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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2008

No Live Final Table at the 2008 WSOP, Rumors Squashed!

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The rumors are swirling throughout cyberspace. The 2008 World Series of Poker main event may delay the final table for 90 days, then play it out live on ESPN. Some heard it from a “reliable source” while others simply repeat what has been said. After much speculation, Harrah’s has put it to rest with a quasi-firm “no.”

Backing up a little, the idea of a live final table first came to light in a blog post by Michael Craig on Full Tilt Poker in October of 2007, just months after the end of last year’s WSOP. He referenced a conversation with Ty Stewart, Director of Sponsorship and Licensing, in which Michael mentioned that the idea of a live final table was under consideration. While Ty’s response to the blog was, “[I] don’t know if I loved seeing that out there,” the matter received some discussion on forums – positive and negative.

Several key points were mentioned by Ty, via Michael’s post. One was that Harrah’s doesn’t want a live broadcast at the expense of separating fans from the action in person, since the table would have to be sequestered to maintain the integrity of the game. Another was that Ty did “not believe that ESPN will dedicate more than a three hour window to the stunt.” Third, Ty pointed out that Harrah’s would not make any additional revenue from the deal due to a long-term deal already in place with ESPN.

Regarding Ty’s motivations for considering the idea, Michael wrote, “He wants to do it to reinvigorate TV poker, for which the ratings have slipped over the past few years. He also believes the players would have the most to gain, as the exposure and publicity created for the champion should be even greater.”

So, the proposal for a live final table has been under consideration since as far back as the 2007 WSOP, though it may have been discussed for a longer period of time behind closed doors.

Within the past few days, rumors began surfacing again. More specifically, many were suggesting that reliable sources had indicated that the live final table, which would be delayed for months after the end of the WSOP, was to be implemented for this year’s WSOP. Reputable journalists had inside information that led to this assumption.

The idea being floated about was this: The 2008 WSOP main event would play down to the final nine players in mid-July, then stop temporarily. The nine remaining players would return in October or November to play the final table in a live (or semi-live) TV production setting for ESPN, with hole cards being exposed for the cameras. It was even rumored that the first day would play down to the final two players, and heads-up players would return the following day to determine the winner.

More details of the supposed plan were revealed by Pokerati.com. First, television ratings were the driving force behind the idea. However, the integrity of the game would be preserved by not altering the blind structures, despite what ESPN may request. Second, all final table players would be paid ninth place money in July when the WSOP all-but-officially ends and they would return to compete for the additional portion of the prize pool. Their return trips to Las Vegas would be comped.

Suddenly, a document appeared in my e-mail inbox that appeared to be an official proposal that Harrah’s had compiled – or that someone had compiled for Harrah’s… with a Harrah’s heading on each page. Here are some of the key points:

• Objectives: positively impact ratings, create fresh buzz and exposure; gain incremental publicity and promotion; create excitement among players, media, and ESPN
• Principles: protect integrity of the game; do not change blind structures; equal playing field for competition
• Play at the 2008 WSOP would end on July 15th instead of 16th. ESPN would broadcast 2008 WSOP episodes from July 22nd to November 4th, ending with a 2-hour final table preview show. Final nine players would compete on Sunday, November 9th, and final two players would compete on Monday evening, November 10th. The broadcast would hit ESPN at 9pm EST on Tuesday, November 11th.
Players would receive 9th place money on July 15th. The remainder of the prize pool would be invested in a no-risk CD as an overlay for the winner. All players would receive an all-expenses paid trip back to Las Vegas for the final shows.

The rest of the document considers the pros and cons of the idea, taking into account the players, media, dealers, integrity of the competition, and possible scenarios such as if a player dies or becomes incapacitated.

This is a serious proposal. Whether it is being considered for the 2008 WSOP – or even for the 2009 WSOP – is pure speculation. However, I contacted Harrah’s public relations representative this morning for a confirmation, denial, or statement of some sort.

The statement I received was from a Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc. spokesperson and read:

“We have heard those rumors as well but we don’t stoke rumors. If there was news to announce we would certainly share it publicly. We announced the schedule back in December and nothing has changed to it – 55 bracelet events over 47 days from May 30 to July 16.”

This seems to put the rumors to rest for the time being. Though it is the prerogative of Harrah’s to change the schedule at any time, the risks of negative responses and backlash as the WSOP nears is greater. But since many in the poker community have had a favorable response to the idea, this may bode well for the idea to come to fruition during the 2009 WSOP, which is coincidentally the 40th anniversary of the World Series.

For now, the Harrah’s response seems fairly clear. There will be no live main event final table in 2008.

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