Table Talk: Enough with the WSOP Main Event Delay

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Champagne is in order! Let’s toast to the new WSOP Main Event champion, Ryan Riess, who played well and won more than $8.3 million this week. The table was a tough one, and the 23-year-old stood strong and emerged victorious.

Let’s also toast to the WSOP for its several years of running the November Nine. The delayed final table was a controversial idea at first, but the powers-that-be persevered with the plan for an innovative way to present the most prestigious final table in poker.

It started in 2008 with the Peter Eastgate victory, and there were several positive results from the delayed final table. One was the excitement generated in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio in Las Vegas, with players’ friends, family, and fans packing the facility. They dressed up, chanted, made signs, and created a fun atmosphere that was reflected on the television broadcast. And it gave the WSOP time to offer an elaborate presentation of the players, action, bracelet, and victory celebration.

However, one of the goals of the original delay was to offer an opportunity for players to obtain giant sponsorships and garner mainstream publicity during the July-to-November delay. While some players have done so, none of the sponsorships have been significant, and coverage in the mainstream media has been limited to hometown newspapers of final table players.

I argue that the experiment, though an admirable one, has failed. It is time to return to the original intent of the World Series of Poker, as well as tournaments in general. While all eyes are on the WSOP in Las Vegas as the Main Event plays down in the summer, keep the momentum going and play through until a winner is crowned.

For those who enjoy the detailed coverage on ESPN and ESPN2, complete with hole cards of participating players on a 15-minute delay, this can still be done in July when the final table plays. If the crew and commentators need time to prepare, let there be a one- or two-day break between the determination of the final nine and the playdown of that table.

One of the positives of this is that the ESPN and WSOP crews will already be in place. Their equipment is set up and ready to go. The commentators and hosts are in Las Vegas as well. And the excitement builds as the Main Event plays down. Players can also keep their momentum going forward as they are in the zone and prepared to play.

Another positive is the ability to keep much of the media in town for the action as well. Outlets that may not cover the final table, such as foreign media outlets that have no vested interest in a particular player at the table, might choose to stay in Las Vegas to cover the outcome of the tournament. And mainstream media can be invited to cover the entire tournament, so they will have the opportunity to see the excitement of the Day 1 action, down to the money bubble, and on toward the final table.

The delayed final table gives all players the opportunity to research other players, watch ESPN coverage, read through live updates, and consult with other players for training and background on opponents. However, that is not exactly fair to the more experienced players who already have the ability to win without extensive training or research. Most tournaments do not offer such time, and the best player with the most momentum during the entire tournament can go on to win. The delay changes the entire dynamic and affords an advantage to the least experienced of the players.

Casual fans of the WSOP Main Event will see no difference in their viewing of the action. They will continue to watch the Tuesday night episodes on television and find out the results of the tournament when they reach the final episode. Recreational players and fans most often don’t tune into the semi-live coverage of the November Nine for many reasons, but primarily because they don’t have the time. This year, for example, the first of the two final episodes aired on a Monday night and ran until well after midnight, a seven-plus hour broadcast that most people with full-time jobs and families cannot afford to dedicate the time to watch. Even the final broadcast consisted of nearly four hours of heads-up play on a Tuesday night, which is a lot to ask of a casual viewer.

More problematic even was the ESPN2 television schedule for the Monday night playdown to heads-up. My DVR was set to record the show, which was set for two hours. After that, other shows were scheduled and did not record. If I had counted on watching the entire broadcast at a later time, I would’ve been unable because ESPN2 didn’t dedicate enough time on the schedule for DVRs to record the action. It required a manual recording of each and every show throughout the night so as not to miss anything. Casual viewers will not go through the trouble, even if they do want to eke out the time to watch.

Sometimes, it is beneficial to look at the experiment with an open mind and accept that it may not have worked. This is the case for the November Nine.

The die-hard poker fans will get their hole cards and poker analysis in July, and the casual fans will find their usual programming going through November with no confusion. There are still ways to promote the Main Event and final table in July. It just may take a little creativity and forethought well before the summer games.