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Best of Dan Podheiser

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One on one with WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel

10 July 2015

LAS VEGAS – The 2015 World Series of Poker has seen record fields, made multiple millionaires and introduced tournaments never seen in the poker world.

The 67-event series got off to a roaring start in late May with the $565 buy-in Colossus, which at 22,374 entries (14,284 unique players), set the record for the largest poker tournament ever. A month and a half later, the Main Event saw its largest single-day field size ever, when 3,963 entered the tournament on Day 1C. In between, there have been dozens of new bracelet winners and plenty of controversy.

Amidst all the chaos is WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel, who has been with the World Series since 2007. Effel is the point person for anything and everything WSOP-related during the summer. If a player has a complaint or some feedback, it goes straight to Effel. And poker players don’t hold back when it comes to voicing their opinions.

Casino City had a chance to sit down with Effel during the early stages of the 2015 Main Event to talk about the summer, the poker world in general and balancing the interests of every stakeholder at the World Series of Poker.

Casino City: Now that we’re getting towards the end of the WSOP, how has the summer been here at the Rio?

Jack Effel: I think the summer has been fantastic. We had a lot of great, new events. We tried a lot of new things – some things that worked, some things that didn’t. But we found a lot of things that we didn’t know in the process, and we have some good notes to make things even better for 2016.

I think the numbers indicate that it was a very successful year with respect to attendance, people coming from a hundred different countries and great Main Event numbers. Overall, it’s been a huge success, and the fact that the World Series of Poker is that one place that, regardless of what poker is doing anywhere else in the world, it’s alive and well. People will bring their bankrolls and will come and want to play at the WSOP even if they’re maybe not playing in other places. If you’re a poker player, and it’s summer time, you want to come here. And this year was no different.

There was a lot of stuff going around across the city. I think players found what they liked and didn’t like. It’s easy to see that the bracelet events are the events that people want to enter first and foremost – they have the largest prize pools. We also saw some nice side event action and we know that the rest of the hotels in Las Vegas were pretty busy. I know [Caesars’] properties outside the Rio were busy, and everyone that I’ve talked to at the competing properties was also pretty busy. Everybody’s tired at this point, and I think that’s a pretty good indication that it’s been a busy summer.

World Series of Poker Tournament Director Jack Effel has some fun during the WSOP Media Event at the Rio on Thursday night.

World Series of Poker Tournament Director Jack Effel has some fun during the WSOP Media Event at the Rio on Thursday night. (photo by Dan Podheiser/Casino City)

CC: When the WSOP begins the planning process for the summer, what is the overarching goal that you try to achieve? Has that goal changed or evolved over the years?

Jack: It evolves with things that others are trying in the poker world. We’re pretty much the launching pad for a lot of things. We only try to put things in action that have a proven track record, that are recognized disciplines in the poker world. The World Series of Poker is still the one place that you can play stud or draw games and mixed events, and a lot of pot-limit. There are a lot of events that you just don’t get to play the rest of the year because players are few and far between in some of these games. And so the only time they’re in the same room together is at the WSOP.

The other part of it is that we collect feedback from the players who participate in these events. And from year to year, we hear things that we think we should do to continue to improve, to draw more players to create more organic growth. Some things we get right, and some things the players don’t even realize are different until they’re playing because they’re just not played anywhere else.

We don’t rely on any one particular person; we get feedback from a lot of people. We’re always open – if you have a suggestion, you can openly send it to us. For the things we want to keep, we look at that feedback to see how we can make them even better. For the things that we think are duds, we hope to replace them with activities that we think are more attractive to the players.

You have to remember who your audience is. We have very different types of players. There are the players who want to play high buy-in, nosebleed events. There are guys who want to play the mixed events and H.O.R.S.E and Omaha and stud. And then there are the weekend warriors who want to come in and play the $1,000 or $1,500 events, and they can play one or two and also enjoy the Daily Deepstacks and the cash games. We have all these different players that we are trying to consider. It’s all about knowing who your customers are. We want everyone to be able to have everything that they want to have, to a certain degree. When we balance all those things, we want fair competition, to uphold integrity and to be cognizant of people’s time.

This year was very experimental on a lot of different levels, with the Colossus, the 1,000 different players being paid in the Main Event, and with all the different nuances that we tried. They were tried because where else do you have the opportunity to be at a venue with 40,000 unique people who are here for seven weeks from several different countries?

CC: Speaking of feedback … with Twitter, you get a ton of feedback, and you often get it from very vocal and well-known professional players. And they’re very opinionated, to say the least. Is there more of a sense of urgency given that this goes on?

Jack: I think Twitter is great for people to be able to get feedback. I think sometimes the messaging that the players are trying to send may not always be taken well, and it can create some animosity and adversarial kind of stuff between the players and us. But at the end of the day, we’re reasonable. If you walk up to us and talk to us, we’ll never tell you to go away. We do take every issue as being important.

I love Twitter on a lot of levels; I hate it on others. The tone is the one thing that you always have to work through. If I’m getting messages from people that are expecting things, saying you have to do this, or I can’t believe you did that, and it starts becoming borderline offensive or insulting, to me that’s not productive and constructive feedback. If you have an issue, I’m not saying that you can’t post your complaints on Twitter. I’m saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way to communicate with any person in the world. And sometimes, in 140 characters, someone might have a good intention but it doesn’t come across that way. And when we send messages that are short and direct, it may not sound like it has much sincerity.

Twitter helps me stay in contact with players for whom I may not otherwise have that same rapid response. I’m not checking my phone all day during the World Series because there is so much to do. And sometimes players will get mad if we don’t respond immediately to their complaints. But to the players: If you have a dire emergency, please just go grab the nearest floor person. They all have earpieces, and it all leads back to me.

CC: Is bringing a Players Committee to the WSOP something you have considered, and do you think that’s something that would help take pressure off you? For instance, with Twitter, you could simply ask all players to direct their complaints to the committee.

Jack: Frankly, it’s a legal concern. Outside of making players employees – which we don’t plan on doing – we have to leave feedback as though it was customer feedback. And everybody’s a customer, and everybody’s entitled to feedback. So to say that we have a certain group of players that is going to vote on how things are going to work could have some really harsh ramifications if things were to go wrong based on some of those decisions.

We have to be able to stand on the side and be smart enough to filter the bad stuff, take the stuff that we feel is good, and make the decision we feel is best, knowing we’ll go down for it if it doesn’t work out. We want to make decisions based off all the information and feedback we have gathered. We don’t want to be restricted just because a committee says so. There are several stakeholders – not just players – and so it gets very complicated when you think about it in terms of an organizational structure.

CC: What’s the one thing that could come out of the 2015 Main Event that would be a real boost to the poker community?

Jack: Oh, if a lady would win, that would be super cool! Of course anyone who wins the Main Event would be a great ambassador for the game. But I’d love to see a lady win the WSOP Main Event.

We’ve seen a lot of amateurs and a lot of young guys win – really young guys who are barely legal to even be in here. But it would be cool to see a lady win, and it would be especially cool to see a lady who has been playing in open events for a long time, like Vanessa Selbst or Maria Ho. Someone like that, who already has a really good record and who can be compared to guys like Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth, would be great for the game.

I think poker needs it to get more ladies in the game. And I think the ladies need it to get some more confidence in themselves. Overall, it would be a great thing for poker.

CC: What is the one thing from this year’s World Series that you are really proud of? And on the flip side, what is one thing that you say, wow, we really should have rethought this?

Jack: As far as things that I could have rethought, obviously we would have spent a little more time on the cards. We’ll call it exactly for what it is. Second, although the structures were for the most part good, and we made some positive changes, there were some things that still made players a little upset. Some players didn’t like the fact that we changed the structures (to remove levels from mixed-game events) because they liked the extra play. But in hindsight, I’m not really sure we could have found the perfect structure without trying things out first. There just aren’t three- or four-day mixed events anywhere else in the world. So we do our best, and take as much feedback as we can, and we try to adjust.

We also made adjustments for some of the open events by adding additional chips and giving more play. And that seemed to work out well for the no-limit and pot-limit events. Those players were like, man, these are the greatest structures ever! It worked for those, but it didn’t work for the limit events and the mixed events: which is OK! All that stuff is fixable. I think the structures turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

When it comes to the Colossus and the opening weekend, I think there was some administrative stuff we could have done on the back end. We had a few anomalies occur – the computers went down for four hours, for instance. And we didn’t do a great job facilitating the lines. I’ll have to think about, in the future, whether or not I want to be able to give players the chance to register for multiple flights at once. It sounds good in theory, but it can become a logistical nightmare trying to figure out if players actually played those flights or had stacks that needed to be picked back up.

The execution of the Colossus itself was pretty good, outside of the fact that we had some short-handed tables the first couple days. But overall it was a fantastic event, and I talked to a number of players who really enjoyed it. I know there was a little grumbling about the first-place payout ($638,880). When people first saw it, they were like, that’s it? But then a bunch of people started to go deep, and they realized they were getting $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000. I had one guy who told me he had a nice run in a Daily Deepstack, he cashed for $10,000 in the Colossus, and now he’s coming back to play the Main Event. And that was the whole purpose of having a flat structure, and we had heard that that was what the players wanted.
One on one with WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.