In less than two weeks, the 2007 World Series of Poker kicks off at the Rio in Las Vegas. Much has occurred in the poker world since Jamie Gold won $12,000,000 and the title of 2006 WSOP World Champion. In October, legislation was passed that had a negative outcome for internet gambling in America, to put it lightly. This legislation might ultimately be responsible for reversing a pattern the WSOP has enjoyed for over a decade: an increase in the number of Main Event participants from the year before.
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Many of the 8,773 players from last year's field qualified for the tournament through an online poker site. Due to legal reasons, Harrah's Entertainment, operators of the WSOP, will not be accepting direct registrations from online poker rooms that cater to American players. For this reason, many speculate the 2007 WSOP Main Event will fail to lure as many participants as it did last year. In this Weekly Shuffle, we will point out some more changes that can be expected at this year's prestigious series of tournaments.
Introduction of Championship Events
This year, the title of "World Champion" will be awarded more than once. Harrah's has dubbed 13 of the 55 tournaments on the WSOP schedule as "World Championship" events. This change is cosmetic in nature; no tangible prize awaits the winners of these events that is not available in the non-championship events. However, it does clear the way for anyone wishing to lay rightful claim to the title of "World Champion" to a game other than no-limit hold'em. Every major poker variant played at the WSOP is represented in one World Championship tournament.
Verdict: Cute, but who cares?
Thanks to an extra 80 tables available for use, this year's Main Event will be completed one day sooner than last year's, even with an extra day-off. These tables will also help expedite the process of moving the players into a field that is playing simultaneously. Last year's tournament had four "Day One" flights and two "Day Two" flights, capped by a day-off. This meant it took a full week before all the remaining entrants were playing at once! Just three "Day One" flights and no "Day Two" flights are scheduled for this year.
The days of a player participating in almost all WSOP events are long gone. With the addition of the extra tables, nearly every day on the WSOP calendar is marked by the start of two tournaments. Nearly all of these tournaments are allotted at least two days for completion.
Verdict: The ship now holds more passengers.
Previously, players who uttered the "f-word" or violated any rule were given a ten minute penalty. That rule has been modified for this year's series. Rather than ten minutes, this year's rule breakers will be forced to sit out ten hands.
Verdict: What the f@#*? They're still giving penalties for saying the f-word?!
Double Starting Stacks
Each of the 55 tournaments at this year's series offer players twice as many starting chips. On the surface, it would seem by doubling the starting chip stacks that Harrah's made a great improvement to the WSOP's structure. However, this change should only be regarded as an improvement to the small buy-in events. This is because the blind structures have not changed much for the small buy-in tournaments. However, with twice the starting chips, players have more maneuverability in the early levels of the tournament.
Aside from a few negligible differences, the structure to the Main Event went unaltered by these changes. The starting chip stack of 20,000 has been completely offset by blind levels that were doubled across the board.
Verdict: While it's an improvement, you can get a better bang-for-your-buck in many non-WSOP events.
Introduction of "Mixed Hold'em"
One of my favorite changes to this year's WSOP is the introduction of mixed hold'em tournaments. Mixed hold'em combines limit and no-limit betting in a tournament that switches betting styles every 30 minutes. There are two of these tournaments on this year's schedule, the first of which kicks off the whole series on June 1st with a $5,000 buy-in. I predict these tournaments will be very popular, which will lead to some online poker rooms adopting mixed hold'em games. The WSOP had a similar effect on the H.O.R.S.E. offerings of online poker rooms last year.
Verdict: Where did I put my wallet?
New Advertising Policy
Due to the previously mentioned US legislation, Harrah's will not accept advertisements from US-facing online poker rooms. Previously, these rooms have gotten around similar dilemmas by advertising the play-money ".net" version of their site. This gimmick will not work at this year's WSOP. Only sites that do not allow US players, such as Party Poker and 888 Poker, will be allowed to advertise in the gameplay arena.
Verdict: But what about my pink Ultimate Bet polo??!
Fewer Presence of Small Buy-in Tournaments
Evidently, if you're a high-profile professional poker player, after enough nagging, eventually you will get your way. Complaints of top pros that the WSOP schedule is littered with too many small buy-in tournaments seem to have been heard. Last year's slate of 45 events featured 30 with a buy-in of $2,000 or less. This year, ten more tournaments have been added to the schedule, just three of them with a buy-in of $2,000 or less.
Verdict: One time I saw Daniel Negreanu hanging out at Bellagio. True story!
Flatter Payout Structure
Last year's second place finisher, Paul Wasicka, can tell you what it's like to play heads-up for close to six-million dollars. This year's runner-up won't have to endure the same amount of pressure. Harrah's recently announced a flatter payout structure that will reduce the size of the first-place prize and spread the wealth among the bottom-end money winners. Looking back, it seems absurd that last year's 3rd place and 2nd place finishers received $4.1 million and $6.1 million, respectively, while the winner took home an astounding $12 million.
Under the new payout structure, last year's first place prize would have come down to around $10 million while the bottom-end finishers would receive $20,000 as opposed to $14,000. All of the events in 2007 will utilize a similar, flatter payout structure.
This new structure, coupled with what is expected to be a much smaller field than last year, may result in a first place payout that does not even exceed 2005 Champion Joe Hachem's $7.5 million payday.
Verdict: Less variance for the grinder, smaller yacht for the winner.