01/06/2005

The Circus Comes to Town

Ashley Alterman 'The Poker Cynic'

The circus in question is the WSOP, The World Series Of Poker,regarded by many as the Holy Grail. The town of course is Las Vegas, that bastion of American hypocracy and double standards. Where else would the highlight of the annual poker calender take place?

Alot of changes have taken place since the original World Series was held in the early seventies, but the prestige of the main event, has only increased with the increase in numbers of contestants, and consequently larger prize money. Winning this one event is now enough to secure your place in poker folk lore, and the $5Million or more which the winner will pocket will ensure a comfortable ride for even the wildest of gamblers, for sometime to come. I can see the attraction for professionals and amateurs alike to compete for the sports biggest prize, but the series of events leading up to the main event, seem to me to offer a far greater chance of glory. Winning a bracelet (the trophy that goes with the prize money in each event) is enough of an achievement for the majority of aspiring champions, but it seem that the lure of the main event eclipses the whole series.

The online poker sites are a significant contributor to this emphasis, by running endless satellites enabling people to qualify for the main event, but none for the other events. Given there are nearly six weeks of tournaments, this seems a rather unbalanced approach to take. I can understand that all the sites are desperate to provide the winner of the main event as this sort of publicity is probably worth millions to them. However, they would benefit if they provided the winners for any event, so I fail to understand their one pointed approach. I guess the lure of the main event provides a steady stream of contestants judging by the 700 or so players who have already qualified via Poker Stars. The offer of free accomodation if players will wear their branded shirts, will ensure that their logo is visible everywhere during the duration of the tournament, and I'm sure they get economies of scale by focussing all their attention on one event. The real question is , is this good for the players?

This is a tricky question. On the one hand the additional money brought into the game by Online poker has revolutionised Poker.This provides more opportunites for the players, more action, and a greater pool of recreational players happy to spend a significant portion of their disposable income to support the increasing number of professionals and successful amateurs. On the other hand, the guiding principles behind all events are not the interests of the contestants, but the interests of the Major Players. These being the World Poker Tour - great for producing tournaments with the best players in the world, as long as they are happy to sign away all intellectual rights so no players are able to benefit from sponsorship, just the organisers - The Online Poker sites also attempt to squeeze every last cent from their customers, as one would expect, and have managed to make the WSOP another vehicle for their continued expansion. This has turned the main event into a circus, to the detriment of it's prestige. I believe there will be three "alternate" starting days due to the huge numbers of players involved, and the only way to ensure enough players are eliminated on the "first" day, is to put the blinds up at an alarming rate. This shift away from the emphasis on skill is an unfortunate side effect of the expansion of poker which is seen more clearly here than anywhere else. Fortunately this is only true at the start of the tournament, and the later stages will seem the same as ever.

On balance, I have to say that expansion of poker is good for everybody involved with the game. There were allways external forces determining the direction of poker, mainly the casino's, and they were always motivated by profit. The only difference now is that the potential prize pool has been enlarged , and the driving forces behind the expansion are more organised and consequently more profitable than ever before. The players benefit from all this new money, so complaining about the dubious practises of some operators( in a general sense) is about as reasonable as complaining about being beaten by a worse hand. Market forces are in control now, more than ever before, when local morality had a significant impact on poker in different locations globally. Morality is relative, profit is absolute, so we know which will be forced to give eventually. After all, profit is the over-riding principle which we usually manage to place above all other considerations.

Meet the new boss, he's the same as the old boss, and if you were expecting anything else, you are too optimistic to be a poker player.