The new and improved WSOP Circuit

On media day at the 2010 World Series of Poker, those who cover the game had their chance to sit down at the felt and play it out among each other using real tournament chips, real cards and of course, no money. On every player's seat was a WSOP-branded plastic bag. Inside the bag I found some Jack Link's Beef Jerky, some more Jack Link's Beef Jerky, a deck of cards and something very interesting: a memo focusing on the "revamped" WSOP Circuit. If you're familiar with this space, you know that the WSOP Circuit and I (and Bernard Lee) haven't seen eye to eye over the past year. That said, with these changes, it's time to give the WSOP Circuit a clean slate.

"We recognized the WSOP Circuit events needed a shot in the arm, and we believe we've responded with steroids," said WSOP vice president Ty Stewart. "The new model is exactly what the WSOP is all about, giving poker players of all bankrolls the chance to compete for the kind of fame, fortune and respect that comes only with a WSOP bracelet and a national television audience."

Stewart and his team realized that the WSOP brand should carry more weight in the tournament circuit world, and in response, they fired out with at least 12 tour stops, a cumulative rankings system, a season-ending 100-player national championship freeroll ($1 million prize pool), four regional WSOP Circuit championships and standardized structures and payouts. It's a great step in the right direction for the troubled tour, and with television exposure (channel to be announced shortly), these events will most definitely bring out not only the biggest players in the game, but a new breed of poker star.

Let's take a look at the changes:

WSOP Circuit Tour National Championship: The $1 million freeroll will take place in May 2011 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The top 100 qualifiers from the WSOP Circuit season will earn their seats in this event with 10 of them taking home some cash. Additionally, the winner of this event will receive a bracelet -- the first awarded outside of the WSOP and WSOPE. There are four ways to qualify for the field:

• Win the $1,500 main event at any of the WSOPC stops

• Accumulate the most points at any one of the WSOPC stops in all the open events and earn the title of "Casino Champion"

• Make the final table of any of the four $10,000 "Regional Championships"

• Finish the WSOP Circuit season with enough points from all the stops to finish in the top 40 in cumulative point standings (or higher depending on exemptions).

Cumulative rankings system: The point system that the WSOP Circuit will be using is modeled after the one used to determine the WSOP Player of the Year. However, the major difference between the two is that there will be more weight given to the higher buy-in events. Players must still make the money in order to earn points.

Regional championships: Perhaps the most creative addition to the WSOP Circuit schedule was the inclusion of four $10,000 events. If the potential of the million-dollar freeroll wasn't enough incentive, by adding these $10,000 tournaments, it gives the pros another reason to get back out on the Circuit. The four "RCs" will be held at Horseshoe Hammond, Harrah's Atlantic City, Harrah's Rincon and Harrah's New Orleans.

The main events at the tour stops during the past few years have required a $5,000 buy-in; by lowering the buy-in to $1,500, we will definitely see more players in the final tournament of each of the stops. Expect a lot of U.S.-based players to jump back on the Circuit and play these lower buy-in events to not only have an additional chance to win a WSOP bracelet, but to gain additional exposure among the public. Also, unless the pros come in and swarm these tour stops, the fields should be significantly weaker while offering a couple hundred thousand for first place. Of course, we all know how much poker players love to talk about +EV situations, and with these changes, there might not be one greater than this.

Here's a look at the schedule for the 2010-11 season:

Aug. 19-31, 2010: Horseshoe Council Bluffs

Oct. 2-12, 2010: Horseshoe Southern Indiana

Oct. 15-27, 2010: Horseshoe Hammond

Oct. 26-31, 2010: Emerald Casino in South Africa (note: points or automatic qualification will not be awarded for this stop)

Oct. 28-Nov. 10, 2010: IP Casino Resort & Spa

Nov. 11-23, 2010: Harveys Lake Tahoe

Dec. 4-22, 2010: Harrah's Atlantic City

Jan. 27-Feb. 15, 2011: Harrah's Tunica

March 2-13, 2011: Caesars Atlantic City

March 11-30, 2011: Harrah's Rincon

March 31-April 13, 2011: Harrah's St. Louis

April 14-30, 2011: Caesars Palace

May 9-22, 2011: Harrah's New Orleans

After all the doubts I've had regarding the WSOP Circuit in the past, this year could be the start of another great success for the WSOP brand. The WSOPC most definitely has the potential, and now, it's on the players to show up and make the WSOP team's vision of a flourishing tour a reality.