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Top 10 ways to improve the WSOP Colossus

8 Jun 2015

By Aaron Todd
I spent last week in Las Vegas covering the World Series of Poker's Colossus event. The $565 poker tournament drew 22,374 entries from 14,284 unique players; both numbers broke the record of 8,773 (players and entries) set by the 2006 WSOP Main Event.

There's no doubt the tournament was a huge success. You could never consider a tournament that more than doubled the record for entries in a live tournament a failure, but there were aspects of the tournament that could be improved.

There's no guarantee that the Colossus will be held again next year, but if it is, there will likely be some changes made to improve the experience for the players.

Here are the top 10 things I think the WSOP can do to make the Colossus even better.

10. Add staff for registration, payouts
Too many people who played this tournament spent more time waiting in lines than they did playing poker. The WSOP didn't anticipate just how many players would want to pick up their seat assignment the night before the tournament, and as a result, lines the night before flights A and B extended almost all the way back to the Penn & Teller Theater.

To make matters worse, lines for payouts were just as long, if not longer. It's hard to believe the WSOP didn't anticipate that hundreds of people would be busting from a tournament with more than 22,000 entries in rapid succession and would want to collect their winnings before they boarded their flight home.

These areas need to be beefed up if the WSOP decides to run this tournament again.

9. Only allow one entry
Multi-entry tournaments rub me the wrong way. Even if the Colossus opted for a single-entry event this year, the Colossus still would have been the largest poker tournament ever held.

This suggestion has the added benefit of also decreasing the lines at the cage — players would not be able to play multiple flights, and therefore would not have to line up at the payout line to request a refund if they didn't end up playing all the flights they registered to play.

8. Triple the starting stack
One of the things that made the Colossus tough as a player was its short-stack structure. I'd love to see the WSOP triple the starting stack in this event so it would play similarly to the Daily Deep Stack events that run throughout the summer at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino. If you want players to get the most out of their experience, give them some room to play for a few hours before people start busting out left and right.

7. Decrease Day 1 levels to 30 minutes
In order to increase the starting stack for all players in an event, you'll need to adjust the level time accordingly. At the end of 11 levels of play in the Colossus, the big blind was 20 percent of a player's starting stack. If you increased starting stacks to 15,000 (from 5,000) in the Colossus, then played 15 levels lasting 30 minutes with the exact same blind structure as the Colossus, the big blind would be 16 percent of a player's starting stack. Almost the exact same percentage of players would have been eliminated, but most players would have lasted longer at the table.

Paying $565 to play in a poker tournament, then only lasting an hour or two, isn't a great experience for recreational players. Give those players four or five hours of play, and they'll likely go home much happier and more likely to return.

This structure also aids tournament officials, as they could color up the 100 chips at the end of Day 1 instead of having to do it during a short 20-minute break on Day 2.

If there are still too many people in the tournament and it's going to extend too long at that point, you could then have the first three or six levels of Day 2 last 40 minutes each, then play all remaining levels for 60 minutes.

6. Keep a closer eye on the money bubble
It's incredible just how close WSOP officials were to missing the money bubble in the Colossus. There's no doubt that it's hard to figure out exactly when there are 2,242 players remaining in a poker tournament. So it's ultimately not that surprising that there was some confusion as to when the money bubble was going to burst.

But when play was suspended so tournament officials could determine just how close the bubble was to bursting, and then resumed just four spots shy of the bubble, some conspiracy theorists on the rail believed that the WSOP was covering up that they had missed the bubble. I personally don't buy into this line of thinking, but I do believe that the WSOP officials breathed a huge sigh of relief when they discovered they hadn't missed it.

Players would rather stop and start multiple times than see the bubble get missed and have a player go home with nothing. It would be a huge PR nightmare to miss the money bubble, so next time, I'm betting they'll be a little more cautious.

5. Use a better chip set
The WSOP uses multiple chip sets in its tournaments, and the Bud Jones set that was used in the Colossus is fine in almost every way but one: The 5,000 chip and the 25,000 chip are difficult to differentiate.

Having chips that are similar isn't a huge issue if they're not on the table at the same time, but these two chips are almost always in use at the same time. When the 25,000 chip was introduced on Day 2, many players were confused how many chips their opponents had bet, and that confusion lasted up until the 5,000 chip was taken off the table, just prior to final table play.

4. Pay everyone who makes it through Day 1
One way to ensure you don't miss the money bubble in a massive field is to pay everyone who makes it to Day 2 of the tournament. Obviously there would be some stalling at the end of Day 1 as players just look to survive, but the same thing happens no matter when you approach the money bubble.

Only 15.4 percent of the players in the tournament survived Day 1, and there are loads of tournaments that pay 15 percent of the field. Making the end of Day 1 the money bubble likely would increase the number of people who bag and tag, but you could add an extra level and play for eight hours — or even add five levels for 10 hours of play on Day 1, especially since flights could overlap because players wouldn't be able to enter multiple flights.

3. Publish the payout chart in advance
One of the biggest complaints players had about the Colossus was the first-place prize. Many assumed that beating a field of more than 22,000 entries should ensure a $1 million first-place prize. But the WSOP's payout chart only gave 5.7 percent of the prize pool, or $638,880, to first. Had people seen the payout chart in advance, they wouldn't have been so surprised. Transparency is always the best policy.

I personally am an advocate of the flatter payout structure. Considering the top two players took an unscheduled break to discuss a deal, I believe the flatter the payout structure, the better.

2. Offer a $500,000 guarantee for first
Instead of a $5 million guaranteed prize pool, I think the WSOP should offer a guarantee for first. The $1,500 Millionaire Maker has used this marketing strategy to great effect. Every time the tournament has been held, the first-place prize has exceeded the guarantee, meaning the WSOP didn't have to poach any of the prize money from places lower down the payout list to beef up the first-place prize.

With the restrictions on registrations that I'm suggesting (see No. 9 and 1 on this list), it's unlikely that the Colossus would draw more than 22,000 entries again, which means the total prize pool will likely dip. But I do think that having a $500,000 first-place prize will be enough of a draw for recreational players, especially at the $565 price point.

1. Charge players with more than $10,000 in WSOP cashes twice as much to enter
The impetus for the tournament was to draw first-time players to the WSOP — and it worked. Nearly 40 percent of the players in the Colossus (5,664 of them) were WSOP rookies.

As poker players have become even more skilled, it's become harder and harder for recreational players to compete, and pros have won the vast majority of bracelets given out by the WSOP in recent years.

The Colossus was supposed to turn that equation on its head. But despite the vast field of amateurs, the pros still prevailed. Eight of the nine final table players were professional poker players, and the only recreational player that made the final nine finished — you guessed it — ninth.

Let's give people who either haven't played a WSOP event — or haven't had much success at the WSOP — a chance to experience some success without having to navigate through a tournament packed with pros at the end. If sharks want access to this player pool, make them pay double.

I'm not certain if this would even be legal, but there is some precedent, as the Ladies Event is open to anyone, but men must pay $10,000 to enter, while it costs just $1,000 for women.

Yes, I realize that there are plenty of cash game pros who don't have $10,000 in WSOP tournament earnings (see Paul Lentz, who finished fourth at the Colossus as an example), and there are tons of recreational players who have more than $10,000 in WSOP winnings. But there has to be some kind of qualifying criteria, and five figures in WSOP earnings seems to be a good place to start.
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