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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2008

Delayed Semi-Live Final Table at 2008 WSOP

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For months, the poker community has discussed rumors and supposed inside scoops regarding the implementation of a new schedule for the final table of the 2008 World Series of Poker main event. Players, fans, and media debated the issue, as the rumor indicated the final nine players would end play in July and not return until November for the benefit of extra TV coverage and player publicity. But in early April, Harrah’s responded to an inquiry on the subject with a quasi-emphatic denial, noting that rumors are not fact and no main event change would occur in 2008.

On May 1st, the rumors were confirmed to be true by none other than Harrah’s, ESPN, and the World Series of Poker. A conference call was scheduled with media and interested parties on May 1st, but USA Today published a story the evening before with seemingly concrete statements. Finally, prior to the conference call, the public relations firm e-mailed the statement, entitled “World Series of Poker Announces Enhancement to 2008 Main Event Final Table Format.” The subsequent conference call made it official and answered some questions.

Play in the 2008 WSOP World Championship main event will occur as originally scheduled, but on July 14th, after the final nine players are determined, play will stop…for 117 days. The final table players will return to Las Vegas – courtesy of Harrah’s and the World Series of Poker – on November 9th to play down to the last two players. Those two will return the following day to play until one emerges as the winner.

ESPN will edit the footage of all final table action and condense it into a two-hour episode that will air promptly on Tuesday, November 11th at 9pm EST. The show will undoubtedly include key hands along with player profiles and stories of their individual journeys to the WSOP final table.

On the May 1st conference call, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack called the idea an “exciting innovation” and “unprecedented opportunity to capture the world’s attention.” He noted, “We’re going to put the spotlight on the entire final table, celebrating the fact that they’ve outlasted and outplayed thousands of competitors. Now instead of there being just one star who emerges from the main event, there will be nine stars, one of whom will receive our coveted championship bracelet on ESPN the same day that they win it – the first time this has ever happened.”

He continued, “I think this same-day telecast is really going to be a cliffhanger that will be must-see appointment television. Really, what we’re doing is shifting the paradigm. Now, poker fans will be anticipating who will win instead of just talking about who won, and after seven weeks of live play at the WSOP, there will now be an additional 16 weeks of promotion and relevance that I think will lift the entire game of poker and further mainstream the incredible personalities that make the WSOP so much fun and so interesting.”

Senior ESPN Producer Jamie Horowitz added, “This is a very exciting day… It’s certainly our hope that this adjustment will add new excitement to what is already the biggest event in poker. We at ESPN are looking forward to detailing all the exciting stories that will take place both in July and in November. In our minds, it’s just like when baseball added the wild card or NASCAR added the chase for the championship. I think this change has the potential to bring new drama to what is already a very successful competition, and we’re excited to be part of it.”

Through opening up the phone call to questions, numerous situations and issues were addressed.

Dealers: According to Jack Effel, the dealers will be compensated on July 14th with the withholding from the prize pool. When the nine players return in November, the only monies left to be paid will be additional gratuities should the players decide to contribute them. “All monies will be paid back whether those individuals participate in the actual final table or not; they will still be compensated based on their allocation.”

Prize pool: It was confirmed that all nine players will be paid ninth place money on July 14th when their spots at the final table are solidified. Pollack also noted that the prize pool for the final nine will include interest, as that lump sum will be put into an interest-bearing account on July 15, and all interest accrued by the November final table will be added and distributed to the final nine players as additions to the original payout amounts.

Collusion and/or deal-making: In response to a question about the 117 days being time enough for players to collude or make deals, Pollack’s voice took on a note of gravity. “We think that the biggest mistake that any player could make here is to test our seriousness about ensuring that our events are conducted ethically and fairly... We will be releasing a new code of conduct next week that will clarify what has always been the case with a new sense of firmness; it will clarify that any act or any play that is illegal, unethical, or constitutes cheating or collusion in any form will be met with very severe penalties… I hope that [the WSOP final table] brings out the best in everyone, but if it doesn’t we will be prepared to act accordingly.”

Final nine: Horowitz confirmed that ESPN cameras will follow the lives of the final nine players throughout the three month interim. A one-hour special will air on November 4th to preview the final table and document the players’ preparations.

Media coverage: The answer to the question about media coverage of the final table was music to the ears of all journalists on the phone. Pollack said, “We’re blowing the doors wide open on media coverage so that there will be no sequestration, no lockdown, and if you’re credentialed to be in the room, you’re going to be able to report what you see. We believe that will only enhance the coverage in terms of viewership if the word starts to get out that day.” In essence, all approved media will be able to cover every hand and action of the final table to relay it to fans who won’t be satisfied with the condensed two-hour version of the play.

Audience: In addition to media being allowed in the room, and family and friends of the nine players being invited, the public will be welcome – and encouraged – to view the final table action on November 9th and 10th. Pollack noted, “We think this will be poker’s biggest night ever at the Rio… There will be ample seating for the public. We expect poker’s biggest names to come out, whether or not they’re playing at the final table. We expect there to be a very healthy contingent with stars of film, television, and music, just as you see in the NBA courtside line with celebrities and fans and family members on what I think will be poker’s biggest night.”

It should be noted that there will be no change to the actual tournament structure for the benefit of television production. Final table action will be played out as usual, though in front of a more massive studio audience and with more pomp-and-circumstance than ever before.

The 2008 WSOP conference call on May 1st also touched on several items about which players coming to Las Vegas for the Series should be informed. Since Pollack discussed most very briefly, and some were actually discussed in a prior article, the following will be a list of notable changes and improvements.

• The poker tent will not be the home for any poker whatsoever. There is a separate room for satellites, and altogether, there will be five rooms set up for various aspects of the WSOP, of which the Amazon Room is still the primary location. At any given time, 2,740 players will be able to play poker simultaneously.
• There will be no alternates in any tournaments this year.
• A new rule has been established to address unsportsmanlike conduct.
• The new cell phone rule states that voice-enabled devices must be silenced during play, and players must be at least one table length away from their assigned table to use the device.
• There will be more room between tables than ever before to accommodate players, fans, and media.
• A concierge service will be put into place for the players’ questions and requests.
• The food choices in the poker kitchen have been enhanced, and the nearby Sao Paulo Café – in the hallway of the Rio approaching the casino – will have extended hours to accommodate WSOP players.
• Restroom facilities have been expanded.
• Play has been limited to fewer hours for player comfort. Preliminary events will run for ten levels each day, as opposed to the 10 or 12 in the past. The main event will play five levels each day, ending play at approximately 12:30am each night, as opposed to the 2:30am stop time in years past.

With the WSOP just around the corner with the first event beginning on May 30th, it’s time to make those plans to make the Vegas trek. The World Series of Poker website has the complete schedule of events and other information about daily satellites and tournaments.

See you in Vegas!

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