Busy May gives no rest for the weary

In the world of poker, the past three weeks have focused solely on "Black Friday" and the resulting U.S. online poker situation. Many players are still in shock and trying to assess their poker future, but there's hope ahead with the most important event of the year right around the corner. The 42nd annual World Series of Poker begins May 31 and runs through July 19 (of course, only to reassemble in November to play the WSOP main event final table). Players from all over the world will come to Las Vegas in search for one of the elusive 58 bracelets to be awarded during the summer of 2011.

For many professional players, this grueling seven-week stretch is the ultimate test as they grind out dozens of tournaments back-to-back with very little rest. Players have been known to shift their sleep patterns to accommodate the tournament schedule.

Traditionally, the month of May is utilized as a time for rest and preparation for players as they combine exercising, eating sensibly and, most importantly, catching up on much needed sleep. It has usually been more about preparation than playing and the poker tours have accommodated this timetable in the past, including 2010.

Over the past few years, April offered two major season-ending tournaments: the World Poker Tour (WPT) Championship and the European Poker Tour (EPT) Championship. This year, there will be no rest for the weary.
With scheduling changes incorporated in both of these tours, these two major finales were pushed into May. Add the WSOP Circuit's new schedule and you have one of the busiest May poker schedules in recent memory.

Let's compare the schedules of the major tours for the month of May for 2010 versus 2011. May, 2010 included only the WSOP Circuit New Orleans (May 7-19). This WSOP Circuit event in New Orleans was the only major stop on the tournament trail a year ago. It should be noted that the WPT Championship series was held from March 30 thru April 24, while EPT's San Remo (April 15-21) and EPT Championship (April 25-30) rounded out a busy month of April.

May 2011 includes:

• WPT Seminole Hard Rock Showdown (April 8-May 2)
• EPT San Remo (April 27-May 3)
• WSOP Circuit Chester, Pa. (April 27-May 10)
• EPT Championship (May 5-12)
• WPT Championship (May 6-20)
• WSOP Circuit New Orleans (May 9-22)

This year, the month of May is packed with little time off before the WSOP. With the shifting of the WPT and EPT championship events and addition of the WPT Hard Rock Seminole and WSOP Circuit event in Chester, Pa., players will have a plethora of live tournaments to choose from. Additionally, the WPT added a Super High Roller event to be held on May 18-19 and the WSOP National Championship will be played on May 27-29 for the fortunate players who qualified throughout the year.

With such a crowded live calendar, it was inevitable that some events would overlap, particularly the WPT Championship and WSOP Circuit New Orleans. Unfortunately, these two tournaments could once again see lower turnouts due to this simultaneous scheduling.

Ironically, the schedule could have been more congested without "Black Friday" due to Full Tilt Poker's FTOPS XX (April 17-May 1) and PokerStars' Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), which is running for the rest of the world on May 8-23. In light of "Black Friday," the U.S. players may welcome the numerous opportunities to play in live events, distracting them from the demise of online poker. There are definitely plenty of live tournaments to choose in May leading up to the most intense month and a half of the entire poker year -- the World Series of Poker, but with so many tournaments, players will have to pick and choose the events, leaving time to prepare for the WSOP.

WSOP National Championship:

As for my schedule, I do not anticipate playing many events during the month of May though with the recent announcement of the players eligible for Federated Sports and Gaming, that may change. Similar to previous years, I have chosen to rest up for the WSOP. Additionally, my summer in Las Vegas will start earlier this year with the WSOP National Championship at Caesars Palace, having qualified last October by making the final table at the WSOP Regional Championship in Hammond, Ind.

Currently, my May plan is to play in the new WSOP Circuit main event in Chester, Pa. Since it will have a similar structure to the WSOP National Championship, I felt this main event would serve as an excellent warm-up to the $1 million, 100-player freeroll event. The WSOP National Championship will be held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and will be broadcast on Versus later this year. Several top players have already qualified for this event including Blair Hinkle, Shannon Shorr, David Sands, Brandon Adams, Chris Bell, Dwyte Pilgrim, Andy Frankenberger, Todd Terry, David Peters, Chris Klodnicki, Curt Kohlberg and Steve Brecher.

With the Chester and New Orleans events still to be completed, there are a number of seats available if players are trying to qualify by coming out on top on the National Leaderboard. As of the beginning of the WSOPC Chester stop, there are several players tied at 100 points for the final qualifying spots. Thus, it appears players will need just over 100 points to be guaranteed a seat in the event. Victor Ramdin, Eugene Katchalov, Kevin Stammen, David "Bakes" Baker, David Paredes and Steve Zolotow are all on the 100-point bubble and with so much up for grabs, I'm wondering if any of these players will go to the last two WSOP Circuit events to try to qualify.
In addition to the money, the winner of the National Championship will receive one of the coveted WSOP bracelets (the WSOP is truly giving away 59 bracelets this summer).
Good luck to everyone this month and I hope to see you at the WSOP this summer.

Bernard Lee is the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal, weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and radio host of "The Bernard Lee Poker Show."