After a successful summer series at the Rio, Harrah’s announced a complete overhaul of their Circuit events. The message was met with a few groans, and with good reason. After all, it’s been years since past winners such as Chris Ferguson and Phil Ivey made regular appearances. But the WSOP wasn’t kidding around.“We recognized the WSOP Circuit Events needed a shot in the arm, and we believe we’ve responded with steroids,” said WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart in a press release. “The new model is exactly what the WSOP is all about, giving poker players of all bankrolls the chance to compete for the kind of fame, fortune and respect that comes only with a WSOP bracelet and a national television audience.”Indeed the Circuit events have been completely revamped. Yes, the schedules are still chock full of small buy-ins events that satisfy even the most casual players, but with the addition of four televised $10,000 buy-in tournaments at regional stops, Harrah’s expects the notable pros to show up.In order to ensure that they do, they’ve juiced the pot with the inaugural National Championship which will be held before the summer series at Caesars Palace. Only 100 spots are up for grabs for this bracelet event and Card Player caught up with WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart to find out how to qualify.Note: Card Player will be bringing live updates from all Circuit stops this season beginning Tuesday from the final table of the $1,500 event at Horseshoe Council Bluffs.Julio Rodriguez: The WSOP Circuit is already underway at the Horseshoe Council Bluffs in Iowa. How are you feeling?Ty Stewart: I’m very excited about this. This is a total overhaul of our past Circuit. I think it’s universally accepted that we made the summer Series better each and every year. We’ve introduced innovations, we’ve improved the operations and the staging, but it’s almost as if we spent so much time congratulating ourselves for the success of the flagship event, that we began to ignore the work we had to due on the Circuit events. The days of letting the Circuit events be the stepchild of the Series are over. We are really taking a lot of pride and ensuring that anything that bears the WSOP name really delivers.I don’t know if poker’s ever had anything like this. There’s certainly been many successful one-off events, but this is a true season where every event counts and everything builds to a championship.JR: Can you please explain the rankings system and how it affects the field for the National Championship ?TS: When we formulated the rankings system, we really tried to be true to what the World Series of Poke r is all about. The WSOP is where players of all bankrolls can come together with the purpose of achieving the same dream… winning a gold bracelet. We created the WSOP Circuit schedule and the rankings system to reflect that mindset. Anyone, even amateur players, can compete and have the opportunity to earn their way into the season-ending National Championship tournament.The way it works is that events as low as $300 will allow players to earn points. The points are based off of our standard WSOP Player of the Year system, but multipliers have been added based on the level of buy-in. All preliminary events, which usually feature a buy-in of somewhere between $300-$500, get a multiplier of 0.5. The $1,500 events are as is and the $10,000 regional championships get multiplied by 5.This gives the true grinder with even a modest bankroll the chance to go out there on the Circuit and pick up enough points to win their way in. Then again, those who just want to cherry pick a few of the bigger tournaments here and there can win their way in with one of the exemptions. Anyone who wins a $1,500 event and anyone who final tables a $10,000 event will automatically be included in the 100-person field for the National Championship . In addition, anyone who earns the title of “Casino Champion” for accumulating the most points at any of the Circuit stops will be exempt as well.Note: You can read more about the points system at the WSOP website.JR: When will the National Championship at Caesars Palace take place?TS: It should be immediately preceding the World Series of Poker . We haven’t completely finalized the schedule yet, but the goal this year is to start the WSOP summer events after Memorial Day. So we’ve tentatively set the National Championship for Memorial Day Weekend.JR: Will this event be included in the summer Series schedule?TS: This is a stand alone championship. We consider all of our bracelets to be the same. There are no bracelets with asterisks. When we first started the WSOP Europe , we were met with questions about those bracelets and their authenticity. But after seeing the prestige of those tournaments and the quality of competition, I don’t even think that’s challenged anymore. We feel that the National Championship winner will be similar.The way I look at it, it’s kind of like a long-running modified shootout tournament. You have to win, or do exceedingly well to make it to the final stage. Either way, there’s no question that anyone in the final field of 100 deserves to be there. That alone will legitimize the bracelet, if not make it one of the more prestigious events of the year.JR: In the past, some criticism has stemmed from sponsor exemptions. Will there be any for the National Championship ?TS: Part of what’s important about this reboot is full transparency. This is not a made for television special event, you truly have to earn your way in. The only exemptions will be for those 64 players who qualify. If there are any players who earn multiple spots, then the next highest ranked player will get in.JR: The $10,000 regional championships will be televised. Can you tell us on which network they will air?TS: I can’t let that information out yet, but I can tell you that Poker Productions, led by Mori Eskandani, will be handling the production. I can assure you, however, that an announcement will be made by the first taping in Hammond. I can tell you that it won’t be ESPN , but it is a prominent national broadcaster who has never carried poker to date.JR: Anything else that’s new for this year’s Circuit?TS: There will be two new stops on the Circuit that have yet to be announced. Both of these stops will be outside of the Harrah’s portfolio of casinos. That’s a major change for us, because we’ve realized that part of growing the brand and staging premier tournaments is to look outside of our own system. I can tell you that one of those events will take place in the Dallas, Texas area.We are also striving for continuity this season. Remember, all of our properties have different tournament directors and operational groups. We’ve managed to get them all to adhere to one set of guidelines. So Jack Effel and myself worked very hard to make sure that all of the tournaments have the same blind structures, payout percentages and a uniform set of rules to make the experience consistent across the board.JR: There are many stories circulating that the WSOP may be moved to a new location. Can you comment on those rumors?TS: Here’s what I’m going to tell you. People need to trust us that any change or modification will only be to the benefit of the WSOP player. I mean, look what we’ve done in the last few years. We’ve dramatically improved nearly all aspects of the Series. This brand is just too important to our company to have to essentially be forced into anything less than we currently have. If anything ever happened… and we ended up leaving the Rio, it would only be to provide a superior infrastructure and experience to the players and fans alike. That being said, we’re very confident that we are going to be at the Rio in 2011 and for the foreseeable future.Note: Events in bold indicate a Super Regional, which feature a nationally televised $10,000 tournament.*Circuit Event in South Afica does not count towards point system tabulation or cumulative event award.
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