The WSOP Colossus: A Giant Hit with a Few Big Misses

Halfway through the 2015 World Series of Poker and its record-shattering “Colossus” event, reviews are starting to come in.  The upshot?  The Colossus event’s debut has been a giant of a success, albeit with a few big misses by WSOP execs and staff.

Let’s start with some of the great things to come out of this noble poker experiment.  Caesars and the WSOP envisioned the Colossus as a bridge to the poker masses, with its $500+65 price tag the cheapest offered for an “open” event since the WSOP’s earliest days.  Most poker players simply can’t afford or don’t have the recreational poker bankroll to justify the several thousand dollars just to travel to Las Vegas and play in a smaller WSOP tourney, much less the $10,000 main event in July.

The Colossus was designed to address that in a way that the WSOP’s highly successful Circuit series, despite similar price points, never could.  It’s about the chance to compete for a bracelet on the poker world’s single largest stage.

The poker players turned out in droves for the opening-weekend event.  Four massive starting flights stuffed the host Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino almost literally to the gills, to the point that even such other-use facilities as the Poker Kitchen found their floor space pressed into service.  Finding dealers and floor staff to man all those tables was a challenge as well, and very little in the way of complaints about those elements emerged.

WSOPWhen registration for the Colossus finally closed, the WSOP was able to confirm 22,374 official entries.  That’s by far the largest of all time for a live poker event, breaking the former record of 8,773 players in the 2006 WSOP main event.  (That was the last ME before the passage later in 2006 of the United States’ onerous UIGEA, which had the effect of blocking thousands of online qualifiers from third-party sites.)  The Colossus, therefore, not only broke the old record for total entries, it did so by more than 150%.

Sure, many of those entrants were from players firing multiple bullets — as many as four — but it’s still likely that the total number of entries represented 12,000 or more unique players.  And in a word, that’s wonderful.  Such attendance is great for both poker in general and the WSOP in particular.  It makes for great news bites as well, and both the poker media and the mainstream press are already grabbing for angles on this successful new event.

Sure, there were a few problems, the largest being registration snafus.  The WSOP’s advance logistics weren’t great, and the availability of online, advance registration didn’t actually shorten any lines — it just moved some of the players from one line to another.  The WSOP appeared to be simply unprepared for the reality of the mass of poker-playing humanity that descended upon the Rio over the weekend, and in the days preceding as well.

Hours-long waits in line to register for the Colossus tourney’s four starting flights were unfortunately the norm, added to the registration for the other auxiliary events and a handful of other WSOP prelims also being run.  It’s hard to look at something as successful overall as Colossus turned out to be and say that parts of it were a logistical failure, but they certainly weren’t up to snuff.

More arguable — and also likely inevitable — were numerous complaints that arose from players when the WSOP brass released the payout structure for the event.  The WSOP chose to adhere to its general principle of paying only, roughly, the top 10% of the field; when payouts were announced, the Colossus was confirmed to pay an $11,187,000 prize pool to the event’s top 2,241 players.

One caveat though, as explained by WSOP executive director Ty Stewart on social media after payouts were announced, is that because the Colossus was a re-entry (not rebuy) event, the WSOP wanted to make the minimum cash at least twice the entry fee, or a little over $1,000.  In many, perhaps most, poker tournaments, simply sneaking into the money is simply a money-back proposal; the big profit is up at the high end of the scale.

Instead, the WSOP opted for a much flatter payout structure, giving more money to the bottom and middle cashers at the relative expense of the final table.  Veteran players mounted a possibly misplaced hue-and-cry upon learning that first place in the Colossus event would be -only- $638,880.  Several suggested openly that anything short of a million in an event this size was a huge mistake.

But probably not, in this writer’s not-so-humble opinion.  Sure, the WSOP lost one marketing card in not being able to claim that a $500+65 entrant went on to win a million.  Instead, the WSOP is hoping that 500 or more relatively new players will make a profit in what is likely their first World Series cash, and spend that money in the poker world at a following time.  Whether that’s at the WSOP or at another venue doesn’t even matter.  What’s more important, from the WSOP’s view, is that a lot of players can leave the WSOP with tales of a run to the money… and a little bit of that extra money to show for their trip as well.

In other words, despite poker players’ well-known ability to complain, the Colossus payout structure makes a great deal of sense.  It might be drawing lots of complaints but it’s not the real problem that other areas have been.

Will the Colossus return in 2016 and beyond?  Nothing’s ever for sure, but assuming the WSOP can address the logistical issues, there’s no reason why not.  Hiccups aside, the event’s debut has been nothing short of a smash success.


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