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One on one with WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart

1 Jun 2015

By Aaron Todd
LAS VEGAS — Now that the final field size in the World Series of Poker's $565 Colossus has been determined, the $5 million guaranteed prize pool for the tournament seems almost quaint.

Not only did the tournament meet the guarantee, it more than doubled it, with 22,374 entries creating a prize pool of $11,187,000.

Ty Stewart, the executive director of the WSOP, sat down with me on Saturday to chat about the largest live tournament in poker history. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation. (Note: This conversation occurred prior to the announcement of the tournament payout structure.)

Aaron Todd: What was the objective when you decided to hold this event?
Ty Stewart: To get the biggest opening weekend in WSOP history, get an influx of new players. Seven or eight years ago, (tournament entries) were two-thirds new players and one-third returning players. In the last few years, it's completely inverted, with two-thirds returning players, one-third new players. We just wanted to reach the market.

There's definitely a part of the WSOP corporate culture that has a bit of a swagger. We just wanted to do something huge. I don't know how many people could have anticipated that you could smoothly run a tournament with 20,000 people. We've been building towards it for a long time, so we felt like we could do it.

How did it feel when the preregistrations started to roll in and you got a sense of how big this was going to get?
Obviously that was amazing to see. Historically, poker players don't want to part with their money early, we get that they don't want to preregister. So it's the most sincere form of flattery that they care enough about a WSOP offering that by the end, 10,000 had preregistered.

You've encouraged people to preregister for events for years, and it really took off for this event.
Poker players are smart, so they got how big the tournament could be. They also saw what happened last year with a few of the tournaments where we got really close to capacity, or at capacity, and so I think the message has been received, but they have to make their minds up on their own. But like I said, no one is smarter than a poker player so they figured it out.

On Thursday night, people who had preregistered were waiting in excess of an hour to get their seat assignments. People were slightly annoyed, but they also seemed to think it was worth it, to some degree, to be part of this.
Nothing is worse than having a poor service experience, and in this whole process, that's the only black eye that we got was the fact that maybe we weren't really ready for just how fundamentally different the players would act for this tournament. We were ready on Friday, we were ready on Saturday, but Thursday night or Thursday mid-afternoon, we could have been more staffed up. We learned our lesson; we tried to fix that quickly like we do everything else, but yes, it was some of the most advanced planners that ended up having the worst experience. It pays to procrastinate: The guys who walked up at 9:30 the morning of the tournament got their ticket immediately.

What kind of feedback have you been receiving?
Do you think we get any compliments? (laughs) This is my 10th year at the WSOP, I don't expect any praise. But truly, I think the reaction's been great. The (interests) between the WSOP and the players couldn't be more aligned. We all need new blood. It helps the live action games, it helps the backing community, it helps everything. I've had a few people tell me that this is the best thing we've ever done, and that's very humbling praise.

There's a special quality to the event. I don't know if it's an every year thing, so we'll step back and we'll look at it. I think for many people, this was their Main Event. Even in the heyday of 2005, 2006, most people actually weren't coming out of their own pockets more than a few hundred dollars, because they had the opportunity to satellite (online).

There is some real special sauce getting this city full of people that love poker in the first weekend (of the WSOP). This is the most electric atmosphere I've felt in the last few years at the start.

We want to evolve, because we want to be all things to all poker players, and we believe we can deliver upon that. We're going to continue to monitor the market where it is, and we love the fact that we've had $1 million events and that we've had $565 events. As long as they're both breaking records on each side, that's fantastic.

A ton of people came into town for this event. What effect do you think this event is going to have on other events at the WSOP this summer?
There's art and science (in creating the WSOP schedule), and some of the science would show us that action creates action. At the same time, I think on the marketing side, we know there's only so much attention for big events and for buzz. And I think there's no doubt that the Colossus took the majority of the buzz. We hope that people who came in liked their experience, there will be a lot of people that have money in their pocket, that they'll want to go out and play other events.
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