Why a bracelet is still a bracelet

2013 WSOP Bracelet

The World Series of Poker Europe is still, at time of writing, under way in a place called Enghien-les-Bains near Paris. Despite most of the pre-publicity stating that the tournament would be held in the capital of France, it was certainly far enough away that I could spend six days there last week without ever once glancing a man in a stripy blue T-shirt with onions around his neck riding a bike, nor a rodent cooking ratatouille from beneath a chef’s hat.

Indeed, as several of us pointed out, there’s actually an Eiffel Tower nearer to the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas than there is to Enghien-les-Bains. This was Paris only by an American definition — ie, within 50 miles.

The whole tournament, in fact, felt defiantly American, from the accidental (but repeated) announcements of prize pools in dollars, to the habitual mangled pronunciations of players’ names. I overheard a conversation between two WSOP staff members about the significance of the west coast to the audience of the live web-stream — the west coast of America, that is — even as one of Finland’s most popular players was heads up for a bracelet, and an entire country would likely have been tuning in if it know how or where to do so.

For all its expansion to Europe and, more recently, Australia, the World Series really does still struggle with embracing the world game — an irony particularly sharpened by its name. Daniel Negreanu sounded off in an interview about the American-centric nature of things, stating, “It’s the World Series of Poker. People from the United States have to remember, they’re not the world. They don’t run the world. They may be a world leader, but the world does not consist of the United States of America. The world is a very big place, right.”

Negreanu’s outburst was prompted by some veiled questioning of the legitimacy of his hunt for Player of the Year honours, given that most of his points in this annual race had been accrued in Australia, where he won the main event. He beat only 405 players to that title, which is small compared with the droves who play almost every event in Las Vegas.

Indeed, there has been a lot of conversation recently about whether bracelets won outside of Vegas “count”, mainly because of the reduced field sizes. But these discussions are preposterous for so many reasons there isn’t even the space to list them.

A bracelet “counts” if the World Series of Poker hands it over. That’s its only defining characteristic. If a representative of the World Series of Poker hands over a bracelet, then it’s a World Series of Poker bracelet, and there’s nothing more to be said. If the organisation somehow wants to differentiate between tournament victories earned in Las Vegas and those earned elsewhere, then it should give away a trophy or a ring or necklace or a watch or just a bloody big cheque and forget about the bracelet entirely.

But unfortunately, it can’t do that. World Series organisers know that their brand in inescapably linked to bracelets and if they are serious about their European and Asia/Pacific experiments, then they must award the specific jewellery for tournaments there.

Without the bracelets, the fortnight in Enghien-les-Bains would have been little more than a thoroughly mediocre poker festival in a not-particlarly-desirable location. There were few extra-curricular options and few recreational players to inflate the prize pool and please the sharks. It was good for the spectator to see many of the top American pros in the field, but almost none of them would make the trip without the lure of gold.

The World Series needs to focus on what makes an attractive festival to people outside of Las Vegas. Bracelets, yes, but so much more besides.