World Series off to a slow start

Jun 5, 2007 4:43 AM

Let the games begin! Please, let them begin.

Delays marked the start of this year’s World Series of Poker at the Rio, the result of record crowds that came with a sense of pilgrimage and the dream of achieving poker immortality.

They also needed plenty of patience along the way.

On Saturday, the largest number of poker players ever to enter a non-main event at the WSOP, 2998 players, packed into the Rio’s convention center for the third event of this year’s World Series — the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em tournament.

The number shattered the old record of 2,891 set at last year’s WSOP. First place paid the winner $727,012. Overall, 308 players cashed out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t appear the WSOP staff was prepared for the volume of entrants. Some players waited up to 3 hours and longer to get in, which was compounded by a computer snafu that caused more delays.

Last year, I recall the registration began two days before the start of the event, but this year it didn’t begin until the morning of the event.

Moreover, even players who pre-registered were forced to stand in line to get their seat assignments. Last year, there was a will-call line for pre-registered players.

This year’s field of players seems to have more younger players and far more women than in year’s past.

While standing in line for the first event, I had the chance to speak to many of them. What we’re seeing — and will continue to see — is a huge influx of people who cut their teeth playing poker on the Internet or in card rooms around the world.

Even though online poker probably doesn’t have the impact today that it did two years ago, there are legions of players who learned at 18 and 19 and are now old enough to play in the World Series.

I spoke to one young woman, who said she took up a collection from family and friends in order to raise the buy-in and entry fees. You have to admire her dedication and enterprise!

While it didn’t appear the WSOP was fully prepared for the onslaught of players, this is something I predicted last year. Specifically, I noted that the smaller events, such as the $1,500 buy-in tourney, would grow exponentially and could even challenge the main event in number of entries.

A possible solution to the problem would be spreading the Series to other Harrah’s properties in Las Vegas, such as Caesars Palace.

Even if the events were kept at the Rio, the satellites and cash games could be held at other sites.

One solution that Harrah’s tried this year is setting up an auxiliary playing area in a tent. Of course, with the 100-degree temperatures over the weekend, it was uncomfortable to say the least for those unfortunate enough to be planted in the tent.

Another problem was the introduction of new playing cards. These were so poorly designed that players often couldn’t determine the suit or the rank itself.

For instance, many complained that 6 and 9 cards were nearly indistinguishable, and players actually resorted to counting the spots!

Also the ace and the 4 were strangely similar, and players who occupied seats at the corners of the table often had to stand up to read the cards in the center.

I’ve heard that they’re switching out the cards, but you have to wonder whether these new ones were field tested with real live players.

There were some changes to the World Series that were based on advice from the newly-formed Players Advisory Council, made of professional and amateur players.

One of them is doubling the amount of starting chips, which was initiated to increase play in the early stages of the tournament.

Most players welcome this change (they are always looking for a larger starting stack), but the change led to lengthy delays for alternates waiting to fill tables.

For instance, on Saturday there were about 70 alternates, who had to wait up to 2 1/2 hours to get in. Last year the wait would have been around 45 minutes.

When they do make it into the money, most players will receive a higher percentage of the prize pools than in past years due to changes designed to make the payout structures more favorable for the greatest number of players.

This year’s edition of the WSOP also christened a new VIP Lounge for players who make a tax-deductible $1,000 contribution to the Nevada Cancer Institute. Contributors will have a chance to relax in the lounge and enjoy free food, beverages, entertainment options and special parking privileges.

I didn’t have a chance to try out the lounge, but I heard it was a hoot. There is a pool table and putting green, and the word is that several players use the recreation as a chance to wager against other players.

For instance, Layne Flack and "Devilfish" Ulliot were hustling each other on the pool table while Phil Hellmuth was beating $18,000 out of Doyle Brunson on the putting green.

Players this year will also find more live-action games and a special high-limit cash-game area with special seating and security.

There’s also a new WSOP Food Court inside the Rio convention area directly across from the event center and players can refuel from an enhanced menu this year.

Overall, the start of the World Series had a kind-of "good news, bad news" scenario.

"Our promise each year is to do better than we did the year before," said WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. "This will be the best World Series of Poker ever, and I’m confident that our players, fans, and sponsors will experience a new level of outstanding customer service."

Let’s hope the commissioner’s words are prophetic as the World Series continues.