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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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WSOP Main Event final table format changes with the times

13 Jul 2018

By Gary Trask
The WSOP Main Event final table format has changed dramatically over the last few years.

The WSOP Main Event final table format has changed dramatically over the last few years.

LAS VEGAS -- There was no WWE-style entrance music and there weren't any vintage Las Vegas showgirls or legendary PA announcers to be found. The crowd was still loud and raucous, but instead of more than 1,000 fans jammed into an iconic theater setting, seating is limited to a couple hundred.

Oh, how things have change at the World Series of Poker Main Event final table over the last decade.

Of course, the major difference between this year and 2008 isn’t the lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding the event, or the switch from the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to the makeshift, made-for-TV studio down the hall in the Amazon Ballroom. The most notable change is the demise of what was known as the November Nine. That’s when, in 2008, the WSOP decided — much to the chagrin of many poker traditionalists — to install a near-four-month pause between when the final nine players were decided in July and when play at the table actually began in November.

The idea was to create excitement and coverage from mainstream media and turn the Main Event final table into, well, an event. And it worked, initially.

During the November Nine Era (2008-2016), the atmosphere created at the final table was akin to a heavyweight boxing match. Michael “Let’s Get Ready to Rummmmmmble” Buffer did the announcing honors. Showgirls would escort the players into the theater one by one as the music of their choice blared over the sound system. Spectators would arrive at the Rio and wait in line for more than eight hours before the doors opened. The first few rows would be filled with poker royalty, who wanted to be there to see everything unfold.

But times change. And the WSOP has changed with them.

During the last few years of the November Nine era, the crowds got dramatically smaller. With the world’s collective attention span dwindling and the internet creating an impatient generation, the prolonged delay didn’t make sense anymore, so it was done away with before last year’s WSOP.

“The legacy of the November Nine is not the promotional part of what we did back then, but that we really paved the way for live poker on television, which was unheard of back then,” Ty Stewart, WSOP Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Caesars Interactive. “We’ve basically turned ESPN into Twitch. Every single hand is on the ESPN flagship network. Think about that. That’s kind of amazing.

“We’re very proud that in an era when there is almost no television programming, we have this 15 consecutive day marathon with more original poker programming than we’ve ever had.”

As it does virtually every year, the WSOP tweaked its format again in 2018. Last year, there was a two-day break before the final table began and the final table was played in the much smaller, 1,715 square-foot Brasilia Room.

This year, there was no break. After the final nine players were decided on Wednesday night — thanks to one of the more dramatic hands you’ll ever see — everyone came back for the start of Day 8 about 18 hours later. Heck, that didn’t even leave enough time for the family of ninth-place finisher Antoine Labat to make it to the Rio from France before their hero got knocked out. (He told reporters during his bust-out interview that his family had just landed at McCarron.)

"Yeah, I think a couple days' break is nice, just so you have time to get family and friends in," said 2009 Main Event champ Joe Cada, whose opinion counts quite a bit since he's played a Main Event final table in both scenarios. "The rail means so much, so an extra day or two helps with making those arrangements."

Nonetheless, Stewart said the decision was made for TV ratings, but don’t hold them to the same format next year.

“We’ll see what it does to the ratings, but the idea there was just to keep the momentum going with the broadcast,” Stewart said. “We kind of keep evolving but we keep getting a slightly better model. What we’re trying to do, once again, is to use the platform the best we can for the industry, for the long term.

“Our focus is what’s best for the overall coverage, and what’s best for the coverage now is this format. Believe me, I remember those first few years of the November Nine with great fondness. But it’s hard to have all of the fireworks and music and all of that stuff when the live crowd is a bit sparse.

“So while live event is smaller, certainly the amount of overall coverage is bigger. And that’s a tradeoff I’ll happily make.”
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