POKER

My 2011 WSOP Diary

TAGs: ESPN, Tatjana Pasalic, WSOP

WSOP has officially been over for a week but the exhaustion remains. It is the most anticipated time of the year yet so exhausting, then before you know it, Tatjana Pasalic WSOPit is over. Just like kids who can’t wait for December to write out their Christmas lists, players cannot wait for May to pick which WSOP events they will play.

Of course, this year has been specifically intense because of Black Friday.

Spending my time with a lot of the American pros and I found out that they were treating this WSOP as their last shot at making some money before they all go out and get ‘real jobs’. Wow – that sounds…well, scary!

It reminds me of the film “Wall Street” when Michael Douglas says – you are the ninja generation – No Income, No Job, no Assets. Still, a lot of the media and players predicted bad numbers in Vegas this year but we were all surprised by the volume of WSOP entrants.

This year broke almost every record from last year and the WSOP Main Event had the 3rd most players in its history. Was it because players were playing for the last time, the number of first time players, the fact that the economy is recovering or something completely different, it’s hard to say but the tables were completely full every day.

This year it was amazing to fly into Vegas, come to the Amazon room to feel the atmosphere, feel the buzz that started with the first event, railing friends when they got deep in tournaments, making new friends and finally – preparing for my very first Main Event.

When I first came to Vegas, 6 years ago, I came to support a few friends who played the Main Event. If anyone back then told me I would be sitting at the same tables just a few years later, I would tell them to stop joking. But, a few summers later and a big sponsorship deal, I got the opportunity of the lifetime.

Players always talk about how table draw is important; I never gave it much thought until I sat down at my first table and started meeting people. Poker is such a great game and a great opportunity to make friends from all over the world.

Unfortunately, after a great start on Day 1, my Day 2 did not go so well – my first all in and I was out. My QJs vs. 55 QJ couldn’t get there. “CANNOT WIN A COIN FLIP” – I always thought it was annoying to hear and then I caught myself saying it and it made me laugh. However, I had something else to look forward to after I did my interviews – I was invited to be a guest on the ESPN live stream!

This year, in a way to help spark interest and boost ratings for the World Series of Poker, starting with Day 3 ESPN decided to offer “live” coverage (airing on a 30-minute delay) of the Main Event. Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, David Tuckman, Brandon Adams, Antonio Esfandiari, Olivier Busquet and Phil Hellmuth were among the players providing analysis and commentary for the poker fans watching on the ESPN Channels and online at WSOP.com. Action consisted of two tables alternating every 30 minutes with the feature table located in the “Mothership” of the Amazon room with the second table nearby.

The online forums and Twitter were mostly positive of the coverage, with Esfandiari and Busquet getting especially good marks. Unsurprisingly, Hellmuth’s appearances sparked intense debate (standard for the Poker Brat) from both sides.

The dozens of hours of coverage is a far cry from the early 2000’s, when just an hour or two was dedicated to the Main Event. 2003 was a watershed year for televised poker, especially in the US. After the early success of the World Poker Tour, ESPN dedicated 7 hours of coverage to the WSOP Main Event, won that year by Chris Moneymaker. It helped spark the poker boom in the US, both live and online.

In 2004, ESPN aired over 20 hours of the World Series of Poker, including showing preliminary bracelet events in Pot Limit hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha, Stud, even Razz!

It was more of the same in 2005 with more preliminary events, but no Razz along with extensive coverage of the Main Event.

Eventually, the number of preliminary events would dwindle to just a couple of events, with more hours given to the Main Event. However, ratings started to slide in 2007, the year Jerry Yang won.

Tatjana PasalicThe following year, the WSOP November Nine concept was developed to help raise interest and ratings for the Main Event as well as increase mainstream publicity for the final nine players. Ratings went up in 2008, and Phil Ivey’s appearance at the 2009 final table expected more of the same. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and the 2010 November Nine final table saw numbers fall to 2007 levels.

Returning to the present, ESPN held a similar experiment earlier this year with the final table of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, considered a success by all involved, leading the network to take the bold step of offering extensive coverage of the Main Event as it happens, as well as producing their standard edited coverage starting July 26 with “Grudge Matches” featuring Johnny Chan v Phil Hellmuth and Chris Moneymaker v Sammy Farha, the heads-up duel that launched the poker boom 8 years ago.

The coming two weeks will feature the $25,000 Heads-Up Championship as Jake Cody becomes the youngest player to earn poker’s Triple Crown and the $50,000 Player’s Championship as Brian Rast defeats Phil Hellmuth heads-up, denying him his 12th WSOP bracelet for the third time this series.

When the announcement came of “live” coverage of the Main Event, some people were sceptical, especially when it was announced that hole cards would be shown (when a hand makes the flop) on ESPN and ESPN2. Player’s speculated that even with a 30-minute delay, it would give some players an unfair advantage. The opinion was that players at the table could relay an opponent’s hole cards in a particular hand to them via text or Twitter, leaving less technologically savvy players behind. This development adds a new dynamic to the game, creating an “informational war” as a professional poker player related on Twitter.

According to Sports Business Journal, the gamble paid off for ESPN as ratings were up substantially over the previous year’s programming. The World Poker Tour has been reluctant to offer live coverage of their tournaments with any streaming done for European WPT events. Will the success of the WSOP mean changes for the WPT?

Yes, it was sad to bust this event but it was amazing to take part in it. The hype, the experience, the people, the game – it is something every poker player should try once in their life.

After the number of entrants and of course Black Friday, the hot topic dominating players and fans Twitter and Facebook updates was ESPN’s Live coverage of the Main Event.

I think ESPN did an amazing job to bring all of us to your screens every day. They worked hard to keep everything in perfect order – so they deserve a huge thank you together with @kevmath who helped me with all the facts about the WSOP coverage.

I asked two players what is their opinions on ESPN live stream.

First one was Jean Robert Bellande, who played various TV tournaments and also at this year’s ‘Mothership’:

“This is pure raw tournament poker with superb commentary. Poker Productions and ESPN took a big gamble that will pay-off Huge!”

The second one was by Daniel Negreanu:

“It creates an unfair playing field. Being at the featured table is a competitive disadvantage, especially for the amateur player.”

But, as we say in Croatia, 100 people, 100 opinions, It’s always good to have different opinions and I would like to hear yours, so do not hesitate to respond via Twitter to @BodogPoker or @Tattytats.

Until next time,

Bok Bok! Tash xx

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