Will the 2020 WSOP Be Cancelled Because of Coronavirus?

March 6, 2020
Will the 2020 WSOP Be Cancelled Because of Coronavirus?

I know the question on many people’s minds is whether or not the 2020 World Series of Poker (WSOP) will be cancelled due to coronavirus.

But before we engage in a conversation about cancelling the 2020 WSOP, it’s imperative we’re all on the same page about the potential risks of Coronavirus. I implore you to read my most recent article/watch my latest video on the subject ‘3 Ways Which Coronavirus Will Disrupt the Poker Industry’, as I detailed many of the facts (all quotes from reputable sources) in that piece.


TL:DR and Facts to Know Before Reading This:

1. Exponential growth of Covid-19 means leading experts believe 20-60% of the worldwide adult population will contract the disease.

2. The U.S is at risk of having hundreds of thousands of cases in the next several months (regardless of whether they are actually diagnosed due to lack of testing). See more. 
Experts suspect Ohio already has 100,000+ cases.

3. Experts believe Covid-19 won’t necessarily go away in summer.

4. With reliable data coming out of Italy, 10% of cases require hospitalization, lasting an average of 32 days, making the spread of Covid-19 completely unsustainable on worldwide health care systems. Note: This is not merely a result of Italy having an aging population. The risk of hospitalization is real for all adults.

Cancel the 2020 WSOP

5. Further burdening our hospital systems will result in turning patients away, thereby increasing death tolls. This is already happening in Italy.

6. Social distancing is the current most effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19 and a proven method used during pandemics.

    7. I’m at ground zero in Italy, so I can ‘see’ into the future. This is real and most of what I’m saying is understated. We also have an incredible health care system, some of the best I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. But the rapid spread of Covid-19 is too much for any system to handle.

    Odds of the 2020 World Series of Poker Being Cancelled

    Things kicked off with a discussion on Twitter about the subject, with professionals on both sides of the fence weighing in, arising in several bets being made. (As of late February, the odds were between 20:1 and 12:1 of the WSOP being cancelled due to coronavirus, putting the betting line somewhere between 5-8%).

    As of February 28th , the WSOP says they are ‘monitoring COVID-19 developments and have no plans to cancel the WSOP’.

    I believe the current betting line dramatically underestimates the true odds of the WSOP being cancelled. With so much still unknown, it’s hard to set a line, but I’d put it upwards of 75%.

    Betting on the 2020 WSOP Being Cancelled Due to Coronavirus

    Before I explain why, let me digress slightly before the naysayers ask me to put up money to back my claim. Personally, I’m uncomfortable taking a bet in which I would align my financial interests with actively rooting for the spread of a threatening virus (the only reason for which the WSOP would be cancelled).

    As a professional risk taker, this pains me deeply, as I believe the discrepancy between the market price and the true odds are tenfold, meaning there’s an enormous potential for profit.

    While this is no judgement on anyone who did decide to bet, I’m with Daniel Negreanu on this one, and find it disconcerting.

    Is It Ethical to Bet on the Spread of a Disease?

    Some disagree, arguing that betting on an event in which they cannot affect the outcome is fair game. Morality is complex and you’ll have to decide which is right for you.

    That said, if you do print on this bet thanks to the information in this post, please direct my 3% ‘finder’s fee’ to the WHO or your local hospital to help offset the damage of coronavirus.

    Others may be looking for other hedges. Poker fans and crypto advocates may be amused to learn that other speculative bets exist, such as CoronaCoin, a deflationary coin that supposedly increases in price as the virus spreads. Some comfort may be found that they are allegedly reserving 20% of all coins for the Red Cross. Note: I do not own nor endorse CoronaCoin.

    With that aside, I believe the WSOP is likely to be cancelled for two reasons: outright risk and societal pressure.

    As with the factors above, either one of these could prove sufficient to cancel the WSOP in 2020 due to coronavirus, but the marriage of them both once again increases the odds.

    1. Outright Risk of Not Cancelling the WSOP in 2020

    Some have argued there’s too much at stake for the WSOP to cancel some or all of their events.

    This is untrue.

    While there is great financial downside to not running the event, that risk is dwarfed in comparison to the feeling of being held responsible for the transmission of a disease. I’m confident those in charge will have their priorities in line, and, if the risk of transmission is too great, they will do the right thing. (I wrote about why this is likely to happen here in Point #6.)

    Some believe we’re already at that point. Event cancellations with far fewer attendees are already happening at home, despite there being an extremely limited number of documented cases of coronavirus in the U.S. at the time of cancellation (there were under 100).

    These event cancellations will increase rapidly (think the ‘domino effect’) as the case numbers inevitably increase, well in time for the WSOP to pull the trigger.

    2. Public Pressure to Cancel Will Increase Dramatically

    It’s early March, the total case numbers around 1,000 in the U.S. (likely many more due to lack of testing), and we’re already seeing signs of this happening.

    Major influencers such as Tim Ferriss have not only cancelled their attendance to popular events like SXSW, but taken to Twitter and urged the Mayor to cancel the event outright. There’s currently a petition circulating with over 40,000 signatures.

    Experts will begin to speak out and urge the events to close, just like Sagan Schultz, MD and Co Founder of WellWell did of ExpoWest, the largest health food expo in the U.S. set to be held in Anaheim in March (I’ve attended several times, and can say first hand it’s the equivalent of the WSOP of the food world, with 85,000 attendees from all over the globe).

    As is no surprise, this is creating a massive backlash within the community. Finally, less than 24 hours before the event, pressure became so great that ExpoWest postponed the event.

    As the public sentiment shifts (rapidly and proportionally to the number of cases) from ‘let’s play poker’ to ‘it’s irresponsible to run the event’ (which will change proportionally to our healthcare system reaching capacity) decision makers will have to decide between short term profits or risk losing favor with the public.

    They will increasingly choose the latter.

    The WSOP is still several months away, but, as illustrated above, waiting until the last minute is not without consequences. This will compel responsible leaders into making a decision well ahead of time, thereby diminishing the probability that we’ll be in a stable global climate to host such events.

    I’d like to clarify that further case discoveries in the U.S. are not required (although I believe it to be inevitable) for the WSOP to cancel, as it’s a worldwide event pulling in people from 100 countries. If this virus spreads anywhere in which people typically come from, the WSOP is at high risk for cancellation.

    Banning people from countries with the risk seems arbitrary, complicated and unlikely to substantially reduce risk, making cancellation or at least significant postponement the most likely outcome.

    Coming to a City Near You

    Exponential growth means things change at a rapid pace. Just last week, life was pretty much normal in Italy. Now, the entire country is on lockdown, and all non essential stores are closed.

    The public perception (again, directly correlated to the burden on the healthcare system), went from lagging associations Covid-19 being like the flu, to people being afraid to go around others. 

    This is coming in the States, and faster than you may think.

    Stats on Covid19 Exponential Growth WSOP

    If the WSOP somehow does run, I believe the best-case scenario is dramatically less turnout due to points #1 and #2 above. This will further be exacerbated because of people from other countries and within the U.S. won’t want to travel, another activity (alongside being locked in a crowded poker room) that people will view as the most risky and discretionary, and therefore avoid unless mandatory.

    No matter how you cut the cards this spells disaster for the WSOP in 2020.

    Should the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Be Cancelled in 2020?

    So, how should major poker events like the WSOP respond? Should the WSOP be cancelled because of the risk of coronavirus?

    Before I state my opinion let me reiterate that I benefit immensely every year from the WSOP. As a professional poker player, just like so many of you I derive massive amounts of expectation by attention.

    I also work with clients through private coaching, and my busiest time of the year is always during the summer months.

    In short, not attending the WSOP or having it cancelled is going to cost me a fortune in lost revenue and missed opportunity. I want the poker community to know I’m speaking from a place of concern for the safety of the community and our society at large, and believe we have a moral obligation to put that above our economic desires or hedonistic pleasures.

    That’s why I’m putting my money where my mouth is and coming out in favor of cancelling the WSOP. You can make your voice heard by signing the petition here.

    Why the WSOP Needs to Be Cancelled in 2020

    Cancel the World Series of Poker WSOP in 2020

    In poker, as in life, when you can’t afford to lose you don’t play the game. Are we as a community, who prides itself in calculating the odds, weighing the probabilities and making sound, logical bets based on expectation, really going to go all-in, when the stakes are this high?

    It seems clear that putting thousands of people together in a thriving environment for the spreading of a threatening disease is not a winning bet.

    I understand this may not make me popular within the poker community, but as someone with an influence I believe it’s my responsibility to take a stand for what I believe is right. That’s what Conscious Poker is all about, making conscious decisions, even if they are the hard ones. It’s these that define us most and where character is built.

    Let Us Heed Warnings from Other Countries

    Please understand this isn’t an extreme response, it’s what major developed countries around the world are doing. China, but South Korea, Italy, Hong Kong and Macau and others have all taken measures to limit large social gatherings (and more), and many implemented these measures with less cases than we currently have here in the United States. I believe it’s federal, state and local governments job in the U.S. to rise to the occasion to do the same.

    Did you know that when China had a mere 572 cases on January 22nd, they closed down Wuhan? They still exploded to nearly 100,000 cases.

    Imagine what this means for the U.S if we’re holding conferences. Deaths are tragic, and I know the flu kills more people, but this goes beyond that. Our health care system simply cannot handle a 10% hospitalization rate with 30 days per patient.

    The reason I’m confident saying the WSOP should at the very least be postponed is because mathematical models prove numbers won’t decrease in time. Looking around makes this apparent. It took China months before the numbers diminished and they took way more aggressive and immediate action.

    With exponential spread, and so few social distancing policies being enacted in the U.S. (compared to China where they were basically banned from leaving the home for nearly two months), the U.S. should expect at least the same outbreak, but more like multiples of what we’re seeing in China. (As I mentioned before, this will cause other countries to ban entrants from the U.S.)

    Aggressive and Immediate Action is Paramount

    The response of nations like Italy is endorsed as the most responsible thing to do. Dr. Tedros, General Director of the WHO urges all nations around the world to act swiftly and aggressively.

    He States, ‘Ultimately, how deadly this coronavirus will be depends not only on the virus itself, but on how we respond to it.” He went on to praise Italy for its containment measures by strict use of quarantine and limiting social gatherings.

    Is there any room for doubt that hosting poker tournaments with thousands of people from all around the world is an exception to this rule?

    The Time for Action in the U.S. is Now

    But we shouldn’t wait for or merely rely on governments, it’s up to individual event organizers to do the right thing and prevent the spread of Covid-19 at all costs.

    I’m asking for your support in urging the World Series of Poker, along with all other poker tours nationwide, to immediately cancel their events until the Covid-19 pandemic is fully under control, and spread of the disease ceases and threat to our healthcare systems worldwide ceases to be an imminent threat.

    I implore the WSOP organizers, and all poker tours, if they haven’t already, to host an internal meeting to discuss these matters, and do what’s best to mitigate the risk of spreading coronavirus within the poker community and beyond.

    The time is now.

    Not only are there thousands of people around the world who make their plans well in advance, but committing to postponing or moving the WSOP entirely online will give everyone options well in advance, resulting in the best turnout.

    If they don’t respond appropriately, it’s up to each of us to stand for what’s right. We all have a voice. By voting with not just our words, but our actions, gatherings, we can do our part to effectively reduce the spread of this disease.

    If something changes, such as the disease being effectively contained or new data emerging, which I desperately hope it does, I reserve the right to change my position on this matter.

    That said, until further notice, I personally won’t be attending any poker or other public events and avoiding all travel except in the event of an emergency. I urge others to consider doing the same. And, given that I’m currently in the heart of the outbreak in Italy, since the first discovery of a case, both my wife and I have avoided all social contact.

    Social Distancing Tweet

    We Can All Make a Difference

    If you’re an influencer, I implore you to get as informed as possible and take a stand to help us fight the spread of coronavirus within the poker community and beyond. Together, we can make a difference.

    Finally, each one of us, regardless of whether we have one follower or a million, has a voice. There are a few things you can do to join me and help make our world a safer place.

    First, get as informed as possible. Follow the World Health Organization for the latest updates about what you can do to be prepared, and how to respond.

    Second, you can take responsibility for your health and that of those around you and avoid large social gatherings, limit all travel to what’s absolutely necessary, and avoid discretionary activities like poker tours and the WSOP. Lastly, if the virus does arrive in your city, please practice social distancing to slow the spread, allowing time for our health care system to handle this burden.

    This could be a great time to take up online poker. If that’s not available in your area, why not study up so you’re ready to crush the games when this all settles?

    Third, sign the petition to cancel the WSOP in 2020. With this one action we can potentially reduce the spread of thousands of infections.

    Fourth, stay positive. We’ve overcame wars and plagues. We’ll get through this too. I know it.

    Let's Stay in Touch

    Finally, let me know if I can help in any way by sending me an email or leaving me a comment.

    Also, stay in touch by subscribing to Conscious Poker. I’ll do my best to continue bringing you a mixture of entertaining and informative content to keep your spirits up during this time. Let me know in the comments below what content you’d like to see from me going forward. And, of course, your thoughts on this matter too.

    Some Parting Words of Encouragement

    Thanks for your attention and much love to everyone. Let’s spread more of that.

    This not the time for partisan politics or blaming this group of people or country. That’s only going to divide us further. If the disease had an agenda, that’s exactly what it would want.

    Let us use this as an opportunity to come closer together and perhaps finally realize that we’re all human and we all want and deserve the same things in life.

    Stay strong everyone. I’ll see you in the next one.

    Alec ♠️

    Alec Torelli
    Welcome! I'm Alec Torelli, founder of Conscious Poker, a training site dedicated to transforming good players into great ones by providing the best poker strategy and mindset content. I've been a professional poker player for 15 years and have over $1,500,000 in tournament winnings and millions more in both live and online cash games. On this site, I share the lessons I learned during my poker career to help you crush the games, optimize your bankroll, make winning decisions and achieve your poker goals.

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