friends about whether the Main Event sets a record, you might want to keep your eye on that. If its field hits 190 entries or so, it’s probably a good sign for the Main Event to cross the 8,773 mark.
Never Bet Against the Main Event
In the end, though, it’s hard to say much except that it’s going to come down to the wire. Based on the numbers so far, it looks like an even-money bet on Over 8,773.5 would be getting the best of it, but only by a small margin.
That said, there’s a lot of remaining uncertainty. In particular, Nevada’s in the middle of its latest wave of COVID, and there are plenty of anecdotal reports of spread at the WSOP. That may be enough to convince some recreational players to wait one more year.
Also worrisome is the difference in performance between the Monster Stack, early in the series, and the comparatively disappointing and more recent Millionaire Maker.
Personally, though, I’ve learned my lesson from last year. Based on a number of signals, I thought there was a good chance the Main Event would come up shy of 2005. My readers on Twitter disagreed strongly, if the polls I ran were any indication.
I’m not going to make the same mistake again. Pent-up demand and the mystique of the Main Event are enough to overcome COVID fears. I’m with Stewart; this year, I’m taking the Over.
In the article just posted, @BeneFactumGames said he expects the 2021 Main Event’s attendance to be close to 2005’s. So, around 5,619, down from 8,569 last year.
If that was a betting line, what would be your pick?
— Bonus.com (@BonusUpdate) October 28, 2021
Attendance for Similar WSOP Events: 2022 vs. 2019
|Event||2022 Entries||2019 Entries||Change||Record Entries (Year)|
|$10k MAIN EVENT||???||8569||???||8773 (2006)|
|$1500 Millionaire Maker||7961||8809||-10%||8809 (2019)|
|$1500 Monster Stack||6501||6035||+8%||7862 (2014)|
|$1500 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout||1000||917||+9%||1440 (2011)|
|$1500 Dealer's Choice||430||470||-9%||470 (2019)|
|$2500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball||309||296||+4%||321 (2018)|
|$25k Pot-Limit Omaha High Roller||264||278||-5%||278 (2019)|
|$10k Omaha Hi-Lo Championship||196||183||+7%||196 (2022)|
|$10k HORSE Championship||192||172||+12%||204 (2015)|
|$10k Stud Hi/Lo Championship||137||151||-9%||151 (2019)|
|$10k Dealer's Choice Championship||123||122||+1%||123 (2022)|
|$10k NL Single Draw Championship||121||91||+33%||126 (2011)|
|$10k Triple Draw Championship||118||100||+18%||125 (2016)|
|$50k NLHE High Roller||101||110||-8%||122 (2018)|
|$10k Stud Championship||95||88||+8%||158 (2008)|
|$10k Limit Hold'em Championship||92||118||-22%||122 (2014)|