- In the 88 tournaments the 2021 WSOP saw just shy of 120,000 entries across the board (excludes the 11 online events)
- $500 The Reunion: 13,000 entries
- $1,500 Millionaire Maker: 5,326 entries
- $400 Colossus: 9,399 entries
- Main event: 6,650 players
- Against all odds, WSOP 2021 was a huge success
The World Series of Poker has been running for over five decades without any interruption, taking place in Las Vegas every year since 1970.
Then came 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused chaos throughout the world, affecting the live poker scene as well.
It was the first time in over 50 years that the WSOP organizers had to cancel the event and move it online.
Luckily for the fans of the game, in 2021, the World Series of Poker was back at the Rio, albeit a few months later than its usual time slot.
Naturally, the organizers had to deal with many things to set everything up just right. It was decided that all players had to be vaccinated against COVID, and other measures were put in place to keep up with the regulations.
With the WSOP being the biggest and the most significant poker event, everyone was eager to see how things would turn out. Whether the series was a success or not could have a significant impact on live poker events worldwide for the foreseeable future.
Now that the dust has settled and the series is over, we can take a look into WSOP numbers from 2021 to see what they tell us.
WSOP 2021 Turnout Exceeds Expectations
In the months and weeks leading to the World Series, there was a lot of chatter in the community that this could be one of the lowest-attendance events in the post-2003 period.
Many believed that the combination of factors like vaccine mandates, travel bans, and people worrying about their health would result in a low turnout.
Looking at it realistically, prospects weren’t great, but the organizers rolled out the schedule of 88 tournaments (in addition to 11 online events), hoping for the best.
The first major tournament that could help paint the picture for the rest of the series was Event #4.
Aptly named The Reunion and featuring the buy-in of just $500, it was meant as an event for the masses, welcoming all those who were eager to play live poker after a long hiatus.
By the time the registration was over, the tournament had gathered just shy of 13,000 entries. These weren’t all individual players, as reentries were allowed, but it was still a great sign that those earlier fears were unfounded.
Despite all the complications, people were eager to get back in the mix, raffle some chips, play some poker, and compete for coveted gold bracelets.
A hugely popular WSOP event kicked off some days later – the $1,500 Millionaire Maker.
This tournament attracted huge crowds in the past, so it was interesting to see how it would fair in 2021.
In the end, there was a total of 5,326 entries in the field, which was smaller than 2018 and 2019, but still a very respectable number. Nobody expected the fields to be larger than in previous years when there were no restrictions in place whatsoever, but with over 5K entries, it definitely wasn’t a flop.
The $400 Colossus attracted 9,399 entries.
This was fewer than the 13,000+ it saw in 2018 and 2019, but for this tournament to get close to 10K entries was once again a massive success.
It’s probably fair to say that WSOP organizers themselves weren’t sure what to expect going into the series. They probably had some projections, but with things changing all the time and new rules and regulations put in place in the US and worldwide almost daily, it was hard to have any certainty.
That said, the turnout we ended up seeing probably exceeded their expectations.
By the time all 88 tournaments were over, the 2021 WSOP saw just shy of 120,000 entries across the board. That’s not even counting online events.
There are many ways to interpret these numbers, but no matter which way you go about it, the fact remains that having a six-figure turnout is a good result.
Despite many doubters and naysayers, the World Series of Poker took on a big and risky task and managed to pull it off masterfully.
2021 Main Event – A Great Success
When talking about the World Series of Poker, people often focus on the Main Event. After all, this is the staple tournament that attracts so many players to Las Vegas.
For 2021, we had some pretty bleak predictions.
Many believed that the turnout for the Main would be really low, even if smaller events managed to get some traction. After all, this tournament comes with a hefty $10,000 buy-in, so it’s definitely not in everyone’s price range.
Add to this the fact that many live casinos and poker rooms worldwide were pretty much shut down the entire year, meaning there’d be fewer qualifiers of different descriptions, and these predictions were somewhat justified.
So, when the tournament ended up attracting 6,650 players, it was a really pleasant surprise to say the least.
While the number represented a drop compared to the last few years – 2019 saw over 8,500 individual players take their seats – it was similar to the turnout between 2007 and 2016. All of these tournaments had over 6,000 and under 7,000 players.
It’s true that new circumstances probably had an adverse effect on the strong positive trend we’ve seen in recent times, but the final number of players was well beyond expectations.
Koray Aldemir, the eventual winner, took home $8 million for his efforts, a few hundred thousand more than the 2015 winner Joe McKeehen and an amount similar to what the 2016 and 2017 champions banked.
Check out: The Top 10 Biggest Main Event Winnings Of All Time
So, is it fair to say the 2021 Main Event was a success? It most certainly is!
Many of the concerns that came up before the tournament were legitimate. There was every reason to think the Main Event couldn’t attract a massive field.
Yet against all odds, it did – and it was great news for the poker world.
What Do the 2021 WSOP Numbers Tell Us?
Looking at the overall number of players who came to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker, we can make a few conclusions.
Takeaway #1: Poker is still a game loved all over the world
The reality is that deciding whether to play in the World Series of Poker was not easy for many. Even legendary Chris Moneymaker was on the fence about it, and he’s never skipped the Main Event since his win in 2003.
In the end, he did turn out and had a solid run, but it only shows that there were many factors to consider.
Yet, thousands ended up showing at the Rio to take part in the biggest poker festival around.
I think this clearly shows that people still love poker and are eager to play it whenever they can.
Perhaps the online arena has become somewhat stale with all of its multi-tabling grinders, software assistance, and even bots, but live tournaments and cash games are still going strong.
People enjoy what live poker offers, which goes beyond playing cards and winning money.
The atmosphere of large poker events is hard to beat. It’s a feeling unlike anything else, especially for true poker fans, regardless of their skill level.
Looking at hundreds and even thousands of people and thinking that only one of them will walk away the winner is somewhat surreal. But, it’s also what made poker so popular in the first place.
It’s exactly why the 2021 WSOP attracted so many people from across the world against all odds.
Takeaway #2: Players are willing to go through some trouble if the reward is worth it
WSOP organizers decided that all players had to be vaccinated – and no exceptions.
To play in the series, it was required to show the proof of vaccination, and going through the process wasn’t the most convenient, especially for those outside the US.
Yet, players accepted these rules and abided by them.
Moving forward, this is perhaps a good lesson for other venues and tournament organizers out there. If the event you’re making is worthwhile, players don’t mind going the extra mile to comply with the rules.
Of course, there will always be those who don’t want to deal with all the hassle, but that’s just how it is. I think WSOP 2021 numbers show that the majority are in the former group, so event organizers don’t have too much to worry about.
Takeaway #3: Texas Hold’em is still everyone’s favorite game
Hold’em tournaments attracted by far the biggest crowds, as expected.
Pot Limit Omaha numbers seem to be on a slight uptick, which indicates that a growing number of players out there are taking on the game.
That said, I think we’re still a fair few years away from PLO taking over as the dominant variation, and there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever happen at all.
Hold’em has so much going for it in so many different aspects that it’s hard to imagine another game, even one as exciting as Pot Limit Omaha, could take its place.
But, you never know. We’ll just have to wait and see!
Takeaway #4: Small buy-ins with big guarantees attract big crowds
This is nothing new, but WSOP 2021 only confirmed what we already knew.
Affordable tournaments with big prizes for the winners and an added allure of bracelets represent the perfect combination.
While there is an ongoing debate on this topic in the light of “devaluing” the bracelets, I think having a few of these tournaments every year is perfectly fine and also needed.
Professionals have more than enough big buy-in events to compete in, but the last thing anyone wants is to create the aura of exclusivity around WSOP or poker in general.
It’s often forgotten that professionals would probably be out of their jobs rather quickly without amateurs.
The Future of the World Series – Is There Cause for Concern?
If there were any doubts about the future of the WSOP, I think they are all gone after what we witnessed in 2021.
If the event was able to attract such big numbers despite all the difficulties, it’s clear that things can only get better.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances where live poker is simply not possible, I don’t think there is anything to worry about.
It’s down to the organizers to keep coming up with new ideas to make the series even more interesting and attractive to new players, but they’ve done a great job so far.
Adding new events and constantly expanding the schedule has certainly helped the WSOP grow and expand beyond the wildest imagination.
All in all, I think the 2021 WSOP numbers have shown us that poker is still alive and kicking.
Interested in how Sin City benefits from WSOP? Check out our blog post on what revenue it brings to Las Vegas.