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Casino City Debates - The Merits of the WCOOP

28 Sep 2006

In the second installment of Casino City Debates (CCD), reporters Ryan McLane and Aaron Todd argue the merits of the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) and try to determine its place among poker's biggest tournaments.

CCD arguments are unscripted debates about poker conducted via email from two computers approximately 12 feet apart. Our reporters send their arguments back and forth, adding to the debate without editing. Well, sometimes they edit for grammar, but only when Vin the boss is looking. Here is the debate in chronological order.

26September06: 10:43 a.m.

I was skeptical at first. The WCOOP seemed like another online ploy to get people to drop hefty tournament fees to play in a regular series of guaranteed tournaments. But after watching a few of the events in 2006, I've decided that the WCOOP can legitimately be called the online championships.

There are three main reasons for my claim:

1.) The series has longevity. This is the fifth year Poker Stars has run the WCOOP and each year, the event has grown. This is similar to the way the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour grew into premier International poker tournaments. As online poker continues to grow, so will a mainstream championship series like the WCOOP.

2.) 2006 saw the first two-time WCOOP winner. The problem with the large online guaranteed tournaments in that it's hard for people to recognize the players, and in turn, cheer for their favorites. As the popularity of the series climbs, so will the repeat players, allowing fans to return to see how their favorite online players are faring.

3.) Professionals are playing in the events. Players like Joe Hachem, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, Chris Moneymaker, Johnny Bax and Tom McEvoy (A host of other professionals are in the field as well, just not under their own names) are in most of these fields, allowing a large audience to watch these popular professionals play live. Granted, most of these players are contractually tied to Poker Stars, but still, the excitement levels provided by having these players in the tournament allows for a significant participation draw.

26September06: 11:16 a.m.

I had the same initial reaction that you had to the WCOOP. And while I'm starting to come around, I'm still not quite as excited about the series as you.

Yes, the series has been running for five years and with the star power involved, it has gained some credibility. There is no doubt that it takes a great deal of skill to win one of these tournaments, and the fact that "spawng" won his second WCOOP title does prove that he is a great player.

However (you knew that was coming), I have no connection to a screen name. There is no personality attached to screen names, so I have no one to root for. Yes, there are huge cash prizes involved, and it's an interesting phenomenon. But I don't think we'll ever get to a point where we argue about who the best online poker player is, simply because we don't get to know the players.

I try to read through tournament summaries but the only interesting details are the number of entrants, the total prize pool and the first place check. The winner, to me, is irrelevant, and I've never heard anyone say that about the World Series of Poker.

26September06: 11:48 a.m.

The excitement comes from the growth. Really, when you began watching the WSOP or the WPT, did you really get attached to the hundreds of players you'd never heard of before? The telecasts created poker's famous names and I think as the WCOOP grows, we'll see some online heroes and villains emerge.

Plus, watered down poker telecasts have aired a bunch of players I could not care less about. I hate to pick on him, but Doug Kim? Will we hear from him again, or did he have his moment in the sun at the WSOP Main Event, only to face the obscurity sunset that many one-day wonders experience. I agree that live poker is more appealing because we can see the players react, but really, can you get attached to players like Doug Kim? (Yeah I know I'm overusing this one player, but seriously, he couldn't have been more boring).

I like the WCOOP because it's different. WPT events had the same appeal to me when they first came out and now watching Vince Van Patten has become a weekly ritual. If you watch a final table of the WCOOP, personalities do surface during the play. It's fun watching todddoesntknowanything32 trying to use the chat tool to manipulate his opponents. And, because you don't have to face opponents in person, players berate each other without consequence, providing for amusing rants about how to play poker.

I agree that screen names are tough to become enamored with, but as we see more people have strong repeat performances at the WCOOP (like spawng), I think we'll start to learn more about certain screen names. In a way, this will bring them to life.

Plus, who doesn't like the old who the hell is this guy controversy?

26September06: 12:55 p.m.

You are correct that when I first started watching poker tournaments, I had no idea who any of the people I was watching were (except maybe Johnny Chan). The difference between live tournaments and online tournaments, however, is the tournament coverage. ESPN does an outstanding job revealing the personalities of the players in the World Series of Poker. Sure, Steve Dannenman may never cash in a live tournament again. But I LOVE that guy. Who wouldn't love that guy? By the time ESPN was broadcasting the final table, I was rooting for him even though I already knew he finished second.

Televised coverage allows emotions to come through. Sure, someone can type a biting remark into a chat box, but reading a line isn't nearly as memorable as seeing and hearing Mike Matusow in a verbal spat at the table, or watching pros imitate other pros on ESPN's feature "The Nuts." When an online tournament gets to a final table, they continue to be nine anonymous screen names, and even if they win, I don't learn anything about their lives that would make them interesting. Online poker doesn't allow for "character development," so it's harder to find a rooting interest in a tournament.

These shortcomings do not diminish the fact that the WCOOP have been a tremendous success. Getting over 650 people to sign up for a Seven-Card Stud tournament with a $320 buy-in is an impressive accomplishment (almost 200 more than the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud tournament at the WSOP). I think that the greatest part of the WCOOP is that games other than No Limit Hold'em get more than just lip service. Adding a H.O.R.S.E. event, and even starting off with a Razz event, shows that Poker Stars is serious about putting together a well-rounded series rather than raising as much money as possible with 18 different No Limit Hold'em events.

Final Thoughts:

26September06: 3:33 p.m.

The WCOOP will never go toe-to-toe with televised tournaments like the WSOP and the WPT for the reasons you've outlined above. Character development is much easier on television, in the same way that Americans prefer to watch the tube rather than read.

But that doesn't mean the WCOOP doesn't now hold a significant place in the poker tournament pantheon. Let's face it; Internet poker is huge. Most people earn their chops online and the communities developed on these online poker rooms are far stronger than the casino rats that make their living playing live.

Players understand the online format, even going so far as to refer to each other by their screen names rather than their God-given names. If you watch a WCOOP event, you'll see observers rooting for their favorite players, watching the professionals, even commenting on the styles of unknownplayer22. It's not the same as watching a live tournament, but that's the point. Players who compete online may prefer to watch events in their favorite medium because they can relate better to things like auto-folding and time banks.

I agree with you Todd. The WCOOP is not the WSOP or the WPT. It's something completely different that seems to be succeeding at the same level. Who knows, perhaps in the future we'll see the WCOOP Main Event broadcasted on television with online personalities prominently featured. The WCOOP is here to stay and I like it. Maybe even more so because I can be in the poker room with the players and still wear my favorite pajamas.

26September06: 4:55 p.m.

Okay, that's too much information.

Of course the WCOOP are a tremendous success, and the series probably has a few more years of growth before it reaches its peak. As a phenomenon, it is certainly very interesting. If I had nothing else to do, I might click in to watch the final table of an event or two. But I don't envision blocking off time to do it. And I write about this stuff every day.

I don't doubt the skill it takes to win, nor am I pooh-poohing the money involved. I just don't think that people who win these events are going to be stars. Unless, of course, they parlay their success into the live poker tournament world.

26September06: 4:57 p.m

Ok, I win. You used pooh-poohing as a verb.

Mucking McLane

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