2012 WSOP Observations
Here are some observations regarding the 2012 World Series of Poker that I've made in the week since arriving in Las Vegas to play a couple of events:
Players Still Bad
For years I've worried that poker would soon be "solved" and the WSOP would evaporate into thin air since no one sees any advantage to gain from playing. These fears will likely never materialize. In 2012, there are still plenty of really bad poker players putting up four- and five-figure sums of money to chase cash and glory.
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Call this the "recreational player phenomenon". There will always be people who don't spend a lot of time thinking about poker strategy but who still want to put a few thousand at risk during the summer for a chance at glory. Just like how there will always be people trying to beat the stock market from their home office in Boise despite being totally outmatched at that game by the players on Wall St.
Pros (Too?) Bullish on Main Event
Several poker pros with deep-pockets are investing substantial amounts of money backing players in the Main Event. I am personally being backed by a very well known high-stakes cash game player who has never even met me and has no idea who I am. His money is invested in my outcome via a third party who he has entrusted with funds to finance the Main Event dreams of strong players whose bankrolls do not permit them to buy-in directly themselves.
This faith in the value of a solid player in the WSOP Main Event has characteristics of a bubble.
First, players in the Main Event aren't that bad. I would say that maybe only 10% of the field is downright "bad" at no-limit hold'em tournaments. Then another 50-60% of players are rather competent just not particularly threatening or likely to apply pressure in marginal situations. The remaining players in the field range from good to extremely good. Essentially, the poor quality of competition in the Main Event seems a bit overstated.
Then there's the tax issue to consider. The tournament more realistically plays like a $6,500+$3,500 buy-in after Caesars and the U.S. government take their cut. Can it still be +EV for a strong player? Without a doubt. But the degree to which it is +EV seems to be overstated by a substantial portion of the poker economy. It's ridiculous to think that some players have a 500% ROI or higher in this event. It's still poker. There's still a lot of luck involved and the players aren't that bad, especially once you get deeper in the tournament.
Player Fields a Mirage
WSOP organizers can point to healthy player field sizes as evidence that poker is growing in popularity. And this is partially fair. Between an unhealthy economy and the money frozen on Full Tilt, poker is doing just fine for itself.
But one often overlooked aspect of WSOP field sizes is the impact of currency inflation. The Main Event buy-in when Chris Moneymaker won would be worth about $12,200 in present day money. So the relative size of WSOP buy-ins has decreased over time since they are not anchored to inflation. This effect contributes somewhat to an increasing number of bodies at the WSOP year-over-year. But a more telling statistic would be size of total WSOP prize pools adjusted for inflation over time. The result would be that the WSOP hasn't thrived quite as much as Caesars Entertainment would like you to think.
There is finally free WiFi at the WSOP. You don't get a very strong connection in certain parts of the room, but this was an overdue touch. Hopefully Caesars will come through with even more technology in the future. One idea by poker pro Shane Schleger is prepaid registration cards with kiosks to register into events to avoid long lines.
Players Increasingly Hostile Towards Caesars
This WSOP seems to have generated a substantially higher volume of player complaints than in years past. If this is true, there seem to be two possible explanations: that players are just more willing to complain and/or there are more legitimate complaints to be made.
Whatever the reason, there is a palpable sense of discontent with Caesars Entertainment for the job they're doing running the WSOP. It would be a good move on their end to work hard this off-season in order to show substantial improvements to next year's series. They are beginning to flirt with a tipping point where players with visible profiles turn their backs on the WSOP.
The fact that Caesars owns a monopoly on granting players access to poker's most prestigious achievements (winning gold bracelets) has enabled them to run a sloppy operation where players are treated as nearly expendable commodities. It's unfortunate for poker players that Caesars does not have any competition on this monopoly.