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2013 WSOP Observations

THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2013-06-02, by Ozone

I've been at the 2013 World Series of Poker for the last several days in order to get in on some of the lower buy-in no-limit tournaments. The first time I came out to the WSOP was in 2005 which was also the first year the tournaments were held at the Rio. I've been out here for at least parts of each year since. Every year is always a little different but mostly the same. Here are a few of the things distinctive about the 2013 WSOP:

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Online Poker is Back!

For the first time since 2010, there's some real oomph to the marketing materials around the WSOP. Caesars Entertainment, owners and operators of the WSOP, are pushing hard their World Series of Poker online poker room which will go live for Nevada residents before the November Nine.

Also being advertised everywhere is the first Nevada online poker room to have actually launched thus far, UltimatePoker.com. It is clear that operators of these sites understand that WSOP participants are a fundamental element of their market. UltimatePoker.com in particular is running a coordinated push to get as many WSOP partipants as possible playing online poker during their stay in Vegas.

Land of the Have's and Have-Not's

The wealth distribution at the WSOP is increasingly beginning to mirror that of the United States as a whole. Many of the game's wealthiest pros aren't even here right now. They're in Macau for a $130,000 buy-in high-roller event.

Vegas is mostly comprised of broke-and-backed pros as well as amateurs taking shots in the $1,000-$1,500 no-limit events here. The $1,500 buy-in "Millionaire Maker" enticed a whopping 6,343 entrants. Its prize-pool is larger than that of the 2003 Main Event when Chris Moneymaker catapulted himself and the game of poker into worldwide prominence.

However, there is some evidence that Caesars may have overplayed their hand with this scheduling gimmick. The following day's $1,000 no-limit event drew "only" 1,837 players indicating poor sticking power of the Millionaire Maker from one event to the next. The $1,500 no-limit six-handed event, which began on a Friday this year, drew just 1,069 players down from the 1,604 that joined the event on a Thursday last year.

It will be interesting to monitor field sizes in the upcoming weekends. It could be possible that recreational and broke players expended their resources on the Millionaire Maker and won't be around for the upcoming action.

Improvements Remain Barely Visible

If you've taken note of the changes and upgrades (or lack thereof) to the WSOP over the years you wouldn't be surprised to know that Caesars is a bankrupt company. There remains little-to-zero investment being made in enhancing the overall product that is the WSOP. The name of the game is get players in and out the door as cost effectively as possible. There is a bottom line and shareholders to answer to.

The technological improvements to the WSOP are in no way representative of the world as a whole. If you walked into the 2013 WSOP, the marketing materials would be about all that indicated to you that the year is not 2008. For example, there remain no registration kiosks to expedite the process of joining tournaments. Nor has Caesars incorporated player tracking software to provide live chip counts and more seamlessly break tables as tournament fields shrink.

Hell, there aren't even hand sanitizer stations at the WSOP to help account for how filthy it is to share cards and chips with players often too crunched for time and space to wash their hands on bathroom breaks.

But Caesars is under no pressure to add any such nice touches to the WSOP. They can present the bare minimum product and charge $8 for a "smoothie" that consists of ice, milk, and a banana because the only reason people show up is for the piles of money and gold bracelets being distributed. It's just the way it goes.

The Games are Still Great

You would think that one of these years everyone at the WSOP will be playing solid poker and there would cease to be a significant financial incentive for showing up. But if that day is ever coming it still seems a long ways off. The fields in the lower buy-in no-limit events still seem pretty beatable.

The nice thing about the WSOP is that just because a player at your table isn't an amateur doesn't mean you're not glad they're there. Plenty of professional players give it away at the WSOP due to cognitive fatigue from an imbalanced lifestyle, being too easily prone to distraction, and letting their egos fuel a style of play that is aggressive to the point of being easily exploitable.

Paul Phillips once said that the WSOP is no spa, and he was right about that. But if you can hack all of the unsavory elements found here, it's still not a bad place to try to hustle your way to riches.

The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.


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