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Black Friday effects worn by players at Main Event

8 Jul 2011

By Dan Igo
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- When the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker on April 15, many pundits expected to see big changes at the World Series of Poker. They were predicting everything from major drops in field sizes to major changes in wardrobes.

Who could blame them? According to PokerScout, traffic fell at all three seized sites by more than 25 percent in the immediate aftermath of the indictments.

This left those three rooms in a bind. PokerStars reduced its guaranteed prize pool in the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker from $45 million to $25 million. The room’s popular TV program "The Big Game" was canceled.
Ludovic Lacay wasn

Ludovic Lacay wasn't the only French player sporting a Winamax patch. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Full Tilt Poker still hasn't repaid its American players, and less than two weeks ago saw its license suspended by the Alderney Gambling Control Commission.

Absolute Poker, meanwhile, has fallen to 35th in the latest PokerScout traffic rankings, and few players believe they'll ever get paid.

It was assumed that the spillover from Black Friday would carry over to the WSOP. And you can see the stark effects of these indictments at the Main Event, but it has nothing to do with the number of players in the field.

This year’s World Series of Poker is expected to be one of the most well-attended of all time. As Casino City’s Aaron Todd reported last week, field sizes have increased in almost every event compared to last year, including the $50,000 Poker Players Championship.
 Former November Niner Antoine Saout represented, also a French-based poker room.

Former November Niner Antoine Saout represented, also a French-based poker room. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

But Black Friday’s immediate impact is noticeable in the attire of the 897 players who competed on Day 1A. The lack of patches on hats, shirts, sleeves and sweaters stands out.

In years past you could hardly turn your head without seeing someone wearing a Full Tilt hat or rocking a PokerStars shirt.

This year those two logos are hard to find. Casino City counted less than five Full Tilt patches in the Amazon Room on Day 1A of the Main Event. In fact, it looked like there were more players sporting Winamax patches than Full Tilt.

No, Winamax isn’t a new glass cleaner. It is a poker room that only operates in the regulated French market. Professional players Tristan Clemencon and Ludovic Lacay both wore Winamax patches on Day 1A.

Former November Niner Antoine Saout represented, another French-only poker site. And he wasn’t the only one sporting a patch with a European domain. Plenty of Italian players wore patches of poker rooms with the .it domain name.
Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst was one of the few Americans to sport an online poker room patch.

Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst was one of the few Americans to sport an online poker room patch. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

The WSOP’s ability to expand into markets outside the United States has been one of its greatest achievements. Two of the last three Main Event champions come from outside the U.S. This year's WSOP has seen bracelet winners from seven countries outside the U.S., including multiple bracelet winners from Canada, Ukraine, France, Great Britain and Russia. The World Series of Poker Europe, launched in 2007 in London, has been an unabashed success.

In October, the WSOPE will be held in Cannes, France, the first time the event has been held on the European mainland. Points earned during the WSOPE will also count towards the prestigious "Player of the Year" standings, giving stars like Phil Hellmuth and Jason Mercier even more incentive to travel across the pond and compete.

Tournament Director Jack Effel also made sure to inform everyone at the Main Event that WSOPE entries can be purchased at the Rio for those who are nervous about traveling abroad with a major amount of cash.
  Josh Ariah, like most other American players, was patchless.

Josh Ariah, like most other American players, was patchless. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

The European market is the future for poker. A walk through the Amazon Room feels like a stroll through the United Nations. Players converse with tablemates and friends in assortments of languages that aren’t English. Many of these players enjoy the comfort of playing online poker in a regulated environment.

For Americans, however, there are far more questions than answers about the future of poker. Black Friday discussion was heard at the tables on Thursday in the Amazon Room. One player said a friend had "80 percent of his net worth tied up in Full Tilt." Two other players at a different table speculated about when a regulated environment might come to the States.

Vanessa Selbst, a member of Team PokerStars Pro, was one of the few Americans who wore patches of online poker rooms. Most of the other prominent Americans either remained patchless (like Isaac Haxton and Josh Arieh) or wore patches of training sites such as Cardrunners and Stack’em Coaching (like Brian Hastings and Matt Affleck).

Poker Royalty founder Brian Balsbaugh tweeted Thursday that in the Main Event from 2007-2010, players who competed on ESPN’s featured tables split approximately $150,000 per day in hat and patch sponsorships. In 2011 they’re splitting zero.

Of course, most of this money came from PokerStars, Full Tilt and Poker. Little-known poker players who were lucky enough to play at the featured table could essentially freeroll the Main Event by wearing the patch of one of those poker rooms. That is no longer the case.

The 2011 WSOP is ground zero for the changing of the guard in the poker landscape. The WSOP says the tournament is stronger and better than ever. And that may be true. But it is also very different from what it was just a year ago. And depending on where you stand, that may or may not be a good thing.
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