The Minor Leagues of Poker
For those of you that don't follow smaller events closely, Dwyte Pilgrim recently won his third WSOP Circuit ring at Harrah's Rincon. Quite an accomplishment for the young pro, especially since he just won his first ring last year. Wicked Chops Poker asked if he was the best Minor League Pro out there.
This got me to thinking about Poker in the terms of Baseball. In baseball, you have the minor leagues, but the leagues are really spread out. You have the standard leagues of A, AA, and AAA, but you also have the winter leagues, extended spring training, etc. Also, don't forget the independent leagues that you see some washed out or old pros play in.
In terms of poker, I would contest that tournament poker is as follows:
Tournaments at the casino level, such as daily tournaments etc, are the equivalent extended spring training, etc. Most of these tournaments are filled with wannabe's and never has been's.
In poker minor leagues, Single A could be small tournament sets put on by minor casino. For example, the Fall Poker Classic in Shakopee, MN or pretty much any tournament set put in on Reno, NV. These are good basic tournaments that players can go and test their metal and see if they can compete.
AA in the poker minor leagues would be events such as Trump Classic or event the United States Poker Championships. While some pros play in the events, the fields are pretty much local pros or those trying to take a shot at a bigger event. The competition is tougher and prizes larger. Now, I realize the Main Event of the USPC used to be a big deal. It remains to be seen if they can gain the old prestige.
The World Series of Poker Circuit events can really be considered AAA. Some of you may point out that big name pros have won circuit titles. This is true. At the same time, sometimes baseball players have to drop back to AAA for rehab or adjustments, etc. With the exception of the Circuit Main Events, most of the lesser events are won by good players, but just not quite household names.
If you want, you could look at the Circuit Main Events as Japanese Baseball. Sometimes a pro will go to Japan to play a season to get back into form or prove that he can still play. Of course, in some cases, it is their only shot to still play big league ball.
For those of you wondering what the independent leagues are in poker, I would submit Los Angeles. Pretty much any of the events put on out in LA, especially at the Bike will have a mix of wannabe players, has been players, and never will be players. There are also many pros, including aging pros that you see in these events. During the summer, you could say that the independent leagues shift a bit to Vegas for certain events such as the Binion's Poker Open and Golden Nugget Summer Series.
Personally, I have admittedly played at all the levels of "Minor League Poker" at one point or another. I have played more in what I deem the independent leagues than anywhere else though. However, don't let my classification of what level a tournament is at discourage you from playing. If you can enter a "Single A" event and take it down, do it. That is how most champions got their start. Besides, some "Minor League" events are tougher than big time tournaments. In an event I played last summer that I classify as an indy league event, we had 7 bracelet winners and about 30% of the field were name pros. A good percentage of other players were good players in their own right. Minor leagues action can sometimes prove to be a challenge.
A interesting story to add at the end here is that Bryan Devonshire just won the Harrah's Rincon Main Event. Bryan has had an up and down career with a pair of runner-up WSOP finishes and a WPT final table. I met and played with him in 2006 at the Fall Poker Classic in Shakopee, MN. Just from what I saw of his play then, I knew that eventually he would do great things. He of course has, but as you can see, he didn't start at the "Big Leagues". He started at smaller events and grinded his way up. Perhaps one day you will as well. Good luck to you at the tables.