According to the schedule, up to seventeen WSOP final tables are being played in total isolation this year. Final table players are sequestered behind a curtained area where no reporters, coaches, spectators, friends, or family have access. They are escorted on bathroom breaks and are denied contact with anyone "outside" of their isolated final table world. The reason for the isolation is Bluff's one hour delayed internet video broadcasts of the events, complete with hole cards; a programming package they are selling for $49.95.
The "Sequestrium" (a named coined by PokerNews reporter Tim Lavalli) is located just adjacent to the ESPN stage. In stark contrast, the final table players on the ESPN set are viewed by expanded stadium seating, a media row, and a VIP area. Anywhere in the vast tournament room, you can hear the applause and cheers emanating from ESPN's palace to poker - while the other final table remains curtained in silence.
To say the least, the sequestered players are not happy with their fate; most of them finding out about their seclusion only minutes before their event. For many, this will be their first WSOP final table. For their whole poker playing lives, they envisioned this moment and this wasn't their vision. Some have flown out friends and family to share in the experience and root them on from the rail - only to find out their loved ones are relegated to watch it on one hour delay far from the tournament area.
Bluff is not the first to show hole cards and sequester poker players for broadcast purposes. In 2004, Fox Sports Net provided live television coverage of a tournament at Turning Stone Casino. But there were some differences. The final table at Turning Stone was made up of six players, which would have a predictably shorter playing time than the nine player final tables of the WSOP. And friends and family were also sequestered, given a comfortable stadium seat view.
Other organizations have broadcast poker live, like the EPT and ESPN's pay-per-view of the 2006 Main Event final table, but those organizations have chosen not to show hole cards primarily because of the hardship and logistics of sequestering players as well as the potential leak of hole card information even with the most rigorous precautions.
In 2003, I sat on the Binion's bleachers watching Chris Ferguson win a WSOP bracelet in Omaha hi/lo. Although it was before poker's meteoric growth, I was not alone; specifically I was joined by Perry Friedman. Perry told me he had sweat Ferguson to every bracelet he had won up until that point. Famed Tiltboy Friedman said his job was to make sure a powerful winning force surrounded Chris as he played. Although Ferguson has made a final table at this year's WSOP, it was not of the sequestered variety. Let's hope that if he makes another, Friedman's winning force can penetrate the curtain.