WSOP Main Event final table moved to November
By Vin Narayanan
The final table for the World Series of Poker Main Event has been moved to November, Harrah's announced today. Harrah's hopes the 117-day pause in action increases the publicity and drama surrounding poker's premier event.
"Our intent is to provide an even bigger stage for our players," said WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. "Now fans and viewers will ask 'who will win' our coveted championship bracelet instead of 'who won.' The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented."
This is a very exciting day for both the WSOP and ESPN," said Jamie Horowitz, senior producer for ESPN Content Development. "Just as when baseball added the wild card and NASCAR added the Cup chase, this has the potential to add new drama and we're excited about it."
"The same day telecast will be a must see," Pollack added.
"Expect poker's biggest names to come out, whether or not they're playing," Pollack said. "There will also be stars of film, television and music."
In previous years, the Main Event concluded in the summer and ESPN aired a tape-delayed broadcast months after the fact. This year the Main Event will begin as planned on July 3 and continue until nine players are remaining. But final table action won't begin until Nov. 9, when the players will take to felt and play until the field is narrowed to two. Heads-up action will begin on Nov. 10 and WSOP officials say they don't expect the champion to be crowned until the early hours of Nov. 11. ESPN will broadcast an edited version of the final table on Nov. 11 from 9-11 p.m. ET.
The rest of the World Series of Poker, which runs from May 30 to July 14, remains unchanged. ESPN will begin airing its coverage of the Series on July 22, with two hours of programming every Tuesday through Nov. 11.
On Nov. 4, there will be a one-hour final table preview that documents what the players have been doing during the break, Horowitz said.
"In the final show, the storytelling will more precisely detail their journey," Horowitz added.
The WSOP says it worked closely with its Players Advisory Council (PAC) in making the switch.
"The embryo was created internally (at Harrah's Entertainment)," said WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky. "But then we bounced it off several of the thought leaders in the industry, including our television partners and players."
"There was a vigorous debate, and things just mushroomed from there," Palansky added.
The whole process, from the conception of the idea to approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which came Tuesday, took over a year.
"It really gained steam in February when we got through all the major hurdles that we were tasked with," Palansky added. "And then it became a matter of taking it to the various interested parties to ensure each group could do their part to ensure its success."
"In the end, everyone loved the idea of trying to align our product with TV and create 15 weeks of programming and a same day result."
"This is a huge step forward for poker and more specifically poker on television," said Daniel Negreanu, a WSOP PAC member and three-time bracelet winner in Harrah's statement announcing the change. ""Not only will this innovative step create more buzz for the final table, the added time prior to the final table will help get poker mainstream media attention."
Outside of the PAC, however, player reaction has been mixed.
"I am very torn over this proposal," said Greg Raymer, 2004 Main Event champion and member of Team PokerStars Pro. "It might be huge for the continued growth of poker, however, the down side is this long gap allows the players to become completely different people between the time they make the final table, and when they play it."
"I feel it's a big tease to people who want to wake up the next day and win the big bucks," said Hevad Khan, a PokerStars pro who was also finalist at last year's table. "I think that is this idea is fresh, but needs some more adjusting and review."
The general consensus appears to be that the 117-day hiatus, which gives final table players the chance to study their competitors, obtain sponsorships and hone their own games, helps the amateurs the most.
"I'm not sure what to think," says PokerStars Pro Isabelle Mercier. "For sure the delayed final would give some great exposure to the finalists and plenty of time to get in good shape for the final. But it would probably favor the amateurs who would have time to train with a pro. My opinion, they should play the final straight with the tournament and not months later."
"It doesn't bother me to have the final table later," says Chad Brown, another popular PokerStars pro. "But I do think it will be an advantage to the amateur players, because they will have time to get coaching and a scouting report against the better players."
"Also, the endurance advantage that comes into play will be taken away," Brown says. "The upside for the pros is the huge publicity leading up to the final table. Bottom line: If I make the final table, I could care less what they do."
Palansky agrees that the break "levels the playing field." But he says that this will also improve the quality of play "and better tournament play should be embraced by participants and the public."