A look back at over Ten Years of the World Poker Tour

Before Chris Moneymaker, before the Hole-Card camera made its first appearance at the World Series of Poker, and before the online poker boom, there was the World Poker Tour. Founded in 2002, The World Poker Tour (WPT) was a hit virtually from the outset bringing a whole new format and set of production values to televised poker tournaments.  In many ways, it was the appearance of the WPT that forced ESPN to rethink its World Series of Poker coverage.

Before the World Poker Tour came on the scene in 2002 poker tournaments were basically regional events and were standalone events that took place at a single Casino. You had the Irish Poker Open, Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker, the World Series of Poker, the US Poker Championship, the Aussie Millions, and other tournaments around the globe, but the idea of a travelling poker tour was not even given a thought.

But the World Poker Tour had a different vision, a national/international series of tournaments held in casinos around the world. Separate events, but under one flag, giving the professional poker players a cohesive set of events to participate in. Instead of the casino itself in control of the tournament, the WPT would instead handle many of the details, similar to a travelling circus going from town to town, the WPT was in essence leasing space from each casino.

The Early Years

The WPT was the brain-child of Steve Lipscomb, who served as the CEO of WPTE up until the sale of the company and its assets to Party Gaming in November 2009. The final table of each WPT Championship event was broadcast on the Travel Channel and quickly became the network’s top-rated show –even the re-runs of each episode often topped the other shows’ ratings on the Travel Channel.  This combination of an inventive tournament series, as well as prime-time network coverage literally changed the face of poker forever.

It seemed that everything came together at precisely the right time for the WPT: Even the use of the new Hole-Card technology and a vaunted production team may not have been enough to make the WPT experiment succeed, but the tour hit the jackpot when they hired Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten to handle the commentary duties of the television broadcast. The pair was an instant hit with fans, both casual and experienced poker players alike, and proved to have perfect chemistry on the air.

THE PPT Experiment

With business booming and ratings through the roof the WPT tried to cash-in on their brand recognition with an offshoot of the WPT called the Professional Poker Tour (PPT). The PPT was the precursor to the current Epic Poker League, where players competed in invitation-only tournaments where the PPT put up the prize-pool. Each tournament saw $250k in prize-money up for grabs, a far cry from the millions that were being awarded to WPT Champions at the same time.

As a complete freeroll the PPT was unable to draw the kind of ratings that the WPT managed due to smaller overall prize-pools, as well as the lack of the underdog stories that attracted so many new players to the game. The PPT also experimented with coverage throughout the tournament, and not just the final table, which it seems the poker community as a whole was not quite ready for at the time.

The PPT eventually failed to see a second season and many of the tournaments were absorbed into the WPT schedule.

The Sherman Act Lawsuit

In 2006 a number of prominent poker players filed a lawsuit against the WPT. Led by professional poker players Chris Ferguson, Andy Bloch, Annie Duke, Joe Hachem, Phil Gordon, Howard Lederer, and Greg Raymer the lawsuit alleged that WPTE’s standard release forms were anti-competitive and designed to interfere with their contractual obligations to other companies.

Joe Hachem and Greg Raymer eventually withdrew from the suit, while the other players reached a settlement with the WPT in 2008.Chris Ferguson spoke about the settlement saying: “We are happy to have come to an agreement that is fair to all players, and to have put in place a new release that clears up ambiguities in how players’ images may be used. We are especially happy that this new release will apply to all poker players who wish to participate in WPT tournaments and events.”

The WPT after the Travel Channel

In 2007, amid falling ratings, the WPT ended its long relationship with the Travel Channel and switched to GSN. The WPT’s stint on GSN lasted only a single season before the WPT moved to FOX Sports Net, where it has resided for the last three Seasons.

With the tour relying on what made the brand what it was back in 2002 and 2003, the WPT has lagged in ratings as poker enthusiasts sought new televised poker formats instead of the typical WPT broadcast. This lack of innovation was addressed by the new owners, Party Gaming, who bought the WPT in late 2009.

Party Poker to the Rescue

Party Gaming purchased the WPT in November 2009 for just over $12 million, and they were quick to resuscitate the ailing poker tour. First they added new content to the broadcasts, including play from earlier days of the tournament, as well as bringing in a new host, Tony Dunst, to host a special segment during each episode.

With Party Poker’s marketing ideas, like the Royal Flush Girls, the WPT has been picking up steam once again, and has finally broken through in the European market where the European Poker Tour has held sway for years.

WPT Awards and Honorifics

In 2004 the WPT created the Walk of Fame, and honorific designed to reward players who have made contributions to the world of poker in a number of different areas. The first three, and only, inductees were Doyle Brunson (a no-brainer), Gus Hansen (the first-ever WPT Champion), and actor James Garner who played poker player Brett Maverick in the hit TV show Maverick.

The WPT has awarded a Player of the Year award since Season 1. Here is a look at the winners of the coveted award over the years:

  • Season 1: Howard Lederer
  • Season 2: Erick Lindgren
  • Season 3: Daniel Negreanu
  • Season 4: Gavin Smith
  • Season 5: J. C. Tran
  • Season 6: Jonathan Little
  • Season 7: Bertrand Grospellier
  • Season 8: Faraz Jaka
  • Season 9: Andy Frankenberger

 

World Poker Tour (WPT) $25k Championship winners:

 

  • Season I: Alan Goehring — $1,011,866
  • Season II: Martin De Knijff –$2,728,356
  • Season III: Tuan Le — $2,856,150
  • Season IV: Joe Bartholdi Jr. — $3,760,165
  • Season V: Carlos Mortensen — $3,970,415
  • Season VI: David Chiu — $3,389,140
  • Season VII: Yevgeniy Timoshenko — $2,149,960
  • Season VIII: David Williams — $1,530,537
  • Season IX: Scott Seiver — $1,618,344


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