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.
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?