Does This Mean I Can Leave Work Early?

Thursday, May 1st, 2008, 11:34 am

It’s all over the Internet, or at least the poker part of it. Harrah’s (or is it Caesars now?) today confirmed that the final table of the World Series Main Event will be held on November 9th–almost four months after the final table is set. ESPN will broadcast a 2-hour show featuring the final table and then show the heads-up battle for the title live on November 10th.

Reading various blogs and forums opinions seem to be a bit mixed. You have the hysterical folks who think this is the Worst Idea in the History of Mankind, and then there are those who think this might be kinda OK. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, though if there is, that’s where I stand on the subject. On the one hand, watching the Main Event coverage, especially the final table, is almost a waste because you know who wins. There’s no drama, other than wondering how the person is going to react when his dream comes true/is crushed. Showing the final table live on ESPN is a great idea, except that I don’t know how many people would really want to watch 15 hours of preflop folding. This is why we need ESPN 8 (the Ocho!), to let the serious poker fans wallow in the wire-to-wire coverage while a 2-hour special airs on ESPN. To be sure, this is going to help ESPN’s ratings–people who know zilch about poker will tune in to see who wins the title and all those millions of dollars. Especially after the ESPN/Disney media machine spends 4 months hyping the event and the players. If it’s done right, this could really give poker a shot in the arm.

There are, however, some serious issues to worry about. Of course taking a four-month break completely changes the dynamics of the game. All the information you’ve gathered playing with these people during the Main Event will either be forgotten come November or your foe’s will play in a completely different way. Of course everyone who makes the final table will be working on their game–reading books, watching video, picking other players’ brains for advice. The rank amateur who luckboxed his way to the final table might return in November a much more sophisticated player.

The break is long enough for all sorts of unfortunate things to happen. Obviously, someone could die in the interim, or be arrested, or in some way not be able to play in November. From the Harrah’s press release, if that happens to you, boo hoo–your chips will be blinded off. I wonder if this might chill foreigners participating in the Main Event–I don’t know how hard it is for people to get U.S. visas, especially when you’re coming to this country to play for millions in a poker tournament. Our government had a chilly attitude toward gambling, let’s not forget. I wonder if this has already been considered.

But these issues are minor compared to what could be a potential nightmare–possible collusion or cheating. Moving the final table four months into the future already guarantees that the play will be dramatically different than it was back in July.What if a big-name pro offers his/her assistance…in exchange for a piece of a final-table players’ action? What if that pro has pieces of multiple final-tablers. And so already we see the potential for mischief.

In those four months the players may form cabals or alliances within the group to softplay or collude in order to maximize their winnings. Maybe the vast majority of players wouldnt consider outright cheating, but it isn’t hard to imagine that players who are friends (or who become friends during that four-month period) might go out of their way not to hurt each other. Collusion isn’t inevitable but it’s a serious issue that requires close attention. There is A LOT of money at stake. I’m curious to see how seriously Harrah’s deals with these issues.

It’s an interesting idea and I applaud Harrah’s willingness to take a chance. We’ll have to wait and see how well it’s executed. Because no matter how many people complain, it’s gonna happen. There’s one thing I’m disappointed about–I won’t be there to see the World Champion crowned. I didn’t cover the final table last year but it was cool to be there, at 4:30AM, in the middle of the mob, watching Jerry Yang get his bracelet. The actual WSOP will end with a bit of anticlimax, but hopefully the hullaballoo surrounding the final table in November will more than make up for it.

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5 Responses to “Does This Mean I Can Leave Work Early?”

  1. cc Says:

    I couldn’t really figure out if Pollack understood the gravity of the collusion issue when it comes to poker in general. Frankly, I’ve never considered him to be interested at all in operational issues. With Gary Thompson’s exit, I actually think there now is a poker vacuum at the WSOP. Since the game’s inception, poker has been about cheating and collusion. To think that this won’t be an issue and a probability in fact is a bit bizarre. Answer me this: if you and I both were lucky enough to Final Table, why would we not want to discuss at the very least collective strategy at the Final Table? Why would we not want to split some portion of the difference in our payouts if we could work together in some way? Why would we not create imperceptible signals to one another? And we have no clue what we’re doing. What if the two players who make it have done things like this their entire poker careers?

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