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Best of Dan Podheiser

Gaming Guru

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Top 10 things the World Series of Poker got right this year

13 July 2015

Boasting 67 tournaments over a month and a half of the summer, the World Series of Poker is the biggest and most popular poker event in the world. With that designation comes high expectations from players, media and all other stakeholders involved.

It also means that, with upwards of 50,000 poker players descending on the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino throughout the summer, some people are going to complain. Caesars and the WSOP are in the service industry, after all. Dealing with customer complaints is a part of the business.

Hell, even I criticized the WSOP for the lackluster opening day of the 2015 Main Event last week. And that’s OK! Good businesses rely on media and customer feedback to make positive changes going forward. As Tournament Director Jack Effel pointed out, the WSOP is in this for the long haul, and isn’t afraid to try some new things even if it means they might not work out initially.

But it’s also important to give credit where credit is due. And despite a few bumps and bruises along the way, the 2015 World Series of Poker has been a tremendous success.

Here are the top 10 things the WSOP got right this summer.

10. They managed to attract record fields

Don’t believe people when they say that poker is dead. The WSOP proved that the game is indeed alive and kicking this year, as the opening weekend saw 22,374 entries (14,284 unique players) for its $565 buy-in Colossus event. The largest poker tournament ever was a tremendous success and also produced incredible side action at cash game tables and in the Rio’s Daily Deepstack events.

A month later, a record 3,963 players registered for Day 1C of the Main Event, producing the largest Main Event field in its 46-year history. Overall Main Event numbers are down slightly from 2014, but with 6,420 players, the WSOP can surely be proud of continuing to attract bigger fields than any other poker tournament series.

9. The Main Event went off without a hitch

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed with the fanfare or the showmanship surrounding the beginning of the Main Event. In my opinion, the WSOP could do a little bit more to make first-timers and bucket-listers feel special.

But at the end of the day, the Main Event is a $10,000 buy-in poker tournament that awards $7.6 million to first place. Poker is a fun and social game – and players should always try to enjoy themselves at the table – but the Main Event is also serious business. It’s important for the WSOP to treat it as such, and they have.

Execution from dealers, floor staff and others has been flawless during the Main Event. Everyone is on their A game.

8. The Rio bathroom attendants are doing the Lord’s work

I’m not going to paint a picture of how awful the bathrooms in the Rio Convention Center get during player breaks. I’ll let PokerStars blogger Brad Willis do that for you with this piece from 2014.

The bathrooms at the Rio are perpetually horrifying and disgusting for 20 minutes a day, five times a day. But then the restroom staff is able to pull out their magic wands and turn them into pristine facilities. Seriously, they must be using magic to make those bathrooms usable. I vote that they get a raise.

7. They responded to player feedback and made swift changes

Effel has admitted that some things didn’t go well at the beginning of this year’s WSOP. The playing cards, for one, were cheap and flimsy. That disappointed a lot of players.

“We’ll call it exactly for what it is,” Effel told me last week.

But the WSOP made things right and replaced the cards. And when several players complained that the structures in several of the mixed events were too slow, leading to multiple grueling, 14-hour days, Effel and the WSOP team responded and made some adjustments.

It’s tough to keep every customer happy, but the World Series generally does a great job of considering everyone.

6. They honored Kevin Mathers

If you work in the poker world, you’ve probably run into “Kevmath” at some point. As the manager of poker information for Bluff Magazine, Mathers is without a doubt the most knowledgeable poker mind in the industry. That’s not an overstatement; he literally knows everything poker-related.

Mathers is an invaluable resource to the poker community. If a player has a question, whether it’s about a tournament’s start time or structure, or simply which line they have to wait in to register, Mathers responds immediately on Twitter with the answer.

So it was a great tribute that the WSOP honored Mathers by having him give the “shuffle up and deal” announcement to commence Day 2C of the 2015 Main Event. It was a humbling experience for Mathers, who said he’s never been so nervous talking to people in his life. But he can rest easily knowing that everyone in the audience admires him for his dedication to the game.

5. The WSOP.com live reporting improved over time

For the last few years, the WSOP had a deal with PokerNews, which provided live updates and chip counts for the series in swift, reliable fashion. It was great for fans and other media members alike. If you wanted to look up a player’s status, you went to PokerNews and it was there.

The two companies did not renew their business in 2015, however, and the WSOP was tasked with putting together its own live reporting team. From the start, things were not up to the standards set by PokerNews. But over time, the live reporting and chip count updates have gotten better. And the crew of reporters, photographers and bloggers has stepped up its game for the Main Event.

Live reporting for poker tournaments is no easy task, and it takes a lot of experience. For the WSOP.com team to improve at the pace they’ve improved this summer is quite impressive.

4. They weren’t afraid to try new events

From the Colossus to the DraftKings 50/50 tournament to a $777 buy-in bracelet event that overlapped with the Main Event, the WSOP didn’t hold back in trying anything and everything that would get players excited about the series all summer long.

I’m sure we’ll see some tweaking for next year. But it’s great to know that the World Series of Poker is not stuck in its ways, similar to some businesses who rely on tradition as a main component of their brand.

3. They bucked trends and introduced flatter payout structures

Again, the World Series probably didn’t have to do this. Most players in the Colossus likely had no idea that first place would only be roughly 5.6 percent of the prize pool, or that hundreds of people would walk away with five figures or more. But the WSOP went in that direction anyway, knowing it would make a lot of people happy. And save for some complaints, Effel says that he heard almost nothing but satisfaction with the Colossus payout structure.

This year, the Main Event is paying the top 1,000 players instead of the top 10 percent. That means that roughly 350 more people will be paid this year than they would have if the tournament followed a traditional structure. I’m guessing those 350 people will be very happy.

2. Despite controversy, the new Player of the Year system makes sense

The World Series of Poker changed its Player of the Year system this year to use a formula provided by Global Poker Index (GPI). The formula takes into account several factors to determine how many points are awarded for a given place in a given tournament, including but not limited to buy-in, field size and field strength.

People were upset that Cord Garcia, who won the Colossus, received fewer points for winning the biggest tournament (by a mile) ever than every player who final tabled the $25,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event.

It makes sense, though. Garcia’s accomplishment is impressive and he’s a professional with a proven track record, but the “skill factor” in winning the Colossus is not on the same level as making the final table in, say, the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship.

Even Brian Hastings, who has two bracelets in 2015 but is not at the top of the leaderboard, admitted that his bracelets were not as difficult as making a deep run in the $25,000 PLO. That should say something.

1. They continue to treat the media incredibly well

I’ve covered my fair share of sporting events, conferences, town hall meetings, you name it. Members of the media can often be treated as unwanted house guests. But the World Series of Poker is first-class in its treatment of the media.

We have access to the facilities 24/7. The team in the media room does an outstanding job of providing information and resources to anyone who needs them. It’s a comfortable experience, which is important when you’re working several consecutive 14-hour days.
Top 10 things the World Series of Poker got right this year 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.