ISPT Wembley 2013 – The Million Euro baby?!
Upon first glance the title of this entry may sound very familiar and there was indeed a movie with Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman from 2004 where only the currency was different. The similarity is furthermore apparent that to most the idea of hosting a major poker tournament in the Wembley Stadium does sound like the script of a Hollywood movie.
About two years ago when the concept was first presented and the booking made, the vast majority of poker players immediately reacted with an uproar and the event itself saw a huge facelift once the Dusk Till Dawn came on board as partner 12 weeks before the start. At that point, only a couple dozen players qualified online for the tournament and I strongly believe, without the overwhelming efforts of the team behind Simon Trumper and Rob Yong we would have never even seen half as many participants on the holy pitch in London. I also admit that I was very skeptical from the beginning and once the DTD joined in, I guessed to see around 600-800 participants for the 2700+300€ Main Event.
Just based on the sheer numbers in hindsight and recalling the interviews of Rob Yong before the start, it may be considered as disappointment and almost 600,000€ overlay speak for itself. However seeing the efforts behind the scenes in Wembley and how the dream of Prosper Masquelier has been made true along with the ton of work required to pull this event off does require an acknowledgment. The Dusk Till Dawn has shown their commitment and that they put the money where their mouth is, especially in this business it deserves the utmost respect and it surely won't be the last major tournament that they will be in charge of.
Especially in the United Kingdom you cannot deny either that the idea to combine football and poker does have its specific flair and those people that were there will speak about an extraordinary experience in 10 years still, if the Dusk Till Dawn would have been involved from the beginning it may have even been quite a success. But the event itself was already doomed before the start with the World Series Of Poker in Las Vegas at the same time, apart from that pretty much everyone from the UK that could afford to play was there (except most of the Irish).
You obviously run into many first time issues when hosting such an event, the weather in the usually pretty rainy London however decided to remain sunny throughout all six days and visitors even used the Wembley Stadium to get a sun tan. The hosts even thought about keeping us media in shape with 92 steps up and down from and to the pitch each time we wanted to post the latest news during the first three days. Six semi golf ball alien constructions (also known as tents) awaited to make for a unique view and most surprisingly the Wi-Fi actually worked fine with only a few short disconnects.
The main reasons why quite a few big names of the circuit delayed their trip to Sin City and play the inaugural ISPT was surely the reputation of the Dusk Till Dawn, the 1 Million Euro guaranteed to the winner as well as marketing agreements. Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Sam TrickettOle Schemion, Julian Gardner, Freddy Deeb, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot, Mathew Frankland, Peter Eastgate, David Benyamine, Sam Trickett and Toby Lewis were only a few of those regular faces that you typically see on the WPT and EPT circuit.
More than 300 UK qualifiers via the Dusk Till Dawn and 120 French participants formed the vast majority of the field, the expense in covered Buy-Ins and overlays through the Satellites however adds to the heavy overall bill. Those numbers were included in the ISPT summary blog of Rob Yong and only 230 direct Buy-Ins are the key factor on why the four digit attendance was missed. Usually 761 Entries for a 3k Buy-In would be considered as quite good, but due to the massive marketing machinery the expectations were already through the roof.
The unique payout structure is another two sided coin. Whereas 50% in the money may be good for online and live qualifiers that invested 300€ max, it is at the same time a big turnoff for many (semi) professional poker players that may enter if the min cash wasn't 560€. Once the official payout was published during the tournament itself it was obvious that a deal would take place sooner or later given the huge jump between 1st and 2nd place. Even the biggest gambler should know that the edge is not that high in the final stage and the deal between the six finalists was the most logical choice.
Some media outlets came along with a pretty harsh aftermath and even called it a complete failure, I would definitely not go as far even though it never reached the ultimate hype that was built up before. Getting from 32 to 761 for the Main Event within 12 weeks of preparations is okay, even though not great. The Side Events died a natural death with dwindling numbers once the weekend was over, but that is no surprise either with the WSOP underway and all Qualifiers getting back to their daily jobs.
Apart from one controversy with an under raise on Day 5 and the correct ruling by tournament director Simon Trumper, the only sad thing was the fact that the ISPT had to switch into the Bobby Moor room as of Day 4 due to the upcoming Capital FM Summertime Ball and lost some of the special atmosphere. Will there be another edition of the International Stadiums Poker Tour? At the moment I do not know, because except for a couple of players barely any profit was made.
Last but not least I shall also present some "personal highlights" from the trip to London as well:
– Guess there is a first time for everything – my luggage was lost on the way to London and arrived one day later.
– Six huge tents and we indeed played "on the pitch" of Wembley, you could soak in the whole experience and just a few days before the ISPT this stadium hosted the Champions League final.
– Dusk Till Dawn keeping their word and furthermore running the event pretty smoothly.
– Meeting old friends and new faces (such as Nick Hicks in 3rd place) after quite some time. And six days in a row sun in London … this felt like a stranger on this planet as it barely ever happens.
– A special shout out goes to Christophe Lesage – the Frenchman qualified online, didn't play a single hand because he never showed up but still cashed in 343rd place. Tight is right. 😉