The 2011 World Series of Poker kicked off seven weeks ago with a huge dark cloud hanging over the proceedings. After the U. S. Department of Justice’s attack on online poker with the “Black Friday” seizures of the major online poker sites, the delays in payments from PokerStars and no payments at all from Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS Network, it was thought this might be the lowest attended WSOP in recent memory because player bankrolls would be tied up online. Those same issues from the DoJ seizures also brought the possibility that there could be a backlash from players affected by said seizures.
It proved to be nothing of the sort. Players turned out in droves for the tournaments, whether they were the $1000 “free for all’s” that brought monstrous fields, or the World Championship events populated by the big name pros. A record 75,672 players created the largest prize pool in WSOP history, $191,999,010. Several tournaments set records for size and/or prize pool and the Championship Event was the third largest in history.
Those players affected by the online site seizures also didn’t act out of line. There was plenty of talk on message boards and forums about taking retribution against the professional players who were the face of these online sites because of the money that players had tied up. For the most part, those professional players who were the faces of the online poker sites were not hassled in any manner, proving that there was, at least, a modicum of decorum from the average player who was affected the most by online poker’s darkest day.
The final good thing about the 2011 WSOP was the actual poker itself. More professionals won bracelets during the 2011 WSOP than ever before and, while they might not have been the “top” names that everyone knows, there were some bracelet wins that spotlighted the younger players in the game. Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier, Jake Cody, Jason Mercier, Max Lykov and Nick Binger were just a few of those younger players to take titles, and Canadian pros Daniel Idema and Tyler Bonkowski solidified their credentials as pros by winning bracelets.
The “November Nine” for this year is also quite impressive. In what will be the most international final table in the 42-year history of the WSOP, seven nations will be represented when the Championship Event resumes in November. Although Canada won’t be a part of this international event, the United States, Belize, Ireland, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Czech Republic will make up the final table, with four nations – Belize, the Ukraine, Germany and the Czech Republic – sending their first representatives to the final table ever.
Kudos also have to be handed out to Caesars Entertainment, WSOP officials and the Nevada Gaming Commission for taking the next logical step in televised tournament poker and providing the last few days of the Championship Event live (OK, on a thirty minute delay). This unprecedented coverage of the event was captivating for long time poker fans, even without the hole cards being shown. The commentary, provided by Lon McEachern, David Tuchman and Norm Chad, and the analysis by professional players Phil Hellmuth, Antonio Esfandiari and Olivier Busquet, added a new component for the newcomer to the game to discover the nuances and strategies that make poker a great game. If all tournaments were broadcast in this manner, we could potentially face another “poker boom” similar to the early 2000s.
The down side of the 2011 WSOP was the many professionals who did not show up during the entirety of the event. Phil Ivey’s much ballyhooed announcement at the start of the Series that he wouldn’t play had an effect on the casual fan, and the non-appearance from such names as Howard Lederer and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson – most likely a result of the “Black Friday” activities – took away top flight players from the proceedings.
For all of its international flair, the “November Nine” does lack for that big name that would draw the crowds. In 2010, it was Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi; in 2009 it was Phil Ivey. This year’s table, save for maybe Ben Lamb and online pro Phil Collins (who aren’t exactly household names), are virtual unknowns to most in the poker community. Whether this will have an effect on the television viewership of the 2011 WSOP Championship Event when it plays out in November remains to be seen.
Finally, on the ugly side, Caesars Entertainment and WSOP officials must get rid of the “Ten Round Rule.” The rule, good in concept as it was put in to provide adequate rest for players and floor staff, required a tournament to be stopped if ten rounds of any event were played in one day. This caused several tournaments – even those down to the heads up combatants – to be stopped and resumed the next day, with almost universal disdain from the players and the audiences in attendance.
We already pause the Championship Event for over three months (we’re not getting that genie back in the bottle), but the preliminary events should be played out as they were scheduled. Here’s a suggestion for WSOP officials for 2012: If you want to stop an event due to time or the possibility that it won’t play out until the early morning hours, either stop it when the final table is determined or allow the players to make the decision as to whether they want to play it out or not. While it is important for everyone involved to get adequate rest, there is no logical reason to stop a tournament at any point DURING final table play.
Overall, the 2011 World Series of Poker was what it has always proclaimed itself to be, the greatest tournament in the world. While the powers at Caesars Entertainment and the WSOP officials cannot have an effect on the outside world, they controlled what they could – putting on the tournament – and came through this year with flying colors. While there were glitches (anyone remember the cards that could be identified, face down, under the intense lights of “The Mothership” final table?), they were handled quickly and, usually, correctly. Although many may not be thinking of it yet, here’s looking to the 2012 WSOP and another flawless event!