Thursday, May 1, 2008

TV Claims Poker's Firstborn Child As Payment For Services Rendered

World Series of Poker stretches out Main Event

Okay, I knew one day that TV, the great savior of poker, would someday ask for poker's firstborn child. And that day has come. Bowing to TV executives' demands, the WSOP has agreed to implementing a delay between the establishment of the final table participants in the "main" event (the $10K no-limit hold'em tournament) and the actual final table action. The delay will be approximately 117...days. This is not a typo. The final table will be played almost four months after the hand that eliminates the 10th-place finisher, so that it can be broadcast live after ESPN shows all the shows (with commentary) leading up to it.

This is an absolutely terrible idea. First, it completely eliminates momentum. Ask Jamie Gold about the value of momentum.

A) Player A, a projects mananger playing only his second tournament ever, makes a mad dash at the title and is in third at the final table. In the ensuing months, his job mandates that he move overseas and his boss refuses to give him time off to complete the tournament. Is he really going to quit his job and become a pro on the basis of this one-time fluke? Will he fly in for one day, go hog-wild ("I'm all -in!" on every hand, just to get eliminated) and go out in a blaze of glory in 9th place? Or will he stay overseas, keep his job, and let himself be blinded off with a guaranteed payday? [I'm sure that'll look just fine on ESPN.]

Second, it allows for coaching and review. While this has always been in the background since the popularization of the hole camera, it now takes on added "oomph". Like the New England Patriots, players can scout each other in depth, aided by the commentary of the helpful ESPN talking heads. And since you only need scout those players who are actually there, it's a much simpler task than before.

B) Player B knows that he will be playing against Phil Hellmuth and an unknown amateur. Player A watches extensive tapes of both Phil (easily done) and the Great Unknown (thank you, ESPN). The Talking Heads helpfully point out that Phil likes to isolate players like GU during the bottom half of the hour with crap hands. Player A sets a huge trap for Phil, thus generating the largest tantrum anyone has ever seen when he tells Phil how he pulled it off ("I'll NEVER play in the #@$%@#$@#$ World Series again! " *throws chairs*) [Actually that would be phenomenal for ratings...]

Third, and most glaringly obvious to anyone but a TV exec, it increases the chances of shenanigans and unexpected complications. Anyone who says that WSOP tournaments are always decided on the table is naive. Deals are struck in the bathroom a lot more than people think, although in most cases the play for the actual bracelets remains genuine. The pressure to make a deal to guarantee certain paydays will be heightened; remember that many pros have backers who must be compensated.

C) Player C, a well-known semi-pro, is at the final table and running well in the chips. Unfortunately, in September he doinks off $500K playing against Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen in Bobby's Room. He is also in debt to several other people, at least one of whom is backing another final table player. Player C is now under enormous pressure to make a deal to guarantee enough payout to erase his debts, and to enhance the backer's payout; or even to "play with certain things in mind." Player C then makes some very stupid bluffs and makes an obviously terrible call to go out in 7th place, giving most of his chips in the process to the player backed by one of his debt-holders.

Or even, God forbid,

D) Doyle Brunson is on-pace to win a record 12th bracelet, having gained his 11th by defeating Phil Hellmuth heads-up in the $50K H.O.R.S.E. event (thus denying Phil his own record-setter). He is massively ahead in chips, and insiders say that Doyle has never played any better in his life than in that glorious summer of 2008. But in September, while puttering around his Montana ranch, Doyle suffers a stroke and is hospitalized. While his eventual recovery is a dead-cert --the man did beat Stage IV cancer!-- he will be completely unable to play cards for at least a year.

For so many reasons: no no no no no.

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