It was my intention to travel to the States, and Las Vegas specifically, to play in this year's World Series of Poker. And while I did not plan on participating in the Main Event nor any hold'em event for that matter, I did want to play in at least two events involving Omaha or any of the mixed games. I had not been back to the U.S. in over 5 years and as I was feeling a bit homesick, I figured the WSOP would provide a good excuse to go. But with the recent turn of events here in Southeast Asia in regards to the Covid pandemic, I decided that it would not be the best time to leave my family behind just to make a solo trip to play poker. While concern over my family is the main motivation for me to stay in Southeast Asia, other factors did weigh in as well and the entire process has left me wondering about the status of the WSOP for this year and beyond.
As I mentioned, my family is the primary reason for why I decided to stay in Phnom Penh. Due to general visa restrictions it would have been very difficult to take my wife or kids to the States with me even before the pandemic. Things appeared to have improved here for a while as businesses were starting to open back up. But with the recent spread of the Delta variant from Thailand, we have seen a new surge in cases and are going to through another series of curfews and restrictions. The pandemic has laid waste to what was once a thriving and growing city in Phnom Penh. With so many locals and expats alike struggling through this period, the economic climate here has changed drastically. Our family recently moved into a bigger 3 bedroom apartment here in town after the birth of my son. When moving in we faced much scrutiny from the local neighbors as we took over the owner's unit, which is the biggest and nicest apartment in the complex. There was much suspicion on their part that I was Chinese and as their is a general animus towards them here amongst the locals, the "sangat", who serves much like a local councilman, came to our home to scrutinize everything about our lives. We were threatened with a two week quarantine in our own home, but I was able to dissuade their fears by showing them my vaccine card. Given the unpredictable nature of events during this pandemic, there is no guarantee that we would not face similar scrutiny in the future. I would feel completely powerless were my wife to find herself in such a situation while I was nearly 10K miles away. And while I do possess a valid visa to reside in this country, there is always the possibility that policies may change towards foreigners and that I might not be allowed back in the country. That scenario is highly unlikely, but there is still a $2,000 deposit required for anyone entering the country with no guarantees of how much of that amount I would receive back.
I have been fortunate in the past couple of years as online poker has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic. The same cannot be said for most people here in Cambodia, such as members of my wife's family. As most of them have been without employment for quite some time and have run out of money, they have turned to my wife for help. This has put her in a very tough spot as she does not wish to ask too much of me. But given that she is the only one in the family with any means at the moment, she has allowed several members stay to in our 3 bedroom apartment. Had they all moved in under different circumstances my reaction may have been quite different. But since I am in a position to help and appreciate the circumstances of the moment, I have allowed them to stay and have basically provided for their livelihood since. Currently there are 12 people staying in my primary residence, not including myself:
• My wife
• Our 4 year old daughter
• Our 3 year old daughter
• My first born son
• My wife's older sister
• The older sister's daughter
• Her younger sister
• The younger sister's fiancé
• Their daughter
• My wife's youngest sister
• My wife's younger brother
• My wife's youngest brother
Many people have asked me why it is I keep a second residence and this is the primary reason why. It has always been difficult for me to work, play poker and sleep in a house with 3 kids, but the current situation makes it virtually impossible. A trip back out to the States would be costly, especially going to a city like Las Vegas. I have estimated it would cost me approximately $10,000 for a 2 month trip and I obviously cannot guarantee that I would recoup that while playing poker during the visit. Such a number is simply too high and would divert resources that are desperately needed here.
There are plenty of local reasons for why I have decided not to play in the WSOP, but issues abroad in Las Vegas and America at large have caused some concern as well. With the Delta variant of covid emerging, infection cases have risen in many places but this is especially the case in Nevada. On May 31, 2021 Nevada had 0 new cases of covid and a 7 day average of only 120 cases per day. That number has steadily increased to a high of 2,156 new cases on August 2nd and a 7 day average of 911. Last year's WSOP was of course moved online due to the pandemic and these numbers suggest perhaps that they should have done the same this year. But those involved seem intent on running a live series, pandemic or not, and have come up with some interesting rules to handle the situation. The most notable is rule 115 which is reproduced here below:
"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. If Participant is removed from a WSOP Event pursuant to this paragraph, and for no other reason, Participant shall not be entitled to any compensation or remuneration of any type other than what Participant had already been awarded prior to being removed from the WSOP Event. However, for the avoidance of doubt, should Participant be disqualified for any additional reason or reasons that subject Participant to penalties pursuant to the Official Rules, those penalties shall apply. Further, in the situation where one or more Participants is disqualified pursuant to this Paragraph, [Rio] reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to determine whether to proceed with any WSOP Event as scheduled or to postpone or reschedule a WSOP Event, or any portion of a WSOP Event, to a later date.”
There is obviously much to unpack here but basically what it states is that anyone who has received a positive result for covid-19 or come into close contact with such an individual (within 6 feet for 15 total minutes), that individual or individuals can be removed from an event at any time. So if a player enters an event, is the chip leader on day 3 but has not yet made the money, that player can be removed without any compensation should they fall under the above guidelines. This raises so many questions and issues that I hardly know where to begin. Let us address the issue of vaccination first as the obvious question that immediately rises is what if a vaccinated player has been exposed to covid? The WSOP clarified this situation this past Friday by stating 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."
This has led to accusations of discrimination against those who are not vaccinated and for this and other reasons have caused many on Twitter to state that they will skip the event altogether. And besides it has already been demonstrated that vaccinated people can still catch Covid and pass it on to others so I remain uncertain that a simple distinction made in the rule above will suffice. And what of mass exposure if for example a dealer should test positive and be exposed to several players. Rule 115 answers this very issue in the last sentence by stating that the Rio reserves the right to postpone or reschedule any event to a later date. And while the rule does not contain the word "cancel", I do think it reasonable for players to consider such a possibility. Even if I do not attend myself I would hate to see such possibilities come to fruition as I have many personal friends who have already planned their trips and set their budgets. In one case a friend has already begun his travels and has worked in the Series as the last leg of his trip. Any postponement, delay or cancellation would force people to alter their plans in a way that may prove prohibitive to playing at all.
Having said all this, the Rio and the WSOP are both in a very difficult spot and there is no set of solutions that is perfect nor will it appease everyone. They could have made vaccinations mandatory for example, which I am certain would have infuriated many and made this issue even more contentious. I personally believe that they should move forward with a live WSOP. There has been enough done and demonstrated in our recovery from this pandemic that most cities and states have reopened in America. At some point everyone involved has to remain consistent in a resolve to move forward. But at the same time to expect things to be as normal as previous years might prove to be foolish. There are just some things that cannot be planned for and although the WSOP has tried to account for every possible scenario, those who plan to play should practice caution and factor in all of the risks that we have thus far discussed in this article. I wish my friends and everyone playing safe travels, good health and much fortune in their quest for poker glory.
It was originally my intent to end this article with that last sentence. But as I look upon the photo of my family that I am using for the cover of this article, I cannot help but to think of my family back in the States. While the purpose of my initially planned trip was not to see members of my family, perhaps I would be lying to myself if I did not admit that the possibility loomed in the back of my mind. But it looks as if that day will have to wait at least a little bit longer, should it ever arrive at all. Many have asked how or why it is that I have decided to support eight additional members of my wife's family. As to the how I suppose one just works as hard as they can and somehow make it happen, much like my father did with us so many years ago. And as I have learned those lessons from him, I have come to realize that I now have a family of my own and that home is wherever they are.