Five Thoughts: Main Event Focus, Outspending Adelson, and Should WSOP.com Sign Merson?
The 2014 World Series of Poker has been put on hiatus. The Main Event final table has been set, and on Nov. 10 the nine remaining players will reconvene in Las Vegas to play for the whopping $10 million first-place prize.
My first WSOP was 2008, and there's no better time of year in poker than the time that the Main Event takes place. I felt that way in 2008, and I still feel that way today.
That said, the WSOP Main Event isn't over. Sure, the November Nine is taking a break for a couple months before they play the final table, but the event is still ongoing, and it's an event all of poker should continually celebrate.
I, like many, think of the WSOP Main Event as poker's Super Bowl. In the NFL playoffs, there is a two-week break between Conference Championship weekend and Super Bowl weekend. I like to liken that two-week break to the near fourth-month break the November Nine endures. During that time, though, all the NFL talk — and all the mainstream sports talk for that matter — focuses on the Super Bowl, and that's what the poker industry needs to do.
Focus on the WSOP Main Event final table like it's the Super Bowl.
Don't forget about it with plans to revisit the news a few days before play resumes. Don't let the players blend back into the public. And don't forget to promote that this is the culmination of the greatest event poker has to offer. The media should celebrate these players and this event, and so should other tours and venues when a November Niner shows up.
That said, let's get into our first thought.
1. Focus on the November Nine, Find the Stories
This summer was my seventh WSOP, and I've seen many players come and go. Not as many as the legendary Nolan Dalla, but I've seen my fair share. That said, I take it as my responsibility to not let the WSOP November Nine fall by the wayside. In fact, as poker media it's the responsibility of all of us.
Each year the same argument is made against the group of players that make the WSOP Main Event final table: It could've been better or there just isn't that big story that we need.
Yes, we know we don't have a female participant. Likewise, we don't have a Phil Ivey-like superstar. There isn't a player over the age of 31, and we also don't have someone that looks like they'll be able to do even a fraction of what Chris Moneymaker did in 2003 — the amateur rags-to-riches story. But that doesn't mean we don't have stories.
As poker media, it's our job to unearth, craft, and promote the stories of these players. It's our job to tell the world about these nine finalists playing for a jaw-dropping $10 million first-place prize. It's our job to do so from now until the cards are in the air for the restart of the event on Nov. 10.
Collectively as an industry, let's work to keep these players and this event in the spotlight over the next few months and continue to work to grow this beautiful game.
2. Should WSOP.com Sign Merson?
Last week, rumors began swirling about WSOP.com signing Greg Merson as their first sponsored player, and it's something that still could happen. While the site originally stated that they would not be looking to take on any sponsored players, things change and I believe WSOP.com should take the leap and make Merson their first. And for the record, I'm against about 75 percent of sponsoring decisions.
Since winning the WSOP Main Event in 2012 and earning Player of the Year, Merson has been a positive ambassador for poker, a role he continues to mature into as time goes on. This past summer, Merson made it a point to play as many gold bracelet events as possible, something he didn't do in 2013. This conscious effort was made after speaking a lot with Phil Hellmuth about being an ambassador and what direction Merson wanted his legacy to go. Not only did Merson play many events this year, but he also actively participated in them. What I mean by that is talking and interacting with others at the table, engaging them in a way that made fans feel the love of a world champion and amateurs feel comfortable at the table.
Merson also suits WSOP.com because he comes from an online poker background. Merson cut his teeth playing multiple cash-game tables on PokerStars before Black Friday. So much so that he earned Supernova Elite status. With sponsorship in place, Merson would willingly play on WSOP.com almost around the clock when he isn't traveling to live events outside of Nevada or New Jersey. He already plays regularly on the site without being sponsored and regularly talks about playing on social media.
Then there is the feel-good story about how Merson turned his life around following a drug addiction, and he's been clean ever since. Not only can Merson serve as a poker ambassador, but he will serve as a positive role model to so many.
Since 2005, no better poker ambassador than Merson has emerged that has won the WSOP Main Event. Merson is young, marketable, has two WSOP gold bracelets, one Player of the Year title, and loves to play online poker.
The storm couldn't be more perfect.
3. It's Not Always About the Bigger Number
Sheldon Adelson is being outspent, but is the money going to the right place?
As reported on NJ.com by Steve Ruddock, Adelson’s vow to spend "whatever it takes" to fight online gambling has turned out to be less than that of the fight for online gambling. A lot less.
“According to the OpenSecrets.org website (OpenSecrets.org tracks political contributions), Las Vegas Sands Corp. spent $290,000 during the 2nd Quarter of 2014 lobbying to stop online gambling. This puts their yearly total at $460,000.
“Conversely, Caesars Entertainment spent nearly $1 million in the 2nd Quarter of 2014 lobbying in favor of online gambling, and has spent $1.8 million in 2014. In addition to Caesars, MGM and Boyd Gaming spent $240,000 and $230,000 respectively during the 2nd Quarter, and Churchill Downs contributed nearly another $100,000 according to OpenSecrets.org.”
Ruddock went on to make the argument that the companies lobbying for online gambling are "fighting the wrong battle" and I would agree with him. "Instead of lobbying for a bill that would legalize and regulate online gambling on these grounds they are spending their money trying to stop Adelson's prohibitive efforts," Ruddock wrote.
Playing repetitive defense against Adelson’s movements isn’t the way to go here. All that does it create a volleyball match where the spectating public are watching two teams nonchalantly hit a ball back and forth over the net. Someone needs to go for the game-changing spike, and it needs to be those fighting for online gambling.
Just because you're spending more money than someone, doesn't mean you're winning the fight. It's how wise the money is spent that matters.
A week and a half ago, the World Poker Tour announced the first two stops for Season 2 of the WPT Alpha8TM tour, and it raises some questions as to the decision of the scheduling, at least with me.
The first of these two stops, the one at Palm Beach Casino in London, is scheduled to take place Oct. 6-7, 2014. That's right before the European Poker Tour stop in London kicks off on Oct. 8 and in the middle of the World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific in Melbourne, Australia. Last year this Alpha8 event would've directly clashed with EPT London's £50,000 Super High Roller, but this year it won't because there is no £50,000 Super High Roller. Maybe the WPT feels their Alpha8 event will fill the void without an EPT super high roller event in the mix, but I don't think so.
First, the EPT London Main Event doesn't kick off until Oct. 12 — five days after the WPT Alpha8 event. Second, the Alpha8 event in London will not be televised — a point that might not have mattered that much had the EPT London Super High Roller remained on the schedule to attract players to the city, but without that event and without television, players are now encouraged even more to head Down Under. Third, EPT London Main Event will have a buy-in of £4,250 this season — £1,000 less than recent seasons — and that's another thing working against bringing big names to town, big names who want to play big buy-in events.
I was against the decision of the EPT to host London during WSOP Asia-Pacific, and I'm also against the timing of this WPT Alpha8 event. Why? Because I don't think it's good for the game. I don't think spreading player pools thin during one time period is good for the growth of poker, let alone diluting the smaller pool of elite poker players.
5. China and Brazil Bursting at the Seams
China and Brazil seem to be relatively untapped regions for poker on the major scale, with China fitting this mold a bit more than Brazil. That said, both countries are ready to explode and recent events could lend itself to just that.
Most recently, China's Chen Qin won the 2014 Beijing Millions, but more importantly the field was 2,732 entries strong. Granted the buy-in for the event was about the equivalent of a $500 buy-in in the United States, but a field of more than 2,700 entries is still a field of more than 2,700 entries. In fact, this event set a new record for the largest tournament ever held outside of the United States — a record previously held by the 2013 Brazilian Series of Poker after attracting 2,446 entries.
Brazil, on the other hand, is ready to explode thanks to how the summer wrapped up. Bruno Politano made the WSOP November Nine and became the first Brazilian to do so. As my colleague Rich Ryan wrote in the last Five Thoughts, "I think a win from Politano could have a big, direct impact on the 2015 WSOP."
I think Politano's accomplishment does even more for poker on a global scale than just the direct affect it will have on the 2015 WSOP that Ryan alluded to. When the WSOP on ESPN episodes begin to show the Main Event in a few weeks, the buzz in Brazil should rise and event participation in the region will grow. I'd even bet that they were already going to grow just with Politano reaching November.
I've been to a few Brazilian poker events, and the atmosphere is unlike any other. They're the epitome of competitive fun, and the fields that come out for these events are always big. If there was ever a time to travel to Brazil for a poker event, the time is now, and I'd suggest hitting one of the remaining BSOP events on the 2014 schedule. Can you imagine the field size for the BSOP Millions that will take place in November after Politano plays the WSOP Main Event final table? Don't miss that one.
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily shared by PokerNews.