This past weekend, the World Series of Poker's Circuit held their Tournament of Champions. Many of the players were upset because three players who had not qualified (Harrah's had issued detailed qualification requirements about a year ago) - Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, and Johnny Chan were allowed to participate in this $2 million freeroll tournament despite not meeting the qualification requirements. Hellmuth finished third in the event, pocketing $250,000. The event will be broadcast on NBC on Christmas Eve.
This inclusion of these three great players sparked a lot of discussion on message boards, and among the poker world on whether organizations should be able to get away with this, and whether the players have any power, or even any interest in doing something other than complaining about it.
My colleague Earl makes a lot of good points in his argument supporting the addition of three non-qualified players into the ESPN World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions.
I do agree with a part of Earl's assertion, which is while poker develops as a "sport" (that word still hurts me to say), we need to give television producers as much wiggle room as possible to build the best event for TV. Until the poker world defines itself as a business within our media-crazy culture, we need to give the media outlets the maximum amount of flexibility to create compelling programming that will continue to draw an audience.
But the recent World Series of Poker 'Tournament of Champions' was a freeroll with qualification based on a pre-determined set of criteria. Many players (both professional, and non professional) made plans, bankroll decisions, and possibly even game play decisions based on that set of criteria, which were enforced throughout the entirety of the circuit....until the day of the championship freeroll.
The thing I think we need to keep in mind here is that the players still fund nearly all of the prize money that goes into these prize pools, so it the fact that the TOC was a freeroll with the prize fund put up by Harrah's holds no water with me. The WSOP Circuit, not to mention the WSOP itself is a positive thing for Harrah's - both from a profit, and a PR perspective.
Many of you are probably familiar with the plight of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. Owens is widely regarded as one of the best football players on the planet, but can't stop running his mouth. When Owens was openly critical of team officials, and teammates on a TV program last week, the Eagles felt the need to suspend their best player for the rest of the season, and did so. So now, Owens sits on the sidelines, not able to help the team, or even his own cause.
What if a team playing in the Superbowl suddenly added Owens to their roster the day of the game? Sure, the opponent would cry foul, but what if the league let the deal stand? Owens makes great TV, and would make a much more compelling Superbowl.
But there are rules against this type of thing for a reason. If the organizations (who are competing for top players, by the way) that conduct, and televise poker tournaments want the players to have faith in them, and continue to support the tournament, or tournament series - they will need to stick to the rules they create.
Certainly, you cannot criticize Johnny Chan, Doyle or Phil Hellmuth (the three non-qualified players added into the event) for taking part in the event. "Excuse me, Mr Chan - would you like to play in a $2 million freeroll where you will definitely have TV coverage, and only have to beat 100 or so players for the top prize" Chan - "Um......yes."
Still, for us to shape this great game as a TV commodity, and all be able to profit from it, we have to find a way to prevent this stuff in the future. Oddly enough, I am going to contradict myself at the end here, and say ultimately, when stuff like this happens, it is the players fault. If the players could organize themselves, and have a strong, united players association - this type of stuff would never happen.
The people I feel for the most here are the average Joes, who put up ten thousand dollars (more than once for some) and played in circuit events to try to qualify for this tournament of champions, and didn't make it. We build this "sport" on the dreams of 'Joe Average' playing next to Chan, Hellmuth, or Doyle - provided 'Joe Average' qualified for the event.
Be sure, and check out Part One of this discussion, written by my colleague Earl.