Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WSOP Final Table Delay

As some of you may have heard, Harrahs/ESPN are looking at delaying the Final Table of the WSOP by 3 months. The idea is that they would then have the time to follow the players around, build a back story and make the FT more of a global sporting event than it is now.

Some of the main reactions to this are quite funny:

- OMG What if someone dies in that 3 months
- People will collude and do deals
- People will get trained/coached by pros for a % of their winnings

Although I think all of these points are valid, I don't think any would be that big of a deal.

It's possible someone dies during the WSOP while they still have chips anyway. I realise that this is more likely given a 3 month gap in which to croak, but it's still not something that would be a major concern.

As for the training, I think you would be surprised how little you can teach some people in 3 months. I think the better professional players (if any) who make it would suffer a bit as the level of competition would increase, and naturally there will be more information available on them than the randoms who make it to the FT. However, the dynamics of the tournament can change at any time, so much of what they might learn could change in an instant. They suddenly find themselves short, or double through twice and a few players bust early and leave him 5 handed with a huge chip lead.

I don't think it's possible to practice all of those eventualities, so I still think the player who can adapt and draw on his own experiences will still have an edge.

There are some benefits for the players however. They will fill the poker media for 3 months prior to the big day. Their faces will be on the front of magazines, Stars and FTP will sponsor the non-sponsored players and they'll generally get a lot of exposure that they wouldn't otherwise, because normally we only know who makes the FT the day before. I can't even name the people who busted 6th or 7th in previous years, but I definitely would be able to if I got 3 months of them in interviews/magazines/websites.

After saying all this, I still think it's a bad idea. Harrahs are trying to hold on to a TV audience that is losing momentum. There is a lot of poker on TV these days and not enough people to watch it all. It's difficult as a producer of these shows, because fast paced action with vibrant well known pros is what the majority of poker programme viewers want. Only a minority want to see interesting well thought out hands with detailed analysis. When you're trying to appeal to a wide market you don't want to confuse them by saying that 'He floated the flop so that he could shove over the top of any turn card that was unlikely to have hit villains range'

If they want to appeal to the wider audience then this 3 month gap is the way to go.

I have a solution that probably helps both parties though. It's actually really simple.

Run the WSOP episodes DURING the WSOP. It's a long enough event, with 4 starting days you have plenty of time to edit a story together. Then it might be worth having a day or two gap before the final 18 start. That way they can catch up on the action, show the story so far and still keep the players happy. Play down to 9, break for a couple of days to air the last lot of highlights from the final two tables and build some excitement. Do some bios on the players, market the hell out of the final table then screen it live with a reasonable delay.

As long as they remain smart with which hands they show from the earlier tables I don't think this would be a bad idea at all. It keeps it close to the original format and nobody is going to get whacked to improve the equity of someone else at the table.

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