Right before the new "season" of WPT and EPT events kicked off last August, I made six predictions for the coming year. With the EPT and WPT now wrapped up (and congrats to their champions Antonio Buonanno and Kevin Stammen), and the WSOP starting in just a few weeks, I figured now was a good time to check in on those predictions and see how they played out against reality.
Prediction 1: The Open Face Chinese craze will slow down.
The game is still played quite a bit, and the de facto app used by most players has switched to one that is further developed and includes the more popular Pineapple variant. That being said, it sure doesn't feel like players are jonesing for OFC as much as they were a year ago. When the WSOP schedule came out, there wasn't an OFC bracelet event on the schedule. As you'll see in this month's magazine, the WSOP isn't ready to award a bracelet in that variation. Call it getting it sort of right.
Prediction 2: Jason Mercier will rediscover his winning ways.
This one is probably a miss. Mercier hasn't won an event this year, but he's come close a couple of times, including two $200K+ scores in high-roller events. That being said, the Mercier I was expecting was one who was making final tables left and right. With the WSOP on the horizon, there's still time for this one to become a reality, and he's already registered for the Big One for One Drop.
Prediction 3: Smaller buy-in tours will continue to thrive.
Call this one a home run. The Heartland Poker Tour, WSOP Circuit and DeepStacks Poker Tour (now WPT DeepStacks) have all enjoyed tremendous growth and continue to expand. While the poker economy may never return to its pre-Black Friday levels, one of the positive aftermaths of that horrible day is recreational players finding ways to play big tournaments at a buy-in level that they're more comfortable with.
Prediction 4: A new young star will emerge.
There was an important caveat that came with this one: The new face wouldn't be an American. It's hard to claim Ole Schemion as a "new" face, since he's been on the live tournament scene since he was 19 (he's now 21 and ready for his first WSOP), but prior to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, very few poker fans had heard of Dominik Panka.
Panka went on to win the PCA main event and then defied recent historical trends by not fading from the player of the year race. Typically the player that survives that minefield of a tournament leads the BLUFF POY race for a week or so before fading from contention. Panka went to the EPT, won the EPT Deauville High Roller and now is back in contention for player of the year.
On the cash game front, the case of Doug "WGCRider" Polk is an interesting one. He was a known commodity on the 2+2 message boards, but largely because he was struggling to make it at the low-mid stakes level. According to HighStakesDB, Polk was down as much as $700,000 in mid-2013. Since then he's gone on a tear and is now up over $1.2 million.
Prediction 5: The European Poker Tour will enjoy bigger turnouts.
There were eight events in both Season 9 and 10, making the year-over-year comparison pretty easy. There was a 1.1 percent improvement in total number of players, which sounds a lot like no real growth. But look a little deeper and you'll see the EPT should really happy with what it got out of Season 10.
Of the eight events, there were five that didn't see any change in timing or city. The only one of those five that didn't see growth was EPT Deauville, which went from 782 players in Season 9 to just 671 in Season 10. Barcelona, Prague, PCA and the Grand Final all saw upticks in main event participation. The stop in Vienna was a new one, replacing Berlin, and drew 910 players -- nearly identical to the 912 Berlin drew. The stops in London and San Remo were both moved around to accommodate a few things. Both saw smaller fields, with San Remo potentially suffering because of an overlap with the WPT Championship in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
If the EPT can keep the current locations, move San Remo back by a week or so and keep all other dates the same, Season 11 should be a bigger and better one. So far, six events have been announced without substantial changes.
Prediction 6: Macau will still be the hottest place in poker.
Quick, where's Phil Ivey? The answer is most likely Macau. Where's Tom Dwan? Macau. Partial credit should be given for this, since it seemed like such a given that as long as rich Asian businessmen want to test themselves against the world's best players. Smart players will always, always go where the money is, and for the foreseeable future, that means Macau. In 2012, the Big One for One Drop shifted the big game back to Las Vegas as a select few "Macau businessmen" made their way to Sin City to play in the $1 million buy-in event. The same is likely to happen this summer, with a few more of the Macau regulars taking refuge on the Strip.
Four of the six predictions came to be, and one of them is probably a push. Not bad numbers overall. I still think we're going to hear from Mercier before the summer wraps up, and I wouldn't at all be surprised to see another European player make a name for himself inside the Amazon Room at the WSOP.
The season has been filled with positivity on many fronts. With the game's largest series and a $10 million guaranteed first-place prize on tap for the main event champion, 2014 is poised to be a year to remember.