When the world converged on the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in 2005 for the World Series of Poker, it was expected that the throngs of poker players participating in the events and the surrounding games would cause some issues for the tournament. It was going to be a monumental task for the Harrah's staff to maintain order, which they did an admirable job of. In this segment of this continuing series, we'll look at what some of those issues were and how Harrah's is attempting to alleviate the problems.
Harrah's purchased the traditional home of the World Series, Binion's, back in 2004 after the doors were shut due to financial issues. With Harrah's purchase the 2004 event was able to be played out, but it was also obvious that the legendary gaming hall had perhaps held the world's greatest poker tournament for the last time. The sheer size of all the fields for all the events, capped by the 800-plus competitors who came to the tables for the $10,000 Championship Event, demanded that a new home be found for the resumption of the tournament in 2005, which Harrah's had in place in the Rio.
2005 saw the World Series come to its new home in the Amazon Ballroom at the Rio. The room itself is a spectacle; I personally have seen smaller concert venues that booked big-name rock bands than the Amazon! Add into this over 200 poker tables stretching as far as the eye can see and it truly is a poker player's Nirvana. This idyllic setting, however, came with some aspects that the tournament organizers had forgot to take into account.
One of the key issues that players had with the venue in 2005 was, to be blunt, finding a place to relieve themselves. With the Amazon packing nearly 3000 players (counting tournaments, cash games and satellites) plus vendors at the World Series of Poker booths, railbirds, employees and the general public passing by, breaks during the event became a literal race against the clock. Especially notable was the lack of substantive female facilities, which became a huge problem during the Ladies' No-Limit tournament (with over 600 competitors). It was an issue that plagued the tournament from start to finish.
Another problem was finding sustenance during the run of the event. While the Rio is a beautiful casino and a fitting home for the World Series, it is also a huge group of buildings covering a sizeable area. Walking to the Amazon from the casino, the hotel itself or the fantastic restaurants was a major undertaking that really took a huge amount of time out of a lunch or dinner break. While there was a snack line that was near the Amazon, the fare was pricey and perhaps not what players and fans were expecting at the Series.
When it came to the poker itself, there were a couple of issues as well. There was only one cage at the event (which had three or four windows, if I recall correctly), which led to long lines for players registering for events or cashing out. There were also only two tournament clocks available for usage, sometimes making it highly difficult for players to ascertain critical information regarding the event they were playing. Add all of these events together and it became obvious that there were some changes necessary for 2006.
Enter the new Commissioner of the World Series of Poker, Jeffrey Pollack. Pollack heard the rumblings regarding these and other aspects of the 2005 tournament and vowed to make changes. When it came to the poker aspects, Commissioner Pollack knew that the players would let him and Harrah's know what would be best for this year and future years of the tournament. With that in mind, Pollack created the Players' Advisory Committee in January and was able to get some of the greatest players in the game, including former World Champions Chris Ferguson and Scotty Nguyen (among others), to come on to the committee and offer their thoughts on how to continue the legacy of greatness that the World Series has.
When the schedule for the 2006 event was announced, there was a huge predominance of No-Limit tournaments on the roster. Many players protested this factor and, once again, Pollack stepped to the forefront to please the players. He created the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event (we'll talk more about this later, but it is the largest tournament in the history of the World Series) to test the skills of the greatest players in the game today. Overall, Commissioner Pollack continues to look after the legacy of the World Series and should have a significant impact on the future of the event.
The tournament clock issue is one that will most definitely be addressed this year. I would expect that you'll still have the two main clocks, but will also have smaller clocks around the tables on televisions or large computer monitors. These should alleviate the clock issue and make it possible for any player from any location to garner the information that they require.
While the "outside poker" issues of bathrooms and food may seem insignificant, there are plans in place to alleviate some of these issues. With the restroom situation, we will probably see some sort of staggered break system in 2006 that will allow everyone to take care of their personal business in a timely manner. It is also possible that more time will be given on breaks as well. Finally, there will more than likely be in place some sort of system (a "fast track", if you will) that will help for the players to move from the tournament arena to their destination and back without missing any action.
Food could be the greatest question of all. Beyond building restaurants closer to the Amazon Ballroom (a virtual impossibility), perhaps the only area that Harrah's could help there is to lower costs around the tournament arena. It is also more than likely we will see longer meal breaks during tournaments to allow for players, tournament workers, fans and media to navigate the halls of the Rio and still make it back in time for the resumption of action.
Overall, 2005 was the greatest six weeks of poker in the history of the game. While it did have small issues, Harrah's stepped to the plate and performed admirably across the board. It seems, with the work of Commissioner Pollack and the rest of the Harrah's staff, that 2006 will be even better! With the stage now set, we can look towards who the favorites are in the field. Not the favorites as they are playing right now, mind you, but the favorites as to how the bookmakers view the field as we continue on our Countdown To The World Series.
Ed note: Party Poker have WSOP qualifiers every day.