The four weeks following the conclusion of the World Series of Poker in July really serve as the game's unofficial offseason. Tired from the grind of seven weeks at the Rio, most poker players simply find some time to reset. The tournament schedules have noticed and rarely are premier, big buy-in events scheduled during this rest period.
Well kids, the offseason is about to end. This week a number of the game's best will head to Florida for the $10 Million Guaranteed event at Seminole Hard Rock and the inaugural Alpha8 event at the same venue. From there some players will travel to Barcelona for the new European Poker Tour season while others will find themselves on the West Coast at the WPT's Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino.
So what does the new season of poker have in store? Glad you asked. Here are six predictions for the new poker season.
1. The Open Face Chinese craze will slow down
This one should be music to the ears of the high-stakes cash game players. For the past year or so, Open Face Chinese Poker has been dominating the attention span of players at the expense of mixed-game action. It got so bad at the 2013 WSOP that the normal no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit Omaha cash games that dominated the high stakes pit had been entirely replaced by OFC games. That trend is about to end.
We've seen the Twitter buzz around the game slow since the WSOP wrapped up and I think we'll see less and less of the game played, particularly as tournament schedule picks up once again. Fads come and go, and it might just be time for OFC to become "just another game."
2. Jason Mercier will rediscover his winning ways
Mercier, who won the BLUFF Player of the Year in 2009, had five cashes at the 2013 WSOP but still found himself in the red for the summer. Earlier in the year, he earned a small tournament win at EPT Monte Carlo in Open Face Chinese. He then followed that up with a seven-figure score with his runner-up finish in the EPT Monte Carlo Super High Roller.
Still, it hasn't felt like Mercier has been the dominant player we've grown accustomed to seeing. In February, he wrote about his goal for 2013: make $1 million -- not in earnings, but profit. His Monte Carlo scores certainly helped toward that goal, but there's still some work to do. Having two big tournaments in his home state of Florida will probably get Mercier amped up, and I don't see any reason why he can't earn his first major win since 2011 sometime before the end the calendar year.
3. Smaller buy-in tours will continue to thrive
Since Black Friday, the poker community watched as the WSOP and WPT have seen numbers either remain flat or drop. It's actually a pretty convenient storyline, but it's caused a number of people to miss something pretty important. Grassroots poker, tournaments geared toward the weekend grinders who dream big, is growing at a pretty strong rate.
The Heartland Poker Tour, World Series of Poker Circuit and DeepStacks Poker Tour are constantly sharing announcements of expanded schedules, new tour stop locations and record-breaking field sizes. People still love to play the game and with no online poker to satisfy that, they're finding other venues. Instead of playing the Sunday Majors every week on PokerStars or Full Tilt like they had before Black Friday, players are making their way to these events to take a shot every few months.
It's hard to imagine that trend going the other way as online poker creeps back into reality in the United States. These tours have figured out how to make the experience of playing in a poker tournament worth something to recreational players and they'll continue to see their efforts pay off with more and more growth.
4. A new young star will emerge
It seems that since the emergence of Viktor Blom and Daniel Cates, the poker world has been waiting for another young superstar to break out and stake a claim as the "Next Big Thing." It hasn't happened. That's about to change, though there's a catch.
He, or she, won't be an American.
Look at the storylines of Cates, Blom and Tom Dwan. All found the game at around 18 or 19 years old, depending on which story you want to believe, through online poker. Think about it. Anybody who was 18 or 19 on Black Friday is now close to 21. The likelihood that an American player discovered the game after Black Friday and continued to grind online for two-plus years is pretty slim. Even those 18- or 19-year-olds who were playing before Black Friday probably didn't make the move to Canada or Mexico or Costa Rica, but rather returned to school to finish their education.
That didn't happen in Europe. Three of the top four players in the BLUFF Power Rankings are European. Some time this year, a new name will start beating the high stakes cash games online or winning the big MTTs online that allowed so many of today's top players to cut their teeth. That person is going to be from Europe. The other side of the coin is that storyline -- the lack of great, young American players -- is going to be one you'll hear a lot of over the next 12-18 months.
5. The European Poker Tour will enjoy bigger turnouts
European poker continues to shine thanks largely to the fact that the online game is available to players on that continent in some form or another and the European Poker Tour seems poised to make another big run.
Full Tilt Poker, still a respected and highly visible brand in Europe, is now part of the PokerStars arsenal and it only makes sense that they begin to offer satellites to EPT events. They recently overtook the "official sponsorship" of the UKIPT and by all accounts the first event in Galway, Ireland, was a huge hit with players, both professional and recreational.
There are currently eight events on the docket for the new season of EPT, beginning with Barcelona in late August. They've specifically targeted high-profile cities for their stops where they've had success before and they're also planning to expand the number of High Roller events on the tour, with Barcelona holding a 50,000 euro buy-in event. Adding multiple high-buy in tournaments to these stops may persuade the game's top pros to make an unscheduled trip to play.
6. Macau will still be the hottest place in poker
For the past three years, Macau, the "special administrative region" of China, has been the hotbed for high-stakes cash game action. Regulars in the game include Tom Dwan, Gus Hansen, Andrew Robl, November Niner David Benefield and John Juanda. Players aren't traveling halfway around the world to play each other, though. They're coming to battle, dollar for dollar, with some of the richest men in the region.
The "Asian businessmen" have almost taken on mythical proportions. They've made a few appearances at big tournaments outside of Macau, but mostly they prefer to stay at home and play with the big boys for super high stakes. Why? They're comfortable at the stakes they're playing and that just might lessen the edge the pros, who may be a little bit nervous playing so high, have.
Cash games are bustling in Macau, but it's also quickly becoming a tournament hotbed. The numerous poker rooms there are all fighting for the attention of the Asian poker market and they've seen how American and European properties have used tournaments to increase foot traffic and build profile. You're going to see more and more poker action in Macau over the next 12 months.