The World Series of Poker is really starting to grow up. Last year, it was awe inspiring to see the sheer number of tables in play. In 2004, it was more amusing than anything else to see tables jammed into hallways, or at casinos that were a 10 minute walk from the main tournament room. This year, its all about the 'bling', and bling in modern sports terms mean signage, spectacle, and just plain pizzazz.
In my interview with Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner of the WSOP, which ran a couple weeks ago, he talked about now he felt last year's tournament didn't have enough 'Vegas' in it. This year, not only has the Vegas factor increased, but the corporate factor is also growing mightily.
There are not one, not two – but four logos on the felt of most of the poker table set up in the Amazon Room of the Rio Hotel Convention Center. Party Poker, ESPN, Milwaukee's Best Light, and the WSOP logo all adorn the tables that we will all be playing at over the next six or (hopefully for us all) seven weeks.
The signs hanging from the rafters, the giant beer cans in the hall, the 10 foot high 'royal flush' displays, it all ads up to an event that is coming into its own in the mainstream sports corporate world, and in a way I suppose leaving behind what it used to be forever.
Once I thought about it, I realized that as impressive as it was last year, the room where all the poker is played was just a cavernous sea of poker tables, and poker players.
This year's room feels a little more like its hosting an event, and a little less like a cattle call. Sure, there is action – and tons of it, but the feel of the event has changed a great deal. One would assume the WSOP will keep changing, and evolving along with the path that poker takes over the next few years.
I counted about 40 tables in action yesterday as I strolled through the Amazon Room. I saw a three handed mixed game, I also saw a No Limit Game with a nice list already waiting on it. Satellites were in full swing, and I counted no fewer than 15 of them going on less than 4 hours into the first day of play.
The casino employee event is today, and tomorrow is when the real fun starts. A $1,500 buyin No Limit Hold Em tournament is right in the wheelhouse of today's internet poker warriors, and you can bet many of them will be in attendance. The first guy I saw in the hallway yesterday morning had a 64 ounce Super Duper Big Gulp Soda (Diet, of course) in one hand, his registration card in the other, and was wearing big sunglasses, shorts, and a shirt that read 'You have no chance'. The 2006 World Series of Poker is upon us.