No-Limit Hold’em Alternatives At The WSOP Are On The Rise, With One Surprising Exception

WSOP Alternative Formats On Rise

Way back in 2005, Daniel Negreanu semi-angrily, semi-jokingly observed that the World Series of Poker should be renamed the World Series of Hold’em. The game that was sweeping the nation in the early days of the poker boom was sweeping seven-card stud, razz, lowball, and nearly every other variant right off the table, as 32 of 45 bracelets that year were handed out for hold’em.

It wasn’t long, though, before course correction kicked in, thanks in part to the voices of Negreanu and other poker pros who established a Players Advisory Council. The impact can be seen clearly on the 2018 WSOP schedule, where 38 of the 78 events feature games that are not no-limit hold’em.

And if the year-over-year numbers are any indication, the WSOP brass has made an intelligent calculation. For the most part, interest in games other than hold’em is on the rise.

WSOP Event'17 entries'18 entriesChange
$1,500 Omaha Eight-or-Better905911+6
$2500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball225321+96
$10,000 Omaha Eight-or-Better154169+15
$1,500 Dealers Choice364406+42
$1,500 NL Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw266260-6
$1,500 H.O.R.S.E.736731-5
$10,000 Dealers Choice102111+9
$565 Pot-Limit Omaha3,1862,419-767
$1,500 8-Game Mix472481+9
$10,000 NL Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw9295+3
$1,500 Stud Eight-or-Better595596+1
$1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha1,058986-72
$10,000 H.O.R.S.E.150166+16
$1,500 Limit Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw326356+30
$1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha870799-71
$1,500 Seven-Card Stud298310+12
$50,000 Poker Players Championship10087-13
$10,000 Seven-Card Stud8883-5
$2,500 Big Bet Mix197205+8
$25,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed205230+25
$10,000 Limit Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw80109+29
$2,500 Omaha Eight/Stud Eight Mix405402-3
$10,000 Pot-Limit Omaha 8-Handed428476+48
$1,500 Razz419389-30

Small but meaningful gains

Of the 24 non-hold’em tournaments that have been played so far this summer that had an exact match in 2017 — same buy-in amount, same poker variant — 15 saw their entry numbers rise.

Many of those increases were marginal. $1,500 Omaha eight-or-better rose from 905 players to 911. The $10K no-limit deuce-to-seven championship ticked up from 92 to 95. The $1,500 stud eight-or-better event moved by the smallest amount possible, from 595 players in 2017 to 596 this June.

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But there were also some legitimate leaps forward, particularly in lowball and mixed games. The $2,500 mixed triple draw lowball shot up from 225 players all the way to 321. $1,500 limit deuce-to-seven triple draw increased from 326 to 356. The $10K limit deuce-to-seven triple draw championship had a massive 36.25% increase, from 80 players last year to 109 last week. And the $1,500 dealers choice event spiked from 364 to 406.

Some other events were down, mostly incrementally. A decrease of six players here, five players there. Perhaps the most substantial hit was felt in the prestigious $50,000 Poker Players Championship, which fell from an even 100 players in 2017 to just 87 this summer.

P-L-Oh my

But there’s one non-hold’em game that’s been spreading more bad news than good. The previously cited number of tournaments that saw an increase, 15 out of 24 (62.5%), would look even better if we removed pot-limit Omaha. The number would be 13 of 19 (68.4%) if PLO, with its two increases against three decreases, was taken out of the equation.

The WSOP was banking on PLO being in a growth pattern, adding three brand new PLO events to the schedule this year:

But the five returning tournaments have brought a mixed bag thus far. The affordable $565 PLO fell by a staggering 767 entries, from 3,186 to 2,419. The $1K version dropped by 72, from 1,058 to 986. And at the $1,500 price point, entries dipped by 71, from 870 to 799.

At the higher buy-ins, however, numbers are on the rise. They went from 428 to 476 in the $10K and from 205 to 230 in the $25K.

What does it mean?

It’s not unreasonble to suggest that there aren’t as many fish swimming in the PLO waters as there used to be. As a game gets closer to “solved,” as the weaker players either improve or swim away, interest at the lower stakes will naturally level off. This might explain why the entry numbers are only down at the casual-player-friendly price points.

But there’s another possibility to consider. A few years into the poker boom, industry insiders began referring to PLO as “the next no-limit hold’em,” and it was meant in a positive way: This is the next game with the potential to take off and become a sensation. But instead, maybe PLO is following in NLHE’s footsteps in a negative manner. Maybe it’s a game that players have grown bored of after grinding away at it for several years. Maybe, as happens to a lot of hold’em players eventually, there’s been some PLO burnout.

Still, on the whole, the trend for poker variants that are not hold’em is an encouraging one. Sure, the poker boom ended long ago — arguably the moment UIGEA was passed. But the health of poker appears to be just fine. Exponential growth is a phenomenon of the past, but there are still new players coming in and discovering new games, and the WSOP has welcomed them by remembering what the “P” stands for.

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