Thursday, May 22, 2008

Joker Scheduling

It is that time of year again. The 2008 World Series of Poker is about to begin. The month-plus long string of tournaments will include 55 events this year, including the third annual $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament, the second annual heads-up NLHE event, and my personal favorite (non-main event), the second annual $2,500 Omaha H/L-Stud H/L combination event.

And looming at the end of the series, starting on July 3, is the 39th annual $10,000 World Championship of No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em. This event IS the WSOP. This is the one that everyone has been trying to win. The big money, the picture on the wall, the prestige, the respect. Johnny Moss, Stu Unger, Doyle Brunsun, and Johnny Chan all won the event multiple times. Win the main event, and you instantly become a legend. As the field has expanded, the number of days has extended. From a single table to a week-long festival, the main event has the largest prize pool, largest top prize, and largest field every year. Last year, Jerry Yang had to survive seven days of play over an 11 day span to capture $8.25 million and the title.

This year, however, the main event schedule has taken a turn for the ridiculous. After playing for seven days over an 11 day period, the final table will be set. But instead of getting the nine surviving contenders for the throne together on the twelfth day and playing down to a champion, this year, the nine survivors will be handed ninth place money and sent back to their regular lives for the next four months. Then in November, they will all gather in Las Vegas again to play down to the heads-up match, which will gather the next day to decide the winner.

Why take a four month vacation in the middle of an event? Why, for the benefit of the television audience, of course. The assumption is that ESPN will be following the nine finalists around, filming their regular lives, or as regular as they can be still having a chance to become the face of poker. As if the first 50-plus events, in addition to the first 7 days of whittling the main event field down, were not building enough hype for the main event championship, now we will have to wait an extra 108 days to reconvene the final table.

No momentum going into the final day, no one steaming, no one on tilt. Everyone will be able to start fresh. While this may seem like a decent enough idea on the surface, it in fact takes away one of the best human elements that the main event has represented. Fatigue and stamina have played a role in the outcome of the main event since the field started expanding to the point that multiple days were required to decide it.

I do not know who suggested this psychotic scheduling change, but I hope that this becomes one of the WSOP's one-year experiments, much like playing the final table outside the casino on Fremont Street was in 1997. This is a mistake, and I for one am not looking forward to the four month hiatus. The whole idea of the main event is to outlast an ever-growing field over the course of a week or 10(ish) days. Now putting the entire tournament on layaway until just before Thanksgiving takes away one huge aspect of the event, and increases the amount of luck involved, reducing the skill aspect that makes poker the most human of gambling endeavors.