Felt of Dreams: The WPT Built It and They Came

  • The WPT World Championship and its $15m guarantee was a bold endeavor for the Tour
  • The $1,100 WPT Prime event was the first sign that the WPT World Championship could be huge
  • The guarantee was hit during Day 1B and the prize pool eventually almost reached $30m
  • Wynn Las Vegas has proven to be the perfect home for the event, a great winter finale
James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams
The ambitious WPT World Championship has exceeded all expectations, nearly doubling its $15m guaranteed prize pool. [Image: YouTube / Movieclips]

Every sense tingling 

Build it and they will come. Hype it and they will develop a FOMO so pronounced that they board planes from the other side of the world. Deliver it and they will arrive to the Wynn as innocent as children, holes burnt into their pockets, every sense tingling.

The players will pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and a piece of the action that they lack. They will walk over to their tables, optimistic, excited, bursting with a sense that anything is possible. They will sit indoors, some suited and booted, others in their track-suit bottoms and hoodies, all content to riffle chips in the desert. 

poker players are nothing if not masochists

There will be case cards caught, coolers and clocks called. There will be buttons bought, bubbles and bounties binked. And, of course, there will be bad beats. WTF, FML, UL, and GG as the hopes of some will inevitably be dashed. And they will leave, bemoaning their ill fortune, wondering how it’s possible that the fish and donkeys ran so good. And they will return the next night, for poker players are nothing if not masochists. 

Dream big

The World Poker Tour dreamt big. The WPT World Championship would be no humble poker festival, but instead something daring, something breathtaking, something befitting its 20-year anniversary. When the event was first announced in the summer, it was not without trepidation that the organizers set about their mammoth task. 

there is no substitute for hard work

A fear of failure can paralyze, but it can also spur. A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and sacrifice. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning and there is no substitute for hard work.

As such, the preparation was initially accompanied not with an obvious visible enthusiasm, but rather a hidden one, an excitement burning with a cold flame. Eventually, however, that excitement revealed itself, warming, then sizzling, before eventually shooting off in all directions, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

Hit different

December arrived and it was clear that a lot of thought had gone into making the WPT World Championship hit different. Tournaments aplenty in week one, but also a star-studded meet-up game that allowed low-stakes cash game players to rub shoulders with the titans of the game. The live-streamed “Rail-Heaven” nose-bleed game was a mix of old and new, evoking memories of poker’s past, but with modern polish. 

Then came the first sign that the numbers could be huge as the $1,100 WPT Prime shattered expectations, 5,430 entries and a massive prize pool of $5,267,100. That tournament played down to the final six players with the talented 2021 WSOP Ladies Event champion Lara Eisenberg leading the way when play resumes on December 19. The eventual winner will take home over $700,000.

All the talk was not of the prize pool hitting $25m, but by how much?

The only true measure, however, would be the big one. A record $15m was promised, but there was a growing hope, nay an expectation, of a greater sum. And so it came to pass with that guarantee being hit before the second break of Day 1B. All the talk was not of the prize pool hitting $25m, but by how much? 

In the depth of winter, an invincible summer

With the Wynn Las Vegas, the WPT has found the perfect bedfellow to pull this off. In the depth of winter, they have learned that within their collaboration lies an invincible summer, a genuine rival to the WSOP. They envisioned a record-breaker, but they delivered a groundbreaker. They imagined creating something conspicuous, but they have set a new bar. 

Adam Pliska, Angelica Hael, Ryan Beauregard, Ray Pulford, Charlie Stone, Samuel Carioti, Cathy Zhao, Keta Ozolina, Hilary St. Clair, Anna Cedarburg, Madison Evans, Pinky Mejias, Danny McDonagh, Hermance Blum, Maxime Rouison, Fernanda Salas, Lance Bradley, Eric Lusch, Will Butcher, Jeff Walsh, Tim Fiorvanti, Easton Oreman, Jamie Kerstetter, Xuan Liu, Thomas Keeling, Dan Moar, Amanda Botfeld, Matt Savage, Lynn Gilmartin, Tony Dunst, Joe Ingram, and doubtless countless others, you all should take a bow. The ambassador giveaways and satellite overlays might have told the community that there was value, but it is your diligence and passion that has assured that there was quality. 

The WPT will be dreaming of an even bigger World Championship in 2023, capitalizing on the phenomenal turn out and response to this one. But for now, with the stage set, it is the turn of the players to focus on that coveted Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup and dream big. 

Magic waters 

The ballers. The grinders. The enthusiasts. Some dream about playing against their heroes, others dream of becoming heroes, but all play the game as if dipped in magic waters, dreaming about capturing a slice of that almost $30m. For a few, the memories created will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

poker has marked the time

From all around the people have come. They have come because the one constant through all the years has been poker. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a browser history or the value of a bitcoin, rebuilt and then erased again. But poker has marked the time. 

This felt, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all of how it was once good and could be again. Congratulations WPT. You built it and people most definitely came.