On a verge of a new live tournament planned to take place from September 30 to November 23 in the Las Vegas Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, WSOP has released an update to the event rules and has indicated some specifics regarding COVID-19. Even though there are still a lot of uncertainties about whether this festival is going to take place as planned, there are already some questions regarding its organization. What’s even more concerning is that pandemic regulations change quite frequently and can potentially destroy the plans of many players, especially those traveling from abroad. Read on for more details in the article. 

You May Lose Your Buy-in

On the 9th of August, the poker media maven Kevin Mathers has posted the first look at the 2021 WSOP Rules which addresses COVID-19 and player participation. Rule 115 is especially notable, so here is the first half of the regulation:

In accordance with guidelines promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control, [Rio] reserves the right to remove any Participant from any WSOP Event at any time prior to or during the WSOP Event, in its sole and absolute discretion, for any health or safety related reasons, including but not limited to, if Participant is determined by [Rio] in its sole discretion, to have received a positive test result for COVID-19 or come into close proximity (within 6 feet for 15 cumulative minutes) of any person who has tested positive for COVID-19, or if Participant refuses to undergo any health and safety screening required by [Rio] to participate in a WSOP Event.

The WSOP effectively says in the second half of the regulation that players will not be compensated if they are kicked out for COVID-19, but if they are in the money and therefore owed a payment, they will get it. It goes on to explain that if players are removed solely for COVID concerns, the WSOP may choose to postpone or reschedule tournaments.

Serious Implications

It is fair to say the overall opinion is negative regarding these new rules. These kinds of regulations are quite unusual and were not practiced in live events before. We can assume that most of the poker players would at least want mandatory masks and some would support vaccination requirements, even though that would be really hard to organize and control. It is then completely understandable that WSOP needs to take quite strict measures in case someone is tested positive for COVID, in order to keep the live event going (as it can quickly turn into a local outbreak and cause a quarantine). 

However, the concerns of poker players are fully understandable as well. Their main problem with the rule and the whole event in general (besides risk to COVID itself) is that WSOP has a right to disqualify people for being near someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Imagine a situation when you get so unlucky that you sit next to a COVID-positive participant or even a dealer for that matter who tests positive. That could compromise your full tournament, destroy all of your plans and make you lose your buy-in. 

WSOP Responds

Soon after Kevin Mathers has posted the tweet, WSOP became aware of the growing concerns among the poker players regarding Rule 115. People would naturally assume the worst-case scenario in which the entire tournament is screwed up simply because one person tests positive. To bring some clarity to controversy (and to probably save its public image), WSOP has posted a follow-up on Rule 115 via Twitter. The main idea of Friday’s announcement is the following:

“Consistent with CDC guidelines, participants who are known to have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 will not be required to leave the tournament and quarantine if they are fully vaccinated within the appropriate timing parameters and remain asymptomatic since the time of exposure,” 

However, it is important to keep in mind that it takes 14 days since the last shot to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19. So, for example, if a player who was exposed to the virus received their second dose three days before the start of the tournament, they would still be at risk of removal from the WSOP live event. On the other hand, if the second dose was received three weeks prior, they won’t be removed even if exposed to the virus, as long as they aren’t showing any COVID-19 symptoms. 

Growing Concerns

With the current pandemic, it is hard to say anything with certainty. The new variant is still developing in the US and many poker players are opting to play it safe and skip the WSOP live event which will attract thousands of players from all over the world. There is no doubt that skipping the largest poker event in the world is a tough pill to swallow, but there is just too much uncertainty regarding this festival. Not to mention that many people are scared for their health and well-being. Many PRO players such as Chris Moneymaker have stated that the 2021 WSOP is a “coin toss”. And Tod Wittels has twitted the following: 

“When the #Delta #COVID variant was announced, I was suspicious because the Biden Administration was hiding the number of breakthrough cases. I suspected they didn’t want to discourage vaccination.

Now I’m even more of that belief, and am leaning toward skipping the #WSOP again.”

As of right now, face masks are required inside all of the Las Vegas businesses such as casinos and poker rooms. That means that if this regulation is not lifted until September 30, then all of the players will have to wear a face mask when participating in the WSOP live event. Given that the Delta strain of COVID-19 is currently surging in the US, we can assume that these restrictions will not be lifted. Furthermore, there have been rumors around social media that more restrictions will be implemented in the coming weeks (which isn’t a surprise for most people). 

The WSOP is aimed at moving forward with the complete 88-event schedule. However, it is crucial to take all of the necessary health precautions to ensure that the series is successful and takes place, even if that means causing some controversy on the Internet.

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