Poker players can aid tournament directors

Jun 18, 2013 3:03 AM

In Part 1, I discussed the three main functions of being a great tournament director. In this article I will address what makes a great tournament director from the point of view of the players and the tournament staff.

A hallmark of a great tournament director is one who listens to the players. I have been playing the WSOP for over 30 years, and last week something extraordinary happened while I was playing in an Omaha Hi-Low event.

When we returned for the second day of play, I went to my seat in the Amazon room and realized the lighting was not adequate. I told the dealer I can’t see my cards and the table agreed. He made a joke and said, “And guess what, this is the last table to break.” The dealer called the floor man who said he would work on it. Fifteen minutes later, a technician came out and couldn’t figure what to do except move the table six inches.

This didn’t solve the problem. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake, so I had to find a solution. We called the floor man again who this time said, “What do you want me to do? I can’t stop the tournament.” I could see I was at a dead end with him, so I told a friend of mine who was on the rail to get in touch with Jack Effel. She said he monitors Twitter, so we tweeted about the problem to @WSOPTD. He responded within minutes and said we are on it and are looking to move your table.

In a matter of minutes we were moved to the center of the room where the lighting was fine. This was an outstanding response by Jack Effel. He understood the problem, what was at stake and acted in the best interest of the players. This is the mark of an outstanding tournament director, which should be the model of TD’s everywhere.

I reached out to some of the most respected names in poker for their opinion on what makes a great tournament director. Margie Heintz, poker room manager at Eldorado Hotel/Casino in Reno, suggests TD’s should be players themselves. “The person would have to have played serious poker in their life. He/she needs a total understanding of the game and why certain rules are made.”

Eric Drache, a Poker Hall of Fame inductee agrees: “I believe that a TD should come directly from the world of poker, ideally having played poker for many years.” And Mel Judah, a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and world-class tournament player recognizes that “a tournament director who has seen and experienced it all as a player makes the best tournament director.”

As a person who is both a poker player and has worked in casino management, I couldn’t agree more with their assessment. When I first introduced No Limit Hold’em to California, there was a problem with where the stack of chips was going into the pot. I took a magic marker and drew a circle on the table and made a rule that the chips do not count unless you move them across the line, and once they crossed the line, they had to stay in. Sometimes you have to make a rule on the spot to fit the situation.

Another way a great TD demonstrates his talent is through his tournament structure. As Craig Kaufman, tournament director of the Hustler Casino in Gardena, California says, a great TD is “someone who shows creativity in designing tournaments and structures and being accessible to players and listening to their comments or their ideas.”

Marsha Waggoner, a Women in Poker Hall of Fame inductee, agrees: “A great tournament director makes the best structure for the players.” Great structures take into account the logistics of the casino’s space, staff, etc., combined with the players getting a great structure. It’s a delicate balancing act.

Finally, a great tournament director builds a good team around himself. He puts together the best floor staff and dealers who are his frontline. Without them, he will fail. At the end of the tournament there should be an exit interview with the dealers to get their input on how things were run. I have heard from many dealers after the end of a tournament, that the compensation did not meet their expectations.

A great tournament director makes sure everyone is happy – from his casino, to the players to his staff. He ensures this by getting input from all channels on how to improve the event in the future.

Phyllis Caro, former director of poker operations at Hollywood Park Casino, put it best: “Like any director of film or theatre, a poker tournament director must supervise and guide his “actors” through the entire process, culminating in a positive experience for all involved.

This requires extensive planning, training and communication. The director must be insightful to the players’ desires as well as satisfying the goals of the casino. Thus, the tournament director must be creative with his structures, consistent with his decisions and cohesive with the organization of his event. This results in a satisfying player experience.”

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Robert can be reached at [email protected].

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