I've received a lot of good feedback about an observation I made a couple of weeks ago regarding the change in WSOP coverage at ESPN. That observation became even more pronounced when we saw Scotty Nguyen's performace at this year's HORSE event.
As Amy pointed out today, people were actually surprised at Nguyen being the bad boy. The surprised people are the people who don't get out much and know poker only from TV.
Let's all agree on something. At least half of the poker community is made up of people you wouldn't want to share a beer with. At least 75% of the poker community is made up of people you wouldn't want to bring home to Mom. In the poker world, the really good folks are the minority. TV can make anybody look good. It made Mike Tyson look like a bootstrapping Horatio Alger story until the whole cannibalism thing. It made Michael Vick out to be one of the best quarterbacks of his time until the whole animal massacre thing. TV can make people what it wants. It made Scotty Nguyen into the Prince of Poker and now it's made him the town drunk.
Amy wrote a great piece a few years ago titled The Death Wish that gives you some decent insight into Nguyen before televised poker made him royalty. Everyone should read it. Especially those people who don't get to hang out in the Amazon Room and see poker people as they are for real.
I'm not sure why--because, I haven't in years--but I have watched every episode of ESPN's 2008 WSOP poker coverage this year. Last night's $5,000 Mixed Hold'em event was, for obvious reasons, the best yet.
I am not here, however, to applaud ESPN for good coverage. I'm here to applaud ESPN for finally presenting the game in a somewhat more journalistic fashion.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I nearly fell out of my chair (and it's a really comfortable chair) when the commentators offered full disclosure on the ZeeJustin cheating scandal. I nearly fell unconcious when the cheating scandal was given the harsh treatment it deserved.
You will remember, back in 2006 when Amy and Tim uncovered the $2 million chip conspiracy, ESPN treated it as an insignificant math error. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of "If you're good at math, you might notice a difference in the number of chips on the table--hey, look, it's Elvis! Hey, King!"
I am among the people who believe Justin Bonomo has paid his due penance and deserves another chance. He has always been a talented poker player. I think he has proven he has a newly mature respect for the game. I liked him before the scandal, I was disappointed when it happened, and I have since come to believe that ZeeJustin (unlike others who continued to flout the rules) doesn't deserve a lifetime ban.
This, however, is not about Bonomo. It's about ESPN.
Two years ago, Bonomo would've been described in nothing but glowing terms. Nothing negative about his past would've been mentioned. How can I be so sure of this? Because Dutch Boyd made a final table in 2006 inthe $2,500 short-handed no limit hold 'em event. Not a single word was ever uttered about Boyd's scandalous past at Poker Spot.
Another example from last night.
During a profile of Howard Lederer, it was fully disclosed that The Professor has spent less time working on his game because he is one of the founding members of Full Tilt Poker.
The farthest ESPN would go in the past when referring to something like FTP would be to say, "an online poker site." Now, it is outing Lederer for being one of the faces behind Full Tilt. It's not a secret. I know it. You know it. The government knows it. Lederer is an online poker operator.
ESPN, however, must have made a decision to change its policy when referring to poker site's by name. Why, exactly, is something I don't know. I do find it interesting.
I don't know how long it will be before poker is given the kind of legitimacy it deserves. These apparent changes in ESPN's stylebook, however, are a fine step toward putting poker on the same level with other televised games and sporting events. Obviously, there is still a long way to go and ESPN could easily drop the ball.
For now, however, I'm comfortable saying that I am impressed.<-- Hide More
Twenty grand is nothing at the World Series of Poker. Really. If you said you had $20,000 in your pocket, a great many people would look at you and say, "So? I had a poached egg for breakfast. I win." Unless, they are an internet kid, and then they say, "Poached egg, FTW." And they really use the letters.More in this Poker Blog! -->
How little does $20,000 buy these days at the WSOP?
Well, that was the number being thrown around in the room for what poker sites were paying for small piece of real estate on people's chests when there were still 75 players left.
Top Ten Ways to Spend $20,000 at the 2008 WSOP
1) Pay $20K for a patch on the shirt of [name redacted] for five minutes.
True story. One player got a deal and wore his patch for just five minutes before busting out. Another story...one "pro" got a patch and hat which he wore until he took his first bad beat. He stood, ripped off the hat and patch and threw them at his agent. One day later, the pro was wearing a patch for another site.
2) 20,000 $1 spins on the giant wheel in the Rio.
I'm still not even sure that big wheel is actually a game. The poor dealer who has to stand there spinning the wheel always looks like the second most miserable person at the Rio.
3) A straight seven hours of I Dream of Jeannie slot play
One of my colleagues tried to reach Grubby-style epic slot play while in Vegas. He fell in love with the I Dream of Jeannie machine because it regularly moaned, in a way too sexual manner, "Oh, yes, master! You win, master!"
4) 4,000 tips to the custodian of the All-In Energy Drinks
Desperate times call for desperate consumption decisions. When the Poker Kitchen shut down, we were left without a ready source of caffeine. Enter Super Secret Back Hall bartender, who, for $5, would let us take as many Grape All-In Energy drinks as we wanted. Later, the a $10 tip got us an many beers as we wanted. With an hour to go in the 2008 WSOP, we went to the well for the final time. The dude's boss busted him and we went thirsty.
5) Lose 4,000 games of Keno to a luckbox poker writer
With a constant need to stay in action, my team and I took to playing three-way Keno during our dinner breaks for $5 a head. We'd pick our numbers and whoever got the most right won $5 from each player. One of my team could not lose (and it wasn't me). The only joy I got out of the game was watching the Keno runner zip up to our table when we pulled out the crayons. "We got it covered," we'd always say.
6) Add 25 seconds to a strip tease's first act
The aforementioned tease played a big party after Day 1. Word on the street was, she didn't come cheap.
7) 3,333 four day old cardboard pizzas from Pizza Hut corridor
The shutting down of the Poker Kitchen also took away our Capriotti's sandwiches and cold sushi. We were left with the days-old Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas in the hallway. I'm not sure I've ever eaten worse pie.
8) Hire a full time assistant for [poker writer name redacted]
Some writers at the WSOP work very hard. Some do not.
9) Golf buggy for [poker agent name redacted]
The agent-game at the WSOP was a rough one this year. These are stories I cannot fully tell. However, anyone in the room during the WSOP knows who needed a golf cart by the end.
10) One week of a flying advertising airplane extolling the virtues of [poker pro name redacted]
Advertising takes many forms at the WSOP. One form flew overhead.
Want a better way to spend your money? How about helping Pauly celebrate his five-year anniversary at Tao of Poker. We'll be celebrating our five year in about a month, but chances are we won't be giving away a seat to a $5,000 event. So, take this chance while you've got it.<-- Hide More
The woman was blonde and a little overweight. She was a tourist. She screamed, "Oh my God!" and broke down in sobbing fits. Her chair shook as she swayed with the spirit of Las Vegas.
In front of her, a three-line video poker machine showed a Royal Flush in hearts on the first line. The winnings box spun, jangled, and whirled up and up and up. With each 1,000 mark it crossed, the woman shuddered, dropped more tears onto her red cheeks, and said, "Oh, God!"More in this Poker Blog! -->
People literally ran from across the Rio floor to her side. Gamblers left their still-active machines empty and pushed in to stand as witness to the winnings as they climbed from 1,000 to 2,000, to finally 8,000 credits. Hands fell on her back, simultaneous congratulations and comfort.
I stood there as well as the woman sobbed with neither ability nor desire to stop. It was God in that machine. It was clear. The lights, the ringing, the sobbing.
I did the math. On her 5-cent video poker machine, the woman had just cleared a sob-inducing, God-beseeching $400.
A couple of days later, I overslept and woke up at 11:24am. Due at the Rio at noon, I took a quick shower and ran downstairs. The cab line was long and I made undesirable decision to make the quick-hoof across the street, through the Gold Coast, across another street, and through the Rio casino to the convention center.
As I stood on the corner at Flamingo, a car horn beeped. I looked left and there sat my angel of the morning. She was an event planner who did some work for my client. She offered me a ride, and already sweating and late, I took it. Barely awake, I sat behind my shades and made small talk in the rental car's air conditioning. Traffic was horrible, even for the short ride to the Rio. The driver threw her head over her right shoulder to check her blind spot. Just as she was turning back forward, I watched as the car 30 feet in front of us slammed into the back of another car. I barely said a word as my morning's chariot got on the brake and stopped just short of the wreck.
Minutes later, still sweating, I tried to barrel through the Main Event crowds and make it to my desk. Along the way, I heard the yelling.
"Jerry Yang prayed for that six! Jerry Yang prayed for that six to make his straight and God sent it to him!"
The man wore the ubiquitous John 3:16 shirt and didn't stop yelling as people shoved by.
"Jerry's mother prayed for that six!" he screamed.
It had been several months since I had watched Ricky Fohrenbach stand by the final table of the 2008 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure and beg "One time!" He had jacks against tens all-in pre-flop.
The kid knew how to play poker. His praying, no matter where it was directed, seemed unnecessary. It was like praying to survive wisdom teeth removal when you were going in for brain surgery the next day.
No surprise, Fohrenbach's jacks held up one time. The next time, all in against ElkY's AK, the jacks were worthless.
One time, indeed.
I took my kid to see his favorite musician yesterday. It's a guy who sings songs about Mount St. Helens, Pissing Outside, and words that start with Cat. As we stood in the 90-degree heat and watched my kid smile, the guy behind the guitar said he once had someone ask him, "Do you have any songs about God?"
The answer: "Well, they're all about God."
The Devil walked into the Rio late one night during the 2008 World Series and stood in a dark corner. His long black hair fell down over his black leather jacket.
He stood by himself and surveyed the floor.
It occurred to me that night, after way too many nights of thinking about the guy, that the Devil wasn't merely surveying the floor. He was looking across his domain.
Wayne Newton walked in on the first day of the World Series this year to offer the "Shuffle up and deal!" proclamation.
I wish I'd thought to ask him if he had any songs about the devil.<-- Hide More
Several years ago, G-Rob began taking every three syllable phrase he could and using it as the opening chorus to Seals and Croft's "Summer Breeze." It is, in his estimation, an ear worm that cannot be killed.
Early in the 2008 WSOP Main Event, I began using this old trick to at perfectly random times around the Rio (parking garages, quiet moments in the press box, in the men's room) to belt out, "Jerry Yang, makes me feel fine...!"
As mentioned in Questions in Las Vegas, my team of poker writers at the World Series of Poker passed the idle time making some lists. Among the most fun was creating signature tunes for 27 players who started Day 7.More in this Poker Blog! -->
If you are a frequent reader of live poker coverage, you know that the writers are often forced to try to come up with interesting headlines for rather uninteresting content. Some writers consider it a challenge to be as punny as possiible. While I try not to be one of those guys, I certainly have some empathy for people who have to write 200 headlines per day.
A few of these are gold, some are complete stretches, and some still make no sense to me at all. I think I only contributed two or three to the entire list, and have to give most credit/blame to my partners Howard and Stephen. However, if either for your inspiration or just a reminder of the laughs we got out of the list, I've reproduced it here. I'd invite any of you do add to it at your leisure.
2008 WSOP Signature Tunes
Peter Eastgate--"Eastgate yes, I say no, you say why and I say I don't know..."
Kelly Kim--"Kim as you are"
Nicholas Sliwinski--"Please Sliwinski let me go..."
Joe Bishop--"When you Bishop on a star"
Brandon Cantu--"Put your Brandon your heart and tell me, it's all over...."
Albert Kim--"Kim bah yah, my lord, Kim bah yah."
Jason Riesenberg--"Love me for a Reisenberg, let the Reisenberg love."
Dean Hamrick--"Stop! Hamrick time!"
Niklas Flisberg--"Flis like a Berg"
Dennis Phillips--"Dennis Dennis"
Tiffany Michelle--"Breakfast at Tiffany's"
David Rheem--"Rheem around the fountain"
Paul Snead and Ivan Demidov--"You can't always get Demidov, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get Paul Snead."
Scott Montgomery--"Scott! In the name of love..."
Ylon Schwartz--"Ylon and winding road" or "Ylon Las Vegas!"
Aaron Gordon--"Aaron a G-string"
Michael Carroll--"Sweet Caroll-ine"
Craig Marquis--"It's me, it's Marquis, I've come home...."
Gert Andersen--"Everybody Gerts"
Chris Klodnicki--"Darling Klodnicki" by Prince
Judet Toni Cristian--"It's a new dawn, it's a Judet... And I'm feeling blue"
Darus Suharto--"A total eclipse of Suharto"
Owen Crowe--"Crowe Crowe Crowe your boat, gently down the stream..."
Anthony Scherer--"Scherer Prudence"
Tim Loecke--"Tim Loecke the boat, Loecke the boat, baby"
Phi Nguyen--"Come Phi with me!" or "Phi me to the moon"<-- Hide More
I am not Pauly. When setting out for a long-haul trip, I always promise myself I will write more. Then, by the end of the 15-hour day, I don't want to look at a computer. Thus, most of my Vegas tales get relegated to an internal file from which I later pick a couple of dusty gems and pass them along.
That file is, at the moment, still closed. I'm just about decompressed, but not entirely.
That said, while in Vegas this year I worked alongside a couple of top poker writers who are exceptionally good at self-editing. During this trip, these guys started compiling lists that we contributed to over our three weeks on the ground.
While I still sort out what I could and should write about this year's World Series, I've gone back over the lists and thought I would share a few over the next few days.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Here is the first one. It's titled "The Requests."
See, during most of our time at the World Series, my team sat on the front row of the press box. While it gave us a great view, and two fewer steps to climb, it also made us the de facto information booth for people passing by who needed their questions answered. This is the short-list of things for which we were asked or questions we tried to answer with clinched jaws.
* Do you have a napkin?
* Does anybody have a paperclip?
* Where is the 'leaderboard'? (Answered by pointing to one of the two dozen plasma screens hanging all over the room.)
* Do you have a printed list of the players?
* Is my buddy (Nobody Jones) still in?
* Where's Michael Binger... BINGer?
* Is Erik Lindgren still in?
* Do you know Monika? She's in the Polish press!
* Where are the PokerNews guys? [We answer by pointing six inches to our left.]
* [On Day 6] Where is Daniel Negreanu? [Answer: He's been out for a week and half.]
* Where is Benjo?
* Everything alright? (Jeffrey Pollack)
* What's the chip average today? [We don't know.] What was it yesterday?
* Are there any of the big names in?
* The people with the most chips, are they winning? Do they have the best chance of getting through tomorrow?
* Where's the Poker Kings suite? [Hard to answer, because there was no such thing. We eventually figured out they were looking for the Poker Royalty suite.]
* My personal favorite... it's mid-way through the the four day one flights. Harrah's is keeping a tight reign on the hard numbers to avoid any perception that the WSOP is in trouble. T.J. Cloutier walks up and looks me in the face. He's tall enough that he is standing on the floor, I'm on a riser, and we're still looking eye-to-eye. He asks "'How many players are there?" I try to explain that nobody knows for sure yet. "Well, you're the media! I kind of figured that's the kind of thing you guys should be reporting."
* Where can I find PokerRoad?
* It's Day 6, when an older guy, likely drunk, and certainly wearing a leather fedora walks up and asks, "Could you tell me where I finished?" When asked his name and how long ago he busted out, he answers, with, "Some time on Day 1B."
* How much does the chip leader have?
* Who wants to go to Disneyworld?
* With a big fuck-off TV screen 10 feet away with all the answers on it in big letters... "How many players are left and how many started?"
* It's Day 7 and there are two tables still standing in the Amazon Room. Literally, every other poker table has been collapsed for storage. It's very late and most of the lights are off. A man walks through the darkness, through the quiet, through the absolute tension that is the final table bubble, and asks "Are the cash games still going here?
* Wassup guys? (Jeffrey Pollack)<-- Hide More
As I mentioned in my last post, there was a lot of resistance to Harrah's decision to delay the final table of the WSOP. A quick glance at the nine players left seems to validate this radical idea.
Here are the names: Ivan Demidov, Peter Eastgate, Kelly Kim, Craig Marquis, Scott Montgomery, Dennis Phillips, David "Chino" Rheem, Ylon Schwartz and Darus Suharto.
This has to be the most anonymous final table in the history of the World Series of Poker. These massive fields actually make it more likely that the last table standing will be full of a couple foreign players, a couple minor online or casino pros and a couple players from the Friday night home game.
And if the final table started right now, I'd have absolutely no rooting interest.More in this Poker Blog! -->
This is the sports fan in me talking. I like to pick a side and root for it. If I'm watching any competitive endeavor, I'll choose a favorite. That's virtually impossible when I have absolutely no idea who these people are.
Over the next few months, we'll have plenty of time to find out what each of these men has to offer the poker world. None are likely to create a new Moneymaker effect (only Tiffany Michelle could have done that and, thankfully, she and her UB patch are gone). So that means they can fall into a few different categories:
The Gentleman Champion
I kinda think this is where we find Joe Hachem and Greg Raymer. Both are very good poker players who have been tremendous ambassadors for the game since winning their bracelet.
The Jackass Champion
Jamie Gold, anyone? I hated the way this guy played the game and I hate the way he promotes himself. Thankfully, he's shrinked back a bit into the shadows. Although, I'll admit, it's been great seeing him get smacked down on High Stakes Poker. Everyone loves villain... I suppose.
The Invisible Champion
Is Jerry Yang still alive? I suppose it was a great story, seeing this man, so devoted to helping others, living the American dream, win the WSOP. But he's virtually vanished.
The Lucky Champion
The day I win it all, I'll clearly fall in this category. It's where we find Robert Varkonyi. Anyone who's seen the (poorly produced) WSOP final table of his victory knows just how fortunate he was to see his hands hold up. Of course, anyone who wins this event has to be lucky a few times... but Varkonyi's luck was so great he rarely ever gets any credit for whatever poker skill he may have.
It's impossible for me to say right now which categories these players fit into, but that's the beauty of the final table delay. We've got months to see what each of these players has to offer. And that will make the final table that much more interesting to watch come November.<-- Hide More
No, we're not talking about the check these players are going to get from Harrah's. We're talking about the fight in the shadows, the one we usually don't hear about. The game behind the game, where it's all about what (or who) you wear.
Dr. Pauly, professor of poker blogging and medicinal herbs, gives us a fascinating post titled The Battle for Tiffany Michelle's Breasts that shows us just how difficult it is to play this game.
But this all brings me back to a discussion on this very blog just two months ago...More in this Poker Blog! -->
The Final Table Delay
As a friend (who can out himself here if he likes) pointed out to me, this decision is great for the nine people who make the final table. They will have four months to get the best possible sponsorship deal. However, this friend pointed out a less obvious consequence: the final 40 or so people in the tournament are going to lose a lot of sponsorship value.
Now that we're approaching the Final Nine, the question I have for those on the scene, is: Was Otis right?
Are the final 40 or so losing out on sponsorship value? A quick check of the fine photography from Flipchip is quite a mixed bag. Some are patched, some aren't. (Side note: I checked the fine photography from Wicked Chops, but I was having a hard time seeing the players, not that I'm complaining.)
We know there is going to be a fight for Tiffany Michelle. She's near the tops in chips (although 27 is a looooooong way from 9!), she's the hottest player left and she's virtually unaffiliated. For some crazy reason, she slapped a UB logo on her breasts, but there's plenty of suggestion that may not last.
But what about everyone else? Some of the minor pros are already hooked up. By today, I'd guess that almost every remaining player shows up with at least some kind of logo.
What this delay has allowed the final 27 players to do is, if they're feeling risky, negotiate a deal for just the next couple days of poker while leaving themselves open to renegotiate for more at the final table. Will that happen? I don't know. I DO know that the players have the leverage right now. Every poker site wants the next champ.
Oh, and as far as Tiffany Michelle goes... I'm kinda rooting for PokerStars.<-- Hide More
There are few things in this world that will turn a person into an absolute idiot with no regard for their own dignity. For a starving man, it may be a Big Mac. For a lonely man, it may be a naked woman who wants to sleep with him. For an addict, it's that cigarette or shot of whiskey. For G-Rob, it's any of those things.
For a lot of people on TV these days, it's money.
Exhibit A: The appropriately named "I Love Money" on VHI.More in this Poker Blog! -->
If you're not familiar with it, it's VHI's answer to MTV's Real World/Road Rules Challenges (and if you're not familiar with that, think Battle of the Network Stars but substitute people in minute 14 of their 15 minutes of fame). This show gathers together some of the more stupid and desperate contestants from previous reality shows Rock of Love, Flavor of Love and I Love New York. Remember, these are people who spent weeks demeaning themselves while fighting for the affection of Bret Michaels, Flava Flav and some crazy woman whom Flava Flav nicknamed New York.
Now they gather to battle it out for something a little more tangible: Cash.
One contestant is apparently attempting to get herself into the reality show Hall of Fame. Megan (pictured right) is now on her third reality show. She's already split $250,000 for winning Beauty and the Geek. She was then dumped by Bret Michaels. And now she's back for more. She may or may not have been a Playboy Cyber Girl of the Month, I don't know, I haven't Googled her.
Anyway, she's the kind of person in this world who is clearly getting by on the only talent she has. If you don't know what it is, you haven't looked at the picture. Should I begrudge her that? She clearly enjoys the attention and yearns to be on TV as much as possible. If we've only got 15 minutes, I guess we better get all we can before time runs out!
What the hell does this have to do with poker?!?
Good question. But if you can't guess the answer, then you haven't been paying attention to the poker world over the past 5 years.
Exposure is everything. Had Hevad Khan acted like Eric Seidle, would you still remember his name? If Mike "The Mouth" Matusow was as animated as "Action" Dan Harrington, would he get a featured table every year at the WSOP?
Hole card cameras, the WPT and and ESPN changed everything. It's not just enough anymore to be good at poker. You have to be good at poker AND have a schtick. For many, you have to be willing to make a complete fool of yourself.
I'm not suggesting the characters didn't exist before the TV cameras turned on. Scotty Nguyen has always been Scotty Nguyen. But there is a new breed of TV hogs out there. They know if they're loud and obnoxious, they get their own 5 minutes on ESPN. And if they get 5 minutes on ESPN, some online poker room out there will hand him some cold hard cash to wear a patch.
We all love money.<-- Hide More
I've gone to the bathroom in one particular room in the Rio more times than I can count. It's one of those constants in Las Vegas. Things rarely change. There will be the guy smoking and pretending he doesn't know or care that it's against the rules. There will be the guy in a stall doing things that he probably would be embarassed to do in the privacy of his own home. There is the drunk guy who thinks it's perfectly reasonable to be intoxicated at breakfast. The urinals are usually bordering on clean, which is good enough for me.
Moments ago, I went in for my hourly leak and noticed something had changed. Gammo Testosterone booster is now advertising on the urinal pads. They blink flashing red lights. I pissed on one and the lights went out.
I don't know what that means.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I parachuted into the World Series of Poker yesterday afternoon, a late-comer to the non-stop action. I felt mildly guity at first. Most of my colleagues have been working here for the better part of the past month while I got fat in my chair at home. The 1,000-yard stares are omnipresent and most people have already become alcoholics, gone through the 12 Steps, and then fallen off the wagon again. Me? I'm fresh and not yet red-eyed.
The early reports from the long-haulers were basically true. Things are, in fact, better here. The operation is running smoothly, the Poker Kitchen is somewhat better, and the players aren't grousing as much as they usually do.
Last night, I dreamed Doyle Brunson died. For reasons I can't quite explain, it had a visceral reaction upon my waking, nearly so much that I was a little surprised to see Texas Dolly walk in the room this afternoon. I'm sitting above Todd Brunson right now, and I can't help but feel sorry for him. Not because he's worked for years to get out of his dad's shadow, but because I still sort of feel like his dad actually died last night. Don't ask, because I don't know what that mean either.
No matter what you might have read about poker's wane, there is little strong indication of it here. During breaks, the players rush into the VIP lounge to dodge the crowds of lookie-loos and fans. When the pros emerge, it's to amatuer paparazzi. Phil Hellmuth is having a bad night, but his fan's won't let him wallow it in.
"The cards will turn, Phil!" one fan shouts down the hallway, completely serious and heartfelt. "The cards will turn!"
Perhaps even more disturbing than the fact that people have sympathy for the Poker Brat or that I honestly feel like I'm watching Brunson's ghost play cards is Mike Matsow's shinkage. The son of a bitch weighs less than I do right now. What's more he's won a bracelet this year and is all smiles at Table #11. The day Matusow maintains better physical and mental health than me (I'm sure he didn't dream about Brunson's wake) is the day I really need to start re-evaluating things.
It's an easy world to get badly bent. John Gale, the chain-smoking gentleman from across the pond, is no longer walking with swagger. He's being pushed in a wheelchair. Four discs in his spine went to hell last month. He's still here, but hasn't found the strength to play an event. I understand the draw of the World Series. I missed the first three weeks and regretted it for most of the time. Now that I'm here, I'm not sure what I was thinking.
I'm not sure at what point, "Oooooooh, Las Vegas!" became "Eeeewwwwww, Las Vegas!" I think it would be different if my decisions had been different. As I said last night, sometimes I feel like poker's fluffer. If you don't know what that means, don't worry. I barely do myself.
Regardless, at present, I'm sitting beside Pauly in media row and enjoying the proxemity. The $50,000 HORSE event is nearing the end of Day 1, the beginning of five days of, if not entirely interesting, rather important coverage. Badblood has arrived in town and is building a stack in the cash games across the room.
The World Series is better this year. It's my personal challenge to make sure I am, too. We'll evaluate that in about three weeks.<-- Hide More
You smell that don't you? It's a combination of stale coffee, body odor, and residual cigarette smoke. It's anticipation, fear, and desperation. It's the 2008 WSOP.
Even though it's going to take us a few weeks to get on the ground there, we here at the Up For Poker Blog are excited about our friends and colleagues who are already wheels down.
The people behind these blogs are the hardest working people in poker. They give us what we can't have: an inside look at the World Series reality.
We took a little time to collect a list of the people we'll be reading over the next several weeks. You'll find the entire list on our WSOP Blogs page. We'll keep it linked in The Nuts section on the left just in case you want to use it as your portal to all the World Series news you can stomach.
If we missed your blog, shoot us a note and we'll see about linking you up.
Generally, people end up in hell because the in-road has so many fun attractions along the way.
The hell-heat of the Nevada desert is the only thing that contradicts the axiom. There is nothing luring people to Las Vegas except the destination itself. I think people who routinely go to Vegas know in advance the part of their soul they will give up. It's a cross-sectioned portion, like something out of a Science and Industry museum. Everybody knows it's there, but until you see it sliced and exposed, the importance is only academic.
The last time I went to the World Series of Poker, I met the Devil. As I wrote after the fact, "The Devil knew my name. The Devil knew my patterns. The Devil knew where I was. The Devil knew Otis. And now Otis had seen the Devil."
Aside from true, irrational fear, cold is the only thing I remember feeling at the end of the 2008 World Series. I shivered and shook my way through the final day of the main event. I thought I was dying and, ever so briefly, just wished I would so the Devil could take me wherever he wanted.
I survived, but I don't know how.More in this Poker Blog! -->
I don't really make many decisions in a vacuum anymore. Once I left my parents' oversight back in 1992, I had about five years during which I got to experiment with the luxury of selfish, wanton, and irresponsible decision-making. I survived that, too, and looking back, I'm not sure how. Since then, my life has been largely governed by bosses and my love for my family. When work doesn't control my life, I do my best to follow a path that will let my wife know I love her and give my son the attention he more than deserves. The boss-control I would give up if I was able. The family, never or for any amount of anything I want.
Still, in those fanciful hours when nobody is awake but me, I think about what the Devil would want for me, where he would drag me, and how much of my soul I would lose in the process. If work didn't matter and I could keep my family, I would selfishly be packing my bags right now and burying myself at the tables in Vegas. I don't even know why. The sensible part of me knows there is little chance for success and a huge chance that if I emerged alive, it would only be as a shell of myself. It doesn't even sound like fun, and yet I think about it--because I'm sick or already more void of soul than I thought.
Beginning a few years ago, I started getting calls that would land me in Vegas for three consecutive summers. At the end of every one, I wanted nothing more than to be home. At the end of last year, I remember thinking that I'd be just fine if I never covered another Series. So, no one is more surprised than me at how conflicted I feel this week.
I've found myself surprisingly bemused as I read the run-up pieces written by all my friends and colleagues who are packing their bags right now. The veterans are, as expected, already too jaded to expect anything but the hell they are about to experience. The newcomers are rowdy and ready to jump in. I don't look forward to seeing any of the hollow eyes.
Don't get me wrong. It's not all horrible. I have many fond memories from covering the Series. The bunker mentality that sets in after a few weeks helps build some pretty good friendships. Much of it--like limetossing, late night trips to Binion's, and eating Keno crayons--has been chronicled across the ethersphere. I have to admit, I am a little disappointed that I am going to be missing most of it this year.
Well, yeah. This is something I've avoided writing about until now, largely because I've parachuted into the past threee World Series at the last minute. There was a part of me that believed there was still a chance that was going to happen this year. As it happens though, I'm going to miss most of the Series this year. The plan as it stands is to drop in on June 24, cover the $50,000 HORSE and Main Events, and get out.
As mentioned above, I don't make many decisions by myself anymore. I had grand plans for this year that involved a house with a pool, sleeping with my wife every night, kissing my kid every day, and covering the ever-lovin' hell out of 2008 Series. When it became clear that wasn't going to be possible, any excitement I had about the Series vanished. Several other things happened in the meantime and suffice it to say, I have extremely mixed feelings about the next two months.
After covering the Series for four weeks, the Series' press folks are naturally suspiscious of people who drop in for the big events. I can't count the number of times I've heard the long-haul media bitch about the short-time crews. I'm now going to be part of the Parachute Crew and I'll admit I'm not looking forward to the idea. Furthermore, regardless of its Big Picture importance, covering the Series for the full seven weeks provides context that the final few weeks can't offer. As a pseudo writer, I am a tad embarassed about my role this year. That said, I'm going to spend four extra weeks with my wife and kid. That's time that I've missed in previous years. It's time I'll never get back. It's time I plan to spend wisely. In short, the soul-vacuum writer is depressed, but the rest of me is happy.
I've spent too much time in Las Vegas to confuse it with Paradise. I know where Vegas is, I know what it is, and I know who runs the show. If I made all the decisions in a vacuum, I would grab my parchment Moleskine, a good pen, and few thousand bucks. I'd get on a plane and snort the brimstone. I'd do it for the same reason I'd cover war, death, or mini-apocalypse. Many of the stories that need to be told are in hell.
That's not my life, though. At least not right now. I'll admit, I'm in a pretty odd place mentally, but I know, despite it not being the best thing for my career (such as it is), missing 80% of the World Series is going to be a good thing in the longrun.
As I reached this point in the writing of this post, a good friend sent me a text, "When do you get to Vegas?"
The answer, for better or worse, is June 24.<-- Hide More
It was two years ago this month when I first introduced you to Jena. Here's a taste:
She pressed her knee into my leg. She was sending me a message, hidden under the table from the rest of the players. It was different from when she placed her hand on my arm or whispered in my ear. I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me here, and it excited me.
It was that day that Jena learned how to wield the Hammer. It didn't turn out well for her the first time, but, like sex, it's more satisfying after you become more skilled at it. A few months later, she emailed to let me know she'd gotten better.
And now? Well, she's the female champion at the World Series of Poker Circuit in New Orleans.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Last week, she emailed to let me know she'd be in New Orleans for the length of the WSOP Circuit events and she was hoping to finally meet Lady Luck. Unfortunately, I had to let her know that we'd left Leezy-anna for E-Vegas and we wouldn't have a chance to cross paths.
When I saw another email from her, I assumed she'd be expressing her disappointment at that. Instead, it was to express her excitement at her big win! From the WSOP website (Photo courtesy: WSOP):
The "Cajun Queen Classic," which is the fourteenth event on the 2008 Bayou Poker Challenge schedule, concluded today. Jena Delk won the $200 buy-in Ladies Only No-Limit Hold'em competition. The tournament was hosted by the Harrahs New Orleans Casino and Resort. First place paid $16,700. Ms. Delk was also presented with a gold ladies pendant, presented annually to each female champion at the World Series of Poker Circuit here in New Orleans.
I'm really happy for her. She's one of the most engaging people I've ever met. I've played with her in New Orleans and Vegas, in cash games and in a tournament. She brings life to any table she joins.
I imagine she used some agressive early play to build a stack and then used her chip advantage to steal pot after pot from some more timid and inexperienced opponents. I also imagine she got lucky once or twice, as you generally need to. Now I just wish I had been there to see it!
Somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert, the folks at Harrah's rang one hella-big bell, and no amount of bitching and moaning is going to un-ring it. No matter how many times I say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," it's still going to be fixed in one way or another.
The thing is, the WSOP Final Table was broken, at least in terms of how people watch it live.
So, since I have yet to put on the yoke of perpetual cynicism, I've chosen to think about the WSOP Final Table delay in terms of what Harrah's can do now to impress the hell out of everybody.More in this Poker Blog! -->
What was broken
Though there was little real blame to assign, the 2007 World Series of Poker final table left a bit to be desired. Within 24 hours of the end of ten-handed play, 75% of the Rio's Amazon room turned into a warehouse. Hundreds of poker tables disappeared, a small gift shop materialized, and someone scattered a few television monitors and chairs around the floor. In one corner, the feature table--looking as it did for the entire month of the World Series--sat ready for the final nine. Most of the big lights in the room were turned off. It had the feeling of a giant meat locker at the end of a Texas BBQ festival. It felt used up, nearly forgotten, and cold. The fact that nine largely unknown players were competing for millions of dollars was only evident in the few people who got a seat looking down on the final table. Elsewhere in the room, a few bored people sat in chairs, watching the silent TV monitors, and shivering off the conditioned air. Most of the noise in the room came from a single drunk British guy who was soused on Milwaukee's Best (a final reminder that the bar on the edge of the TV table was probably not the best idea... and yes this is ME saying a bar should go the way of the all-in button, poker sauna, and pocket peek cards).
To repeat, the sterile and anticlimactic feel of the room was no one's fault. The Amazon room's size is necessary to accommodate the huge WSOP crowds. When play is nine-handed, the intimate feel of Benny's Bullpen just isn't possible in such a huge room. It didn't make much logistical sense for Harrah's to move out of the Amazon room, and so we were left with something that felt a little like the last gasp of someone very important.
Despite its many problems, the WSOP final table delay offers Harrah's an opportunity to change all of that. Between now and November, Harrah's has a chance to create a final table atmosphere that will be great for the players, the spectators, and the viewers at home.
WSOP Final Table Location
Harrah's officials said in last week's conference call that they have not yet decided how they plan to present the final table. The only firm decision (how firm is a question that neither I nor anybody else asked) is that the WSOP final table will play out at the Rio. Harrah's hope is that the final table will have the atmosphere of a championship NBA game, with poker's version of Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee sitting in courtside seats and fans who have a screaming interest in the outcome.
If Harrah's stays true to the decision to hold the event at the Rio, it has several choices for the exact location of final table play. The first and most obvious choice is the Amazon room or one of the other big convention halls. They are huge and can easily be customized into whatever the production team and Harrah's see fit. Two other suitable locations offer the kind of necessary space--The Penn and Teller Theatre and the Calypso Room, home of Tony N' Tina's Wedding. Though both rooms have the capacity to host the final table, they both lack a certain elasticity required to customize for the traditional theater in the round style of poker finales. Unless I'm forgetting another big room in my Summer home, those are about the only places in the Rio suitable for the final table. If I had to guess, we'll end up back in the Amazon room. It's really the only place at the Rio that makes sense.
There is, however, the possibility (albeit small) that Harrah's will change its mind and move to a different venue. There is one good reason for doing this. The Rio is a destination hotel and casino. The only way you end up there is if you intended to go there or got lost on your way to the Gold Coast or Palms. Strip casinos get walk-up traffic. They draw wanderers and Joe Sixpack in off the street. Hosting the final table somewhere on the Strip would nearly guarantee a bigger live audience than the Rio. Whether you actually want a thousand loud tourists there is another question. I have my opinion, but it only counts for enough to play the 2am at Binion's.
Still, I tried to come up with a Strip location that would draw crowds. I settled on one place that would be fairly unique: the 4000-capacity Roman Plaza amphitheatre outside of Caesars Palace. While November might be a bad month for such a thing and the weather may not agree, it's hard to ignore how neat a venue it would be for a huge production like Harrah's has planned. [On a completely unrelated note: does anyone know if this was the same outdoor venue that hosted the infamous Boom Boom Mancini vs. Duk Koo Kim fight, or was that elsewhere outside Caesars?]
The amphitheatre is a bit over the top, however. First, it's much too big. Second, Vegas is an odd place to do anything outdoors. Still, I've watched three final tables outdoors and it is possible to pull it off. Thing is, you would need that crowd to make it work. How big a crowd? Well, likely many times bigger than you're going to see at the final table.
Does size matter?
I've spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how big of a crowd to expect for the final table. Harrah's obviously wants a big event and would simply be giddy with a crowd that could fill the Roman Amphitheatre. The problem is, if Harrah's goes with something that big and doesn't fill the seats, the entire production will look silly. If Harrah's goes too small, it stands a good chance of not living up to the advanced billing (not to mention shutting people out or putting them in another area like last year). My old friend, Science, is going to have to get involved at some point and work the math. Fortunately, casino companies are good at that kind of thing and will probably come up with a good number.
I like to set lines on times, crowd sizes, durations, etc. After thinking about this for a bit, I have decided to set the O/U on the number of people seated at any one time (not including media and TV production people) watching the final table at 600. This accounts for 10-20 sweaters per final table player, 50 or so of the poker elite, and then the usual lookie-loos and railbirds who show up for these kinds of things.
The more I think about it, we need something the size of a high school gymnasium. I'm not being silly or trying to put down any efforts to make live final table attendance bigger. I'm simply saying that the seating capacity for the WSOP final table should be commensurate with the likely attendance. It should be big enough to allow everyone a clear view of the table, but not so big that the event looks like nobody showed up. Fortunately, with the right planning, construction, and foresight, such place can be created right inside the Amazon room.
It's all in the presentation
There is precious little the tournament organizers can do about who shows up at the final table. They could end up with Scotty, two Phils, and a Professor or they could end up with Dudley, Whitey, and Teddy Foreskin (three guys from the G-Vegas underground, if you were wondering). The point is, the poker is going to be the poker and there is no way to plan to make it a World Series to remember. So, Harrah's and ESPN production company 411 are going to have to do what Vegas does best. They are going to have to present the final table better than it ever has been presented.
First, as mentioned above, there will need be adequate seating for everyone who wants to watch. This does not mean, as it has in the past, two or three rows of bleachers and a bar/balcony area. This means stadium-style seating completely circling the final table and rising up so that everyone can look down on the action.
Of course, because the action is so hard to follow from a distance, there simply must be a variety of big plasma screens so the hundreds of people watching can see everything. Furthermore, the behind-the-scenes production crew should be staffed with a spot-on director who can punch with the best of them. That is, what appears on the plasmas should appear as what spectators would see if they were watching on television. Gone should be the days of seeing only the flop cam. We should see everything. That includes running chip counts on an overhead scoreboard. Impossible you say? Not at all. One perfect chip count at the beginning, an announcement of every bet, and a spread sheet and you have an accurate chip count to display for the entire event.
It can't be all technological, though. You need good people calling the good action. It's a tough job to maintain focus on the cards as well as have a good enough personality to work the crowd. Johnny Grooms, Jack Effel, and Chris Spears have done a good job in the past. We'll need to see as many people with that kind of talent to call the action perfectly and maintain a decent rapport with the crowd.
Those are the big things. There are others , but I'll save those for the day I get hired as a big time consultant.
That happens to be conveniently scheduled for the same week pigs fly and hell freezes over.
Previously:<-- Hide More
The day Harrah's officially announced the much-anticipated final table delay, my IM machine and e-mail struggled under the pressure. Among those instant messages was from Up For Poker blog co-contributor Luckbox with a simple question: "Pro or con?"
I barely thought for a second before answering, "Con." CJ has since written down his thoughts about the WSOP final table delay. I guess it's up to me to take the opposing role. To be honest, it's hard to get up the energy to write with much fervor about the already-decided subject. What's more, I like to keep an open mind about things like this. Finally, I have a great deal of respect for many people in the opposing camp.
Regardless, I've been known to call myself a neotraditionalist. I'm a junkie for all things old school. I'm the old guy who just last Monday night rolled into a poker game with Pet Sounds blowing out of his speakers. More often than not, I like things the way they were more than the way they are. That in mind, you're probably not surprised to learn that I approach the WSOP final table delay--to keep it in the lexicon of you people who live in the now--with a healthy dose of "meh."More in this Poker Blog! -->
The strongest argument made so far is one that's been made by the Con-Delayers so often that I don't need to hammer on it too hard here. A four month delay multiplies the opportunity for deal-making and yes--just say it out loud--collusion by a factor of about 120 times. We'd all like to think that people wouldn't collude on the biggest poker stage in the world. I'd also like to think someone would've found a way to bust Men the Master for his widely-rumored chip dumping and collusion scheme by now. If anything, this debate will mean just about everybody in the poker media will be looking for a hand in which" X-player absolutely had to call Y-player" but did not. I'd like to think Harrah's will be on top of this, but as someone pointed out in the last few days, no one said anything about the 2 million chip disappearance in 2006 until Amy and Tim produced what was probably the most important piece of poker journalism in the past decade. [For more, read Two Million Questions]. The Pro-Delayers wave off the collusion fears. Jeffrey Pollack says, "It would be a mistake," to mess with Harrah's in this way. I'd challenge you to find an already-inclined cheater to give a diddly damn what Harrah's thinks. If they were going to cheat before, they are going to cheat now. Only now, they have four months to figure out with whom to cheat and how best to do it.
As a late night IM said to me yesterday, if the final table delay had been in place in 2006, Richard Lee would've been arrested for bookmaking before the final nine reconvened to decide a champion.
Let's just think about that for a second. It's the most important event in any given year and the 11% of the field can't show up? The Super Bowl would be played with 19 players on the field. More than five cars would not compete in the Daytona 500. It's worse in poker, though. If a player can't make it because of death, emergency, or arrest, the seat won't be filled, but the chips will remain. Think of it like this: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Petty, Dale Jr., Mark Martin, and Greg Biffle all go out and get tossed in the drunk tank the night before the 500. In NASCAR, the vehicles would remain in the garage. Imagine if their cars were put driver-less on the track. The point is that a dead stack always changes play at a table. A dead stack at the final table of the World Series of Poker main event? Please. To the people who say, "Well there is always a chance of someone dying or getting arrested on the night before the final table.": Sure there is. Now there is a chance that lasts four months. Imagine if Stu Ungar had a four-month wait between ten-handed and final table play. Hell, what about Vinny Vihn? What if he makes the final table this year?
The point is this: It's not sympathy for the person who can't show up because he is no longer breathing or is breathing in a Clark County jail cell. It's the unnecessary and distinct change in the game that would happen as a result of that player's absence.
One of the loudest arguments made by the Pro-Delayers is the ability of players to secure better and more lucrative sponsorship deals. Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack has said out loud that he would love to see poker sponsorship become a lot more like NASCAR. For the player, it seems a great thing. It's why pro players gave their blessing to hole card cameras in the first place (more on that in a second).
And so, this is what we've been led to believe is a great thing for players. A four-month delay is...Stop! Agent Time!
As a friend (who can out himself here if he likes) pointed out to me, this decision is great for the nine people who make the final table. They will have four months to get the best possible sponsorship deal. However, this friend pointed out a less obvious consequence: the final 40 or so people in the tournament are going to lose a lot of sponsorship value. I've personally witnessed what I call the WSOP Shirt Dance. As the final five or six tables start to define possibilities for the final table, the sponsors start swooping in with deals, throwing shirts on potential final table candidates. Now, the sponsors can sit back, wait, and get the most value for their dollar. The Shirt Dance will still go on, but I would predict not to as large as a scale as it has in the past. If we're to think of it in Pollack's terms, it's as if sponsors could wait until the final nine laps of the 500 before slapping the Tide or Brylcreem logo on the side of the leading few cars.
In short, Pollack is getting his wish. Sponsorship deals are becoming a lot more like NASCAR...more money for few, less money for the field.
Let's just call this what it is: a great decision for the business and marketing of poker designed to make poker a lot more like NASCAR and make a lot more money for the companies involved in putting it on. It will put a new marzipan on the same poker cake we've been eating for years.
The Pro-Delayer's loudest argument for the change is that it will give ESPN a chance to profile the final table players and turn them into stars before the final table plays out. The idea is two-fold. First, it will grow the poker audience. Second, it will boost ratings for main event coverage. I don't begrudge them those goals. Marketing is a big reason poker has become what it has.
But, let's all be honest with ourselves here. I think, as a business, poker has probably spent up the Moneymaker value. There was a time when most people (even you!) didn't know you could qualify for the World Series through an online poker site. The symbiotic relationship between online poker companies and the WSOP, combined with the revolutionary hole card cameras made poker what it is today. We can thank Henry Orentstein, PokerStars, and Chris Moneymaker for that. Still, today, is there a wide market of people who don't know about online poker qualifying? Can the WSOP fields still grow by such huge percentages? Will a semi-live final table change that? Probably not.
Listen, I applaud Pollack and everyone else for trying to grow the WSOP brand. There was a time when NASCAR had a much more limited audience than I does today. There's a reason the NASCAR explosion happened and it's marketing decisions like they have made for the WSOP final table. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to increase ratings. It will help us all. I'm all for it, in fact.
The problem is, in an effort to market poker to a wider audience, Harrah's is making changes to the game that have a chance at affecting the outcome. Nobody should be in favor of that.
Alternatives to the delay
If we all can agree that the marketing of poker is a great thing if we could somehow get rid of the delay, then I think we should be able to agree that there are better solutions. Four months is an eternity in this world.
The four-month delay serves two purposes. First, it allows people to watch a semi-live event in edited form (Pollack says, "Think the Olympics!"). Second, it allows ESPN to pump up the profiles of the final nine so Joe Six Pack will care about the potential winner in advance.
Both of these are noble goals. There is nothing worse than watching a final table of nine people you don't care about, especially when you already know the outcome. (Note: you would be surprised how many regular Joes out there get really pissed when you tell them who won the WSOP before it shows on TV).
So, what is the solution? Can we have our cake and lick the marzipan too? The answer is yes, if ESPN wants to put up the money and manpower to do it. It's not perfect, but it serves the same purpose without adding unnecessary changes to the game.
Here's how it works: The main event is scheduled to last about a week and half before final table play begins. Full coverage shouldn't start until play is down to the final three tables. At that point, ESPN records the tournament like a live sporting event. Editors work as they go for a next-day broadcast. At the same time, a features crew should already have several features in the can and ready to roll. Finally, when the final table arrives, it is broadcast live (without hole cards) on a secondary ESPN network. Then, for those who want to watch an edited version, 411 (the production team in charge of the WSOP broadcasts) does a cut for the next day.
Would it cost more? Yes. Would it be more difficult? Absolutely. Would it serve the same marketing purpose while not affecting the game? Yes.
Don't think it can be done? Well, an excellent crew out of London does it once or twice a month during the European Poker Tour. Sunset + Vine produces a live webcast of feature and final tables in the final two days of EPT events. The quality is outstanding and the product is very easy to watch. Given, they don't do a next day edit on the final table, but it is possible if people want to do it. If I'm supposed to be thinking of the Olympics, I suppose I'm allowed to point out that we get next-day edits from those production crews.
Simply put, the WSOP is either a sporting event or a reality show. If it's a sporting event, then cover it like one. If it's a reality show, then let's all call it what it is and stop being so high and mighty about it. I prefer the former, but nobody listens to me.
And why it doesn't really matter
The decision has been made here. It has the blessing of some top pros, the Nevada Gaming Commission, and, most importantly, Harrah's, the company that stands to make the most money on the deal. It's a WSOP experiment in poker like...
Like I said, not every experiment is bad. Just most of them. That's what's made me a neotraditionalist.
I actually have a lot of respect for the people behind this idea. I hope it turns out well. I hope nothing goes wrong. I just think it could be done differently and better. As we move forward, we should always be asking ourselves what is more important...the integrity or growth of the game? Moreover, is there ever a time we should put the latter before the former?
I don't think there is, especially when there are viable alternatives to serve both masters.
***<-- Hide More
The folks running the World Series of Poker have decided to delay the final table of the Main Event for nearly four months, from July 16th to November 9th. The nine players will play down to two on the 9th and the heads-up play will be held on the 10th. ESPN will broadcast the event on Tuesday, November 11th.
And that's good for poker. It's good for the players. It's good for the fans. It's good for all of us.More in this Poker Blog! -->
Those complaining about this change are being incredibly short-sighted.
Don't tell me you buy into the "integrity of the event" argument. This is a poker tournament we're talking about, right? A tournament that survived two million mystery chips. A tournament that survived Jamie Gold. A tournment that has survived thousands and thousands of players, a percentage of whom have undoubtedly attempted to circumvent the "integrity" of the event.
Let's take some of the complaints, one by one:
Final Table Coaching
Are we really all that horrified by the idea that the final 9 will actually attempt to get better in those four months? Forgive me for liking the idea that players at the final table might all know what they're doing. I don't think it would take much work in Google to find poker blogs decrying the poor play at the final table. Now we're worried about those same players being coached?
The fact is, each player will have the same opportunity to improve their game as everyone else. It's not as if four months of coaching will turn some Moneymaker-like amateur into Eric Seidel. If you're suggesting it's not fair because an amateur can get better, but a pro can't, then you are making an argument not supported by facts.
Final Table Scouting
Again, this is a bad thing? If anything, this kind of scouting would off-set any so-called advantage the amatuers would gain by being coached. In these 4 months, I'd imagine the final 9 would have plenty of opportunity to play high-profile events. Those more experienced players would likely be better able to use information gathered in those events to pick up the tendencies of their opponents.
However, as I stated above, this is an advantage that ALL final table players would have. Not only would they get a chance to see how they made it to the final table on ESPN, but they'd have new chances to play against them or watch them play before the final table. How can something that improves the level of play be a bad thing?
Colluding, Cheating, Soft-play
I dismiss this suggestion without a second thought. From what I can tell, there were 32 hours between the time the 10th place player busted out at last year's ME and when the final table started play. That's plenty of time for someone to decide to cheat or collude. That's plenty of time for some predator to swoop in and make a play.
What if someone dies?
What if an earthquake swallows Las Vegas?
This all brings us to the reasons this is a good thing for the poker world.
Last year, the WSOP ME ended on July 17th. The world saw Jerry Yang win the bracelet on October 9th. And despite that length of time, there was no effort made to promote those people we all knew would be at the final table. Yang probably got five minutes of air time before it got down to the final two tables.
The year before, there was a month and a half between when Jamie Gold raised his arms in victory in one of the more controversial WSOP ME's in recent years and when we all got to see it on ESPN. Gold, despite his long list of flaws, was one of the more compelling champs in recent years. And he was nearly anonymous until the day it aired.
And aren't they the ones that matter?
Ask yourself, when did poker explode? It exploded when Chris Moneymaker captured the American imagination. He was the first real poker TV star. He was the everyman. Online play went through the roof. And that was good for all of us. Every schulb from Anytown, USA thought he could win the WSOP. They logged on, and they gave us their money.
Since then, I believe the poker world has failed to capitalized on the personalities who can bring even more players to the real and virtual tables. Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem? Nice guys, but have they compelled anyone to play? Jamie Gold could have been the next great villain, but the opportunity was squandered. Jerry Yang? Well... I'm not sure he helps my case.
But it's not just about the winners. It's about all 9 players. For the first time ever, we'll have a chance to delve into the stories of these players. By the time we see the final table, more Americans than ever will know who they are. And for the first time, you won't be able to jump online and Google the winner.
This change is made to increase the exposure of the World Series of Poker. It's to generate a new breed of excitement. And despite all of the selfish, profit-driven reasons of Harrah's and ESPN, this is good for us. It will help convince more people to stop being just a spectator and to start being a player. The more fish in the sea, the more we get to eat.
And what's so wrong about that?<-- Hide More