World Series hopes dramatic change lures TV viewers

May 06, 2008 7:02 PM
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By David Stratton | Legal scholars believe "justice delayed is justice denied." Poker players hope the same isn’t true for final tables.

In what has to be described as a radical change to its tournament format, World Series of Poker officials announced last week that the tourney’s $10,000 buy-in Championship Event will conduct its final table in November, 16 weeks after the nine finalists are determined.

In a conference call, World Series Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said delaying the final table will "enhance" the World Series by providing "an even bigger stage for our players."

"Now fans and viewers will ask ‘who will win’ our coveted championship bracelet instead of seeing ‘who won,’" Pollack said. "The excitement and interest surrounding our final nine players will be unprecedented."

The final table will be televised live by ESPN, Pollack said, adding that TV coverage was among the reasons for the monumental shift in how the tournament is to be played.

Pollack said the WSOP would also benefit from 16 weeks of marketing, and that the nine final table participants would also have extra time for the limelight.

The 39th edition of the World Series kicks off May 30 at the Rio in Las Vegas and will continue through July 14. The championship event shuffles up on July 3 with the final table set to be determined July 14. The nine members of the final table are scheduled to return to the Rio on Nov. 9.

Each of the nine players who make it to the final table will receive ninth-place prize money (last year’s event paid $525,000 for ninth) on July 14. They will also receive an all-expense paid trip for two for their return to Las Vegas in November.

Pollack said the change was made in collaboration with ESPN, which holds the TV rights to the World Series, and the WSOP Players Advisory Council, a commission-appointed committee of professional and amateur poker players.

Poker pro Daniel Negreanu, a member of the Players Advisory Council, said the delayed final table was "a huge step forward for poker … because it will help create more buzz around the final table."

However, most professional players contacted by GamingToday complained that the delayed final table was something tantamount to "playing the Super Bowl’s fourth quarter 16 weeks after the third quarter."

"It’s hard to believe they ever took testimony from actual players," said a former World Series bracelet winner who asked not to be identified. "To break the continuity of the game, to force players to come back after four months, to delay the outcome for such a long period is, patently, ridiculous."

Another player said the change is "good for everyone except the players. Players play to win cash … because they are gamblers, not athletes or TV stars … Endurance is part of the game and changing the final table takes that element away."

Other players were less critical, though they expressed concerns, including:

• Players pay the entry fee and the money belongs to them. Players should get a bonus for appearing on TV and for their promotional efforts.

• What happens if a player dies or somehow becomes unable to play in November?

• With a gap of four months, the door is left open for collusion among finalists.

Pollack, the WSOP commissioner, said during the broadcast of a WSOP Circuit event that, if the change in how the final table is conducted is met with too much resistance from players or otherwise doesn’t work as planned, the WSOP would go back to the traditional method of play next year.