WSOP Main Event Observations
The World Series of Poker is alive and well.
Following America's passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), many understandably estimated that the poker boom would be reduced to a twitching corpse. This year's WSOP was a signal that the UIGEA's impact on the poker world, although negative, was far from deadly.
Even with the refusal of Harrah's Entertainment to accept direct registrations from US-facing online poker rooms (which in recent years were responsible for the majority of the Main Event's participants), 6,358 players handed over $10,000 for the chase to become poker's next World Champion. That number was down just 28% from last year's field of 8,773, a decline much smaller than many predicted. Moreover, the preliminary events actually saw an increase in participation from last year.
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There is an over-abundance of ego.
Gamblers, in general, aren't exactly a representation of society's most humble and caring. The WSOP is an extravaganza largely void of humility. In the past few years, thanks to the WSOP and the World Poker Tour, countless individuals have made televised final tables and won tens of thousands of dollars from a single tournament. Online poker, too, has seen its dominant participants converted into autograph-signing spectacles of the live poker world.
The byproduct of this fame and fortune is an incredibly large number of poker players infected with "big-head syndrome" simply due to the sheer volume of avenues through which they could have obtained recognition in the past few years. A macroscopic glance of the poker world shows that there so many "name pros" out there, that being among them probably shouldn't be regarded as quite the elite accomplishment that it often is.
The WSOP Main Event is still +EV for a good tournament player. However, the field is tougher now compared to the past.
In general, poker games, especially in America, have gotten tougher over the past few years. The WSOP is no exception. While the Main Event remains soft for a $10k buy-in tournament, the field was tougher this year than it was a few years ago.
The tougher field was largely a result of the lack of online satellite players. Many players that won a $10k entry from a US-facing poker site decided to just pocket the cash instead of using it as a buy-in for the Main Event. In the past, these players were automatically registered for the Main Event, and did not have the option of just keeping the $10,000.
The Main Event still remains a +EV tournament for good tournament players. There is still a lot of dead money that enters the tournament, which is evident just by the sheer amount of random celebrities that enter the event.
Harrah's is annoying.
Harrah's, the owner and operator of the WSOP, does a decent job at running the WSOP, but has a penchant for finding ways to irritate players.
Harrah's will often sacrifice a player's experience for the sake of earning a few extra bucks. The most clear example is how Harrah's made players walk through the WSOP Expo en route to the tournament. During the first few days of the Main Event, players could not walk directly from the taxi area to the Amazon Room. Instead, players were rerouted through the WSOP Expo, which is where various poker merchandisers showed off their products. While the WSOP Expo was certainly worth seeing during one's free time, it is a pain to have to walk through it when your only goal is to get to the Amazon Room. TwoGun was almost a few minutes late getting to his table during the Main Event since he had to walk through the expo.
When people pay $10,000 to enter a poker tournament, they expect to be treated with class, not herded through a crowded convention center like cattle. Harrah's already makes millions from Main Event tournament fees, television rights, and other endorsement deals. By forcing people to go through the expo, they may be able to charge higher fees for showcasing at the expo, but at the expense of greatly annoying the players.
There are other examples of Harrah's nickel and diming WSOP players, such as the exorbitant prices they charge (even by Vegas standards) at the Poker Kitchen, which is just outside the Amazon Room. In the short term, these practices may produce more revenues for Harrah's. However, in the long term, Harrah's will lose more and more customers and detract from the appeal of the WSOP.
In the end, it's just another tournament.
Much ado is made over the prestige of the WSOP Main Event. Boasting a structure that allows for several days of gameplay, any eventual winner must undergo a true battle before capturing poker's grandest prize. Yet, in a very observable sense, the Main Event is not much different than any other tournament.
This year, roughly two-thirds of the field busted out on the first day, a signal that the structure isn't that good. In order to truly discover the identity of the world's best poker player through a single tournament, a structure would need to be in place allowing months of gameplay rotating through several different poker variants. Such a tournament is quite simply unpractical. The current eight-day long Main Event is fun, draws a lot of media attention, and makes a handful of its participants millionaires, but ultimately is just another tournament where anyone with the slightest amount of poker competence can run well enough to win the whole thing.