Top 10 random observations from the WSOP Main Event
By Gary Trask
10. The PokerGo/Poker Central/ESPN marriage is a home run
Poker Central's live streaming of the WSOP on PokerGO has been a fantastic addition this year. It has done a remarkable job of enhancing the usual excellent coverage that ESPN has produced over the years.
"It's been different, for sure, but it seems like whatever coverage we provide, the people want more," Lon McEachern told us over the weekend. "And that's a good sign."
McEachern, Norman Chad and Antonio Esfandiari remain the "A" announcing team, and for good reason. Their chemistry is terrific. Chad is as quick-witted as it gets, and you won’t get better insights from a more credible source than The Magician.
The trio got relief on PokerGO from Ali Nejad and a rotating roster of commentators, most of whom have been excellent, particularly Phil Laak.
But the best and most compelling breakdown comes from the anchor desk during breaks in the action. Kara Scott, an accomplished poker pro herself who is superb at steering the ship, has been joined by the likes of Maria Ho, Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and David Williams, all of whom have provided astute and entertaining analysis.
Poker on TV has never been better, and it’s a credit not only to the pretty faces on air, but to the dozens of talented producers and assistants that have been running around the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino all summer, digging up interesting tidbits and information about the players.
Poker is lucky to have so many great commentators. Hats off to Nick Schulman, @MagicAntonio Ali Nejad, and of course Norm and Lon! ??????— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) July 17, 2017
9. Live stream has been a game-changer
With the increased semi-live coverage on ESPN over the years and the addition of PokerGO comes the opportunity for players — and their friends, advisors and coaches — to watch the coverage on delay and then see what their opponents' hole cards were in specific hands. In other words, from a strategic standpoint, it's huge.
"It's today's technology and it's become a big part of the game," 2013 WSOP Main Event champ Ryan Riess told us on Monday night as railed his friends Scott Stewart and Ben Lamb. "You have to use every edge you can get, and that's something that can really help you, so I think you'd be crazy not to take advantage."
8. Healthy diets more prevalent
It's been interesting to watch the eating habits of WSOP players change over the years. My first year covering the WSOP was in 2008, and since that time, it appears the diets of the players have improved dramatically. Instead of pizza, fries and alcoholic beverages at the table, you see a lot more sushi rolls, fruit and water.
This year, All American Dave set up shop outside the Rio in the parking lot in the exact same spot where, back in the day, the Poker Kitchen used to sit. All American Dave offers a "macronutrient balanced menu" with enriched vegetables, low glycemic carbohydrates, healthy fats, no heated oil, gluten-free options and 100% organic fruit protein shakes. Players could set up meal plans, order their food via Twitter and have it delivered to their table.
"I definitely think players these days are living a healthier lifestyle, and it starts with diet," said 888 Poker ambassador Sofia Lovgren, the 26-year-old Swedish pro with 11 career WSOP cashes, including her first in the Main Event this year. "It's quite boring, but I drink lots of water, and eat tons of fruit and nuts, as well. It helps you handle the long hours much better. I can play long hours without getting tired if I eat right, get a good night's sleep and exercise."
Further proof that players these days take being fit seriously? Benjamin Pollack told Kara Scott that during Monday night's 90-minute dinner break, he ducked into the gym for a quick workout.
Something tells us this isn't something Doyle Brunson and Stu Ungar were doing during their multiple runs to the Main Event final table.
7. Mobile phones have limited table talk
Another major change over the years that I've noticed is that players simply don't talk as much in between hands as they used to, and cell phones are to blame.
As soon as they muck their cards, most players immediately pick up their phones to text friends, read e-mail, play "Words with Friends" or post updates on social media. Sometimes you'll sit there and watch a table, and the silence in between hands is deafening. (When players are at a TV featured table, they must get up and walk away from the table if they want to look at their phone.)
Luckily, we still have the likes of Negreanu, Laak, Esfandiari and Hellmuth playing regularly. These are the guys who were grinding it out before cell phones were even around so they aren't afraid to chat up their tablemates. The younger players, it seems, just don't have any interest in, or the knack for, making small talk at the table.
In case you missed it, the WSOP released some eyebrow-raising numbers on Monday morning regarding this year's participation.
To summarize, the WSOP saw a 12.2% increase over its 74 events with 120,995 entries. That marks the first time the event has ever drawn 120,000-plus players. The WSOP also broke the record for highest average field size per bracelet event (1,635), and the 2017 Main Event was the third largest in the 48-year history of the series, with 7,221 players — coming in behind the 2010 and 2006 Main Events, which had 7,319 and 8,773, respectively.
So, the next time someone tries to re-ignite the narrative that poker is "dying," keep these numbers handy.
5. Calling the clock
As we discussed with WSOP Director Jack Effel, the new rule regarding calling the clock has been applauded by players and tournament officials alike.
The rule allows floor directors to intervene when they feel a table or certain players are going too slowly. Pace of play became a huge issue during the 2015 Main Event final table, and again last year during the late stages when the now-infamous William Kassouf was ripped apart by fellow players for his deliberate style of play and incessant table talk.
The WSOP generally does a very good job of listening to player feedback, and it took the complaints about pace of play to heart. During the last week, I noticed a lot more players calling the clock on each other than in years past, and rarely did I see fellow players getting upset.
"I definitely think the new rule helped, and I was glad to see the clock being called more often," Riess said. "I honestly believe that at some point we are going to see a shot clock type of situation. And I would welcome that. Every other sport has a clock. It's best for everyone if we keep things moving."
4. Poker Hall of Fame needs a home
The 2017 class of the Poker Hall of Fame will be inducted as part of Main Event final table festivities late this week. But once the new members are "enshrined," what happens next? Well, nothing.
You see, the Poker Hall of Fame is considered "virtual." It doesn’t have an actual home. Our suggestion is for the WSOP set up a dedicated room at the Rio during the entire WSOP that serves as a home for the Hall of Fame. Plaques could be created, the room could filled with photos and memorabilia, and Hall of Famers could make appearances to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
After the WSOP, it would go back to its virtual state — but during the most important seven-week stretch of the poker season, when the most dedicated fans of the game are congregated under one roof, it would have a home.
3. Back-to-back final table bid falls short
Absolutely mind-boggling to see Michael Ruane come one elimination away from reaching back-to-back WSOP Main Event final tables.
When he officially became the 2017 final table bubble boy at 1:18 a.m. on Tuesday, an obviously distraught Ruane made a quick exit off the stage, but someday, hopefully, he will look back and realize how amazing it was for him to come so close to another final table.
As we pointed out over the weekend, when Mark Newhouse did it in 2013 and 2014, ESPN calculated that the odds of pulling off the feat were 1 in 524,079. Because of the increased fields, Ruane's threat to go back to the final table for a second year in a row was even more imposing.
Antoine Saout and Ben Lamb both secured their second career Main Event final table appearances. In the 48-year history of the WSOP, only 40 players have made multiple trips to the final table. Brunson and Jesse Alto are the all-time leaders with five apiece, but only six other players have more than three appearances.
2. WSOP needs more guys like John Hesp
On the other end of the spectrum from the ultra-skilled and accomplished players like Ruane, Lamb and Saout, there is the unfathomable story of John Hesp.
The 64-year-old from England is an amateur player whose tournament experience consists mostly of £10 buy-ins back home at Napoleons Casino & Restaurant - Bradford. He's playing in his first WSOP, and early on in the Main Event he was getting attention from the rail for his colorful attire and Panama hat. But as the event wore on and his chip stack increased with each day, the TV time he received was about much more than just his vibrant wardrobe.
Now that he's reached the final table, he will be the surefire most popular player in poker for at least the next few days.
"It's been surreal, unbelievable, out of this world, the most fantastic experience of my life," he told us during a break in the action on Monday night. "I'm running out of words to describe it. I'm just a simple guy from a small town who plays a little bit of recreational poker maybe once or twice a month. So, to me, this entire experience is just incredible."
Hesp is a likable guy with a humble disposition, but what's most impressive about him is the gentlemanly way he handles himself at the table. On a couple of occasions we saw him lose big pots in crucial spots when the cards didn’t go his way and there was no temper tantrum or bitter tirade. Instead, he would say something along the lines of, "Well, I guess it was his time," as he congratulated the person who just took his chips.
And when a player sitting at his table was eliminated, Hesp — a married father of four and grandfather of seven — would typically be the first to stand up, make his way over to the dejected opponent, look him in the eye and pat him on the back or shake his hand.
So, combine the tremendous underdog story with the fact that Hesp is a decent guy, you can see why he's become a sentimental favorite for fans watching both here at the Rio and on TV. He said his Facebook page has been blowing up with friend requests from as far away as Japan.
He's also been getting support from a few notable pros. Esfandiari was openly rooting for him during the TV coverage, and on Monday during a break Hellmuth approached him, introduced himself and gave him a signed copy of his new book, Poker Brat. Inside the front cover it read, "We need a guy like you at the final table."
Hesp has been in Las Vegas alone, but now that he had landed a spot at most prestigious final table in poker, his wife, son-in-law and son will be joining him. They were expected to head to Las Vegas on Tuesday.
1. The end of the November Nine has been embraced
Other than yours truly, there aren't too many people here at the Rio who are lamenting the end of the November Nine Era, which the WSOP canned earlier this year.
To be fair, when the concept was introduced nine years ago, it was met with much disdain from many poker players and traditionalists, so the fact that it lasted as long as it did is a feat in itself.
But, as Effel pointed out, with the ability to air the majority of the Main Event as it played out in July, there was really no reason to have the delay anymore.
Most every player we spoke with said they were happy the change was made, and everyone was excited to see how everything will play out this week. Other than obligations for ESPN interviews and film sessions, the nine final table players will get what will amount to nearly three days of rest before play begins on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time.
It will also be interesting to see how the new logistics and footprint at the Rio play out for the final table. During the entire November Nine Era, the final table was played inside the 1,500-seat Penn & Teller Theater. This year it has been moved to the 1,715 square-foot Brasilia Room, which will likely only seat a few hundred.