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Top-10 reasons why we don't like the new WSOP Main Event format

12 May 2008

After presenting our Top-10 reasons why we like the new WSOP format last week, we now jump to the other side of the aisle of this heated debate and illustrate 10 reasons why we don't like the fact that the Main Event will be "paused" and played 117 days later in November.

10. Killing the live feed

In previous years, poker fans could watch the final table live on pay-per-view (PPV). Understandably, Harrah's has decided to kill this offering in an effort protect the new "same-day" telecast. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. There's a reason why everyone in the U.S. who lives near the Canadian border watches the Olympics on Canadian television -- they cover it live. For the most part, the U.S. television doesn't, because it believes it can attract more viewers if the broadcast is shown on tape delay with vignettes about the athletes -- which are designed to connect them to the viewers -- thrown in. Sound familiar? In the WSOP's defense, live poker is AWFUL television for the masses. But for poker nuts, there's nothing better. And like sports fans who universally hated the "plausibly live" paradigm, poker fans are going to hate not having the live PPV option.

9. U.S.-centric approach

As a sport, poker is growing more quickly outside the U.S. than it is inside the states. But this move appears to have been made with primarily the American television market in mind. In fact, during the conference call announcing the change in the Main Event schedule, Harrah's and ESPN officials were unsure as to how the move would impact international distribution of the telecast and programming. If the delay in showing the final-table coverage in Europe is a week or more, will the move have been worth it?

8. Casual fans want pros, not stars

The concept of giving fans the opportunity to get to know the players at the final table a little better during the 117-day Main Event hiatus is quite brilliant. The better fans get to know players, the more likely they are to tune into final-table coverage. But we suspect this ploy has its limits because most casual fans want to see well-known professional pokers plays at the final table, not the lesser-know final-table players who are turned into stars because of this break. In fact, it's quite possible that the bulk of the attention at the final table will focus on the famous professionals coaching these players, rather than the players themselves. And while that will certainly create buzz for the tournament, it won't do much to bring attention to the actual stories behind these players, which is part of why the WSOP is moving the final table to November.

7. Feels too commercial

Yes, the WSOP is a commercial operation just like the NBA, NFL and Bundesliga. We get that. But there's a fine line between providing a stellar product and being too commercial. And this Main Event hiatus, much like television timeouts that last as long as the games themselves in basketball, crosses the line. The 117-day break is not part of the natural rhythm of the game. If you want to plaster advertising all over the players and the felt, that's fine. It doesn't change the nature of the game. This does. And that's why it just feels too commercial.

6. A player might die (just kidding)

Actually, we could only think of nine things we didn't like. But this isn't a top-nine list.

5. No sports "dead zone"

From a publicity standpoint, the biggest problem facing the WSOP (in the U.S.) in October and November will be getting attention in the sports pages. Between the baseball World Series, college and professional football, and the start of the college and NBA basketball season, there isn't much -- if any -- room left in the media for building up a poker tournament.

4. 117 days

117 days is a long time. It's 3.9 months. It's 2808 hours. It's 168,480 minutes. It's -- well you get the point. It's a long time. And at some point during the 117 days, the WSOP Main Event will essentially become two tournaments instead of just one.

3. Deals

Generally speaking, there will be two types of poker players at this year's final table. For one type (let's go with type A), winning the bracelet, or finishing as a high as possible, is more important than the actual prize money. For type B players, it's all about the cash. They're there to win a life-changing amount of money and could care less where they finish. And with the amount of luck that is involved in winning the bracelet, it is inherently dangerous to give these type B players 117 days to make behind-closed-doors financial arrangements.

2. Collusion

We have no doubt that WSOP officials will do everything they can to run a clean tournament. And players should take following words from WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky seriously.

"The biggest mistake any player could make here is to test our seriousness about ensuring that our events are conducted ethically and fairly. A player, who will be well known by the time they return to our final table would have to be willing to give up their prize money and ever playing tournament poker again because the penalties for cheating and collusion will most likely end their career, not to mention sully their reputation in front of a worldwide audience. There will be more cameras on this final table then ever before and there will be more stories unearthed about each of these players than ever before. Someone always speaks, just ask Roger Clemens. If you are dumb enough to risk it, you'll have to accept getting caught and the consequences."

But the reality is that with 117 days to prepare, the potential exists that some type B players will band together and try to cheat. And if they do it well, they won't get caught. Yes, it will be dangerous. But with the amounts of money we're talking about it here, it's a possibility that has to be taken seriously.

1. Changes the nature of the game

This is the most serious charge. And it's one that the World Series of Poker can not refute. If you want to argue that the pros of making this moves (and there are plenty of those) outweigh the cons, that's fine. There's a very good and convincing case to be made that the WSOP is correct, and that it needs to try this for the good of the product -- and the game. But there is know doubt that this changes the very nature game. The World Series of Poker used to be a physical, mental and emotional marathon. With this change, it is no longer that. From now on, nine players will have what no other WSOP final tablist has ever had -- 117 days to rest, recoup and strategize. That makes this tournament different. No more errors brought on by emotionally drained and mentally exhausted players. No more tournament "momentum." No more mysteries of style and strategy. No more mysteries of personality. The Main Event, at least for this year, is over as we know it. In its place will be a fine product of well-coached, fresh poker players who the world will have had a chance to meet and learn about. But that's not tournament poker. Not even close.

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