Everybody Loses

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009, 1:09 am

Crazy day at the World Series of Poker, one of the craziest any of us have ever seen. Today was the last day to play in the Main Event–they divide the opening into four starting days, you could’ve played on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or today. Friday and Saturday turnout was light, “only” 1,989 players in total turned out for those two days. Yesterday 1,696 players invaded the Rio, really the first day that there was enough noise and chaos and lunacy for it to feel like that Main Event.

Last night people started speculating that Day 1D might sell out. That’s never happened before at the Main Event, no player in good standing who had $10K and a desire to play has even been turned away. But last night Harrah’s issued a press release saying that Day 1D may sell out and people started emailing and tweeting that anyone who wanted to play Monday had better get to the Rio pronto.

I got to work around 11:15 and after I set up heard that there was a ruckus out in the halls. Apparently Day 1D did indeed sell out, and there were a lot of players outside who were a bit unhappy about it. By “a lot” I mean a couple hundred. And apparently at one point there were around 500 players trying to register for the Main Event, only to be told that there wasn’t room. And then I heard from two sources that over a thousand players had been turned away. I think that last number might be an exaggeration but still, it was a catastrophe for Harrah’s and the shut-out players, many of whom came from the four corners of the Earth to play in the biggest poker tournament in the world.

Rumors abounded, that Harrah’s would introduce the shut-out players as alternates, that there would be a “Day 1E” that would start at 5PM and then be folded into the smaller Day 2A starting tomorrow, and a few other possibilities. We heard that WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack was going to address a big group of the disgruntled players at 2:30PM, so me and my fellow scribes marched over to the huge room where the Poker Palooza gaming expo had been held the previous four days (a bit of a waste, and certainly not deserving of “Palooza” status). The meeting was held in a partitioned-off section of a room the size of the Astrodome, and there Pollack told the disgruntled players that no additional players would be added–they lacked the operational capacity to add more players to the field. The players didn’t like that, shouting questions at Pollack and many storming out before the end of the meeting. Rather than recount the whole meeting I’m just gonna cut-and-paste the last part of what I wrote today on the UB blog (if you’re interested check out the whole article):

It was an unhappy outcome for all concerned. This is one of those situations where everyone had good intentions and everyone got screwed. It’s one thing to say that the players should’ve registered early, that they should’ve played on one of the earlier days…but the fields were smaller than last  year (when no players were turned away) and there was no notification on Harrah’s part (until last night) that Day 1D might sell out. And if you’re flying from New York, or Oslo, or Buenos Aires on Sunday to play Monday it’s impossible to change your plans at the last second. For many of the players in the room this was their first time to the World Series and they might not have had an idea of the sheer size and scope of the event. They thought (quite reasonably) that they could show up at noon, plunk down $10,000, and take a seat. Because that’s they way it’s always been.

But today, the World Series of Poker was a victim of it’s own success. There were 150 people in that room desperate to  give Harrah’s $10,000…and Harrah’s had to say, “I’m sorry, we can’t take it”. The WSOP is so popular that today the players strained it beyond it’s ability to cope. There are only so many tables, so many dealers, so many floorpersons available to work the tournament. If another 500 players sat down at 5pm to play in a makeshift Day 1E it might’ve caused gridlock as the Main Event tried to get through the Day 2s and Day 3 and into the money.

After the meeting was over a number of disgruntled players crowded around Tom Franklin, who acted as a spokesperson for the players. He told them to calm down, that the decision was made and it was final. One player said he couldn’t believe he was going to miss the Main Event and Franklin said, “I’ve played 30 in a row and I can’t believe I’m going to miss this one.”

About an hour after the meeting Jeffrey Pollack came up to Media Row to say that he’d be willing to discuss what happened today further during the press conference that’s scheduled for Thursday. And while he was here he said, again, “We’re going to fix this, THAT I know”. It’s unfortunate that no one, not the players nor Harrah’s, saw soon enough that something was going to break today.

Today 2,809 players took their seats in the Main Event. Which makes for a grand total of 6,494 players, creating a prize pool of $61,043,600. First prize this year? $8,548,435. Guessing how much bigger those numbers might’ve been had everyone who wanted to play been able to play is, at this point, idle speculation. It’s too late. The funny thing is that chances are 90% of the people demanding a spot in the Main Event would’ve missed the money. 90% of them will be $10,000 richer at the end of the week. That’s funny…and beside the point.

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