Let's face it. Unless you are part of the full-time poker world, are from Phoenix, or read Pokerati, you probably hadn't heard of Tom Schneider until this year. Hell, I bet only 10% of the people who read this blog actually know who he is now. Yet, Tom Schneider is the 2007 World Series Player of the Year. There's no taking that away from him. Further, there is no taking away the check he earned for getting there. Tom will hold the title--much better than the nickname "donkeybomber" he carries around with him--until at least summer of 2008.
And there's a damn good chance when the next person wins it, Tom will fade back into the same obscurity in which he wallowed up to this point.
Is it right? No. Is it how the New Poker World works? Sadly, yes.
Donkey Bomber: Bracelet Boy
Tom Schneider is the only person who won more than one bracelet in the 2007 World Series of Poker. It remains to be seen how much--if any--of donkeybomber we will see on ESPN or whether Tom will ever be able to parlay his achievement into a sponsored poker career. My guess is that the chances of either happening in any great amount are pretty slim.
That's the biggest shame about this. From what I can tell and from all the people I've spoken to, Tom is more than just a great poker player. He's also a damned nice guy, a pretty good poker commentator, and stands a good chance at making any potential sponsors a lot of money--given that he gets the chance to enter as many events as sponsored players do.
I think Tom is deserving of much more than he has received in the poker world. Because he is a chubby white guy who doesn't make it on TV doesn't mean the guy doesn't have a lot of poker skill. As the only man to win two World Series bracelets this year, he should be turning down sponsorship offers right and left instead of having to use his body-billboard space to pimp his own book. Of course, sponsors don't pick people up for poker skill. They pick people up to get their pictures in magazines and on TV with the sponsor's logo attached. If Tom had a set of perfect C-cup breasts or had once read the news during a bad year of Saturday Night Live, he would've been wearing an online poker site logo after his first bracelet. Instead, he was working overtime on Bluff Radio to work on his name ID during the main event.
In interviews with Tom, I heard poker commentators say much of the above about Tom--he's not a sexy bitch or a celebrity, and thus shouldn't expect to be handed a sponsorship deal just because he won Player of the Year. In a perfect poker world, winning POY should at least get a guy a one-year deal with somebody. I mean, in the name of Johnny Moss, there are people with open-ended deals who have never won a major event, let alone a bracelet. Let alone two bracelets. Let alone Player of the Year.
Next year I recommend Tom shave his legs, wear a short skirt, and yell a lot at the tables. Either that, or he's paying his own fare for another WSOP.
What of the Year?
Tom Schneider is more than a victim of his sex and age. He's also a victim of a victim of a flawed Player of the Year calculation system. A lot of people (me included) didn't think this year's method of point-assignment was anywhere close to correct. Because of that, Tom's achievement didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have.
To be fair, there is no perfect system and no matter how you calculate POY, there is always going to be somebody bitching about how they had a better year. Every year has had its calculation problems. This year, I think, was the worst in recent memory.
The two best years to look at in terms of different methods of calculation are 2005 and 2007. In 2005, there was a weighted system based on number of entries and finishing position. This year, there was no weighting, but the $10,000 championship event and $50,000 HORSE events were excluded. Neither method is fair to the players.
The biggest failure in the 2005 Player of the Year award was it weighted the size of the field too heavily. If you won the main event, you automatically got the same number of points of someone who won three bracelets in events with fewer than 100 players. That's obviously more than a little screwed up. The 2005 system assigned more weight to a field of 5000 than it did a field of 2000. Think on that for a second while I trash the 2007 so-called solution to the problem.
The people behind the 2007 Player of the Year award decided to exclude the Main Event and the $50,000 HORSE World Championship. Without any independent verification, I can only assume the Main Event was excluded because of its size and the HORSE event was excluded because its buy-in was too huge to be considered an open event.
Let's get this straight: It is ridiculous not to consider the Main Event and HORSE events in Player of the Year awards. If the main event is considered to be the world championship and the HORSE event is meant to determine the best all-around player, excluding those events from Player of the Year makes the award rather meaningless.
To solve the problem, one has to first either include the HORSE event or exclude most of the Championship events that include re-buys. The $5,000 PLO re-buy event cost some players as much as an entry to the HORSE event, so to include one and exclude the other doesn't make sense. The abililty to buy into a tournament does not indicate poker skill, but punishing players for being able to buy into an event by not awarding them POY points is not logical or fair. That is, if Freddy Deeb can make it through one of the toughest fields in history but not get POY points for it, it would make Tom Schneider's POY carry less importance. That is, in part, what happened this year.,
Even though Tom won two bracelets and Player of the Year, his POY award comes with an asterix and I think that probably bothers him as much as anybody else.
Re-Scoring the World Series Player of the Year
So, how should the Player of the Year be calculated? I think the solution is pretty simple. You take an amalgam of past calculation methods and apply them fairly across the board. I'd call this the Otis System, but I can't really take credit for it. It's simply the common sense approach to POY point assignment and is based on past years' systems, minus the poor judgment of people making the rules.
First, we include every open event. That excludes the Ladies, Seniors, Media, and Casino Employee events. If anyone is barred from playing because of sex, age, or profession, it doesn't count. What's more, we don't factor buy-in or prize pools into the equation. Poker bankrolls do not equate to poker talent. The only thing that matters is finishing order weighted on the number of entries.
The Points-Per-Place is a fairly arbitrary number, but it seems like people in the past have wanted to award 100 points for a bracelet, so I'm happy to start with that number. Here is a modified version of the 2005 point system (modified because I think some of the 2005 system gave too little credit for some final table spots and too much credit for squeaking into the money).
In the money (Top half) 10
In the money (Bottom half) 5
Now, this is where it gets important. In past years, the size of the field could multiply your points-per-place by up to three times. I think that's obscene. The most a place should be multiplied by is two. Further, while I think the weighting of a field is important, I don't think it should be so complicated that a place-point is mutipled by .1 for every hundred or so players in the field.
When I explained this to Mrs. Otis, at first she gave me a look and said, "Why? Isn't it harder to beat a field of 6000 than it is a field of 2000?" At first I balked and thought, "Hell, maybe I am wrong. It does follow logically that it's harder to beat a field off 6,000 than it is one of 2,000." Then I changed my mind again and stood my ground. Here's why:
Despite what my wife would have me believe, size matters. However, there are a ton of other factors that come into play. Is it a no-limit or limit tournament? Is it a specialty game or standard hold'em? As the title "Player of the Year" would suggest, it doesn't matter whether you're the best for one day or one tournament. Thus, the ability to wade through the $1,500 no-limit events or the $10,000 event but cash nowhere else should not carry a 3x weight. It also doesn't make sense to not give the larger events a few extra points. In the past, the weighting system has been too complicated, but that's not un-fixable. What's more I think it can be simplified.
I don't think there are many reasonable people out there who will argue with me. It simply doesn't take any measurably greater skill to beat a poker field of 6,000 than it takes to beat a field of 2,100. It certainly isn't something that can be quantified by a simple decimal-pointed multiplier. However, I think there is a much greater difference between a field of 500 and 2000. I don't want to be crude, but when it comes to breasts, there's small, average, large, and big. Once you get past big, they're still just big. Sure, there might be different cup sizes, but it terms of breasts, they're just big. Your average joe on the street isn't going to be able to tell the difference between EE and GG breasts. They're just big. So are poker tournaments.
Sure, we could make it a lot more complicated and break down every event by its game, limits, etc. We could assign values based on those factors. However, if we're looking for a simple and fair way of assigning value, size is pretty easy. I think World Series of Poker fields can be broken down into three sizes. There are the 500 and smaller fields, the 500-1500 fields, and 1500+ fields. Using these categories both takes into account size and types of games as far as the World Series is concerned.
0-500= These events usually are made up of big buy-in or specialty events that draw smaller fields. The field of players is either wealthier or more talented at specific games than other fields.
500-1500=This is where most of the fields fall in terms of numbers. If you're playing an event with a $2,500-$5,000 buy-in, you're probably playing in a 500-1,500 sized field.
1,500+ = Ordinarily, if an event has more than 1,500 people, it's a cheap no-limit hold'em event or the main event.
Now, assigning a multiplier to the field size is a bit arbitrary, as well. However, I think this is likely the most fair.
Size of Field Multiplier
0-500 = 1.0
1500+ = 2.0
Tom Schneider actually asked his readers to come up with something like the above and then apply it to the people who might have stood a chance at winning POY this year. Using my scale, here's how Tom's selections would've fared this year.
Tom Schneider: 275
Jeff Lisandro 212.5
Robert Mizrachi 227.5
Phil Hellmuth: 320
Freddy Deeb: 120
As much as I hate to admit it, my system takes Tom's possibilities and awards Poker Brat Phil Hellmuth Player of the Year. Frankly, I don't think it would be far off. Out of everyone on that list, Hellmuth had more cashes and won more money than anybody but Deeb (who is only on the list because he won the HORSE event). Is Hellmuth a better player than the others? That's up for debate. Did he have a better year than the others? That depends on how we define greatness. If it is by bracelets, then no. If it's by consistency an winning, I think the answer is yes. No one can deny Hellmuth's talent. Like Schneider, Hellmuth was also victimized by this year's scoring system.
The Real Player of the Year
Left unapplauded in all of this is the man who likely deserves a little more attention. You won't know who he is until ESPN broadcasts the final table of the main event. He is either the perfect example or the fy in the ointment of my system. I'll leave it for you to decide.
Alexander Kravchenko is a humorless Russian who cashed as many times as Hellmuth, won as many bracelets as Hellmuth, made as many final tables as Hellmuth, and won more money than Hellmuth and Schneider combined. However, you don't see him popping up on many a list. Kravchenko won a Omaha 8/b bracelet, bubbled the final table of a HORSE event, and took fourth in the main event. That's not to mention his cashing in Pot-Limit Hold'em, SHOE, and Stud 8/b events. Under my scoring system, he would edge Hellmuth by about 25 points.
Now, look at it a little closer. Helmuth may have had six cashes this year, but every one of them was in a Hold'em event. Schneider may have won two bracelets, but he only had three cashes, not one of them was in a field of more than 670 people, and the closest he got to a hold'em game was the H of the HORSE event in which he took fourth. All the while, Kravchenko was successful across just about every discipline (where were you in triple draw, Ivan?).
This is not to say Kravchenko is better than Schneider and Hellmuth. It's only to say, under my system and a little bit of logic, Kravchenko had a better year and, thus, should've been named player of the year.
The fact that anyone is arguing about this is another good case that the game has arrived. If there are reasonable people discussing the various merits and talents of players, it's a lot closer to two Boston fans sitting in a bar and running over stolen base and pitching stats.
The World Series of Poker is trying, too. It spent most of the summer sending out various lists of records and superlatives for the media to publish (most cashes, most bracelets, number of times players took a piss next to Pauly, etc). That's really where it gets confusing.
Hellmuth holds tons of records for numbers of bracelets. Schneider won more bracelets than anybody this year. Kravchenko? Well, he's a Russian guy who had a damned good year at the World Series. Much like Tom's pained life in the world of unfair anonymity, my next door neighbor will likely never know the Russian's name. Hell, I've almost forgotten it already.
And he should've won Player of the Year.