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Pollack defends final-table delay, hints at more changes

29 January 2009

World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack is certain that last year's controversial decision to delay the Main Event final table 117 days was beneficial to the game -- so much so that a similar pause has been scheduled for this year's event.

"What we learned from last year is that the new format works," Pollack told Casino City after it was announced earlier this week that the 2009 Main Event would once again play down to nine players on July 15 and return to Las Vegas in November after a near four-month break. "The Penn & Teller Theatre was absolutely electric [for last year's final table in November]. There has never been a larger live crowd for a final table and the viewers tuned in on TV in greater numbers than ever before. You put it all together and I would say that we shifted the paradigm successfully."

Whether the delay had anything to do with it or not, there's no denying that last year's WSOP was an unmitigated success. In addition to record-breaking attendance and TV ratings for the final table, the WSOP broke overall marks for total prize pool ($180,774,427), number of entries (58,720), number of players (31,146) and number of countries represented (124).

jeffrey_pollack

WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. (photo courtesy of WSOP)

Even still, Pollack hinted that the dynamics of this year's final table will be altered. Last year's final table lasted two days. The original nine final tableists played down to two on Sunday, Nov. 9 and the heads-up action between eventual champ Peter Eastgate and runner-up Ivan Demidov began the following night.

The dates for this year's final table, however, call for four days of action, beginning Nov. 7 and running through Nov. 10. Pollack was guarded when he was asked what would be added to the docket this year.

"Stay tuned," he said coyly. "We're still figuring out how we can make that weekend even bigger and better than last year. So we'll be announcing exactly what that will include very soon."

Pollack wouldn't rule out a venue change for the final table, nor would he say if the schedule was being modified in order to accommodate ESPN, which had less than 24 hours to produce its "same-day coverage" of the final table last year.

"I think one thing we did learn is that the fans would like to see more of the heads-up action on TV," said Pollack, referring to the fact that last year's final-table broadcast on ESPN showed just two of the 104 hands that were played during heads-up action. "All I'll say right now is that the four days we have scheduled for the final table are there as a placeholder. When we finalize exactly what's going to happen, we'll be sure to make an announcement."

As for keeping the actual length of the delay the same, Pollack said that tournament officials talked about the possibility of shortening the break, but in the end decided a November final table was most beneficial.

"We ended up agreeing that November is the right time to end our broadcast schedule and to do it in primetime," he said.

One change you can expect during the delay is a more aggressive P.R. approach. Pollack acknowledged that the promotion of the November Nine last year fell short of expectations.

"We realize that we have to do more to promote both the players and the final table as an event during the break," he said. "You can be sure that's what we'll do this year."

The most notable addition to this year's schedule is the one-time $40,000 No Limit Hold'em event scheduled for May 28 that will help commemorate the 40th anniversary of the WSOP. Tournament Director Jack Effel said the idea for the tournament came from his living room.

"I was telling my wife (Elisha) that we were trying to come up with a cool idea to celebrate the 40th anniversary and she just blurted out, 'Why don't you just have a $40,000 buy-in tournament?'" Effel said with a laugh. "I just kind of paused and said, 'Honey, that's brilliant.'"

Poker pros from across the world would probably agree since there has been a faction of players over the years who have longed for a big-money Hold'em tournament to be added to the WSOP slate.

"It's a way for us to put an even brighter spotlight on the most popular form of poker," Pollack said. "And we're doing it with a buy-in level that is certain to attract the best players in the world."

Re-buy tournaments have been eliminated this year (there were five of them last year), but added to the schedule was a $3,000 Triple Chance No Limit Hold'em event where players are given a stack of chips to start the game and then can add two additional stacks at their discretion.

Other changes to this year's schedule include an increase in the total number of overall events (from 55 to 57), the number of World Championship $10,000 events (from 8 to 10) and the number of events price at or below $2,500 (37 to 39). The WSOP will also introduce a Stimulus Special $1,000 No Limit Hold'em event on the opening weekend of the Series (May 30-31). In addition, the buy-in for the three-day Razz tournament has increased from $1,500 to $2,500.

"The $1,000 buy-in tournament is a way to offer a very reasonable buy-in event to people who may have never been able to play in the WSOP, but always wanted to," explained Effel, "As for increasing the Razz buy-in, I look at it as a way to elevate the status of one of the great games that we offer. Hopefully one day we can go to two different Razz events with a high buy-in and a low buy-in. But the hope is that by going to $2,500 this year it will get a more attractive field."

Effel added that the footprint at the Rio for the WSOP will be the same as last year, except for the addition of 20 or so tables, bringing the total from 272 to more than 290. He also said that there will be a few "tweaks" to the rule book and one of them will concern the manner in which penalties and warnings given to players.

But despite all the changes, Pollack maintained that the pulse of the World Series of Poker still is and will always be the $10,000 Main Event, which drew the second-largest field in WSOP history last year with 6,844 entrants.

"The Main Event has become a symbol of hope at the WSOP," Pollack said. "The magic of the event is the enormity of the field. It's all about going through a field of thousands and thousands of people to win that gold bracelet. And the great thing about is that anybody can win. That's not going to change."

Pollack defends final-table delay, hints at more changes is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT