Monday, May 05, 2008


There's been some discussion re: Harrah's decision to delay the final table until November. CC, the Upfor Crew, and others have contributed their two cents far more astutely than I could.

So my question is this - is it time to start a new WSOP?

This actually has very little to do with the delay. I'm not sure how I feel about that aspect. It has more to do with the overall evolution of the tournament.

30 some-odd years ago, Benny Binion invited some buddies to play poker. They voted for the winner. Then they played a tournament the next year. Then it grew. The buy-in became $10k. Media got involved. It became Binon's biggest advertisement. Eventually, it had thousands playing. Now it's owned and controlled exclusively by a casino company.

It's a donkfest. Everybody knows this. Thousands enter, maybe 1 or 2 pros make the final table. Unknown amateurs take it down and get tons of media coverage, sponsorship deals, and sign exclusivity contracts with poker sites. But nobody really thinks they're the best player in the world. In fact, if someone like Ivey won it, he'd add legitimacy to the tournament, not the other way around. The biggest winner is Harrah's.

It also suggests that the best hold'em player is the best player period.

There's the HORSE event, where the variety of games and $50k buy-in limits the field. This is often a more coveted bracelet than the ME these days among the pros. A case can be strongly made that this is the true World Series event. But it's only one event, that anyone with the scratch and guts can play.

There's also NBC's Heads-up challenge, and the WPT Tournament of Champions. But HU is a coinflip, and the WPT ToC has been without some notable pros of late.

Look at other contests (I refuse to call poker a sport). The World Series of Baseball, the Majors in golf, the Grand Slam events in Tennis, the Superbowl, the Stanley Cup, the Grey Cup, the NBA Championship, the NCAA Championships, etc, etc.. These have something that the poker tournaments don't have - qualifying rules.

In the major league sports (Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey), Joe average can't win the championship. You have to be a recognized team in the official leagues, and play a regular season followed by bracketed playoffs to play in a final match for the trophy.

In golf, you need to qualify. Sure, the Opens and Masters have amateurs, but they either have to meet the requirements or be invited.

The NCAA is all amateurs, but again, they need to get ON the team, and the team needs to qualify for those 64 spots.

Even the Olympics - the supposed paragon of amateur competition has rounds of qualifying matches to go for a medal for your country. I can't just walk up to a registration window and be in the decathalon.

But every single WSOP event has but one requirement to play - you need to have enough money. It doesn't matter how you got it, you just need it. I can take 10 large and fly down to Vegas to sign up for my shot at a pretty bracelet and millions of dollars. This is what makes it such a great game. The fat dude next door can be a millionaire and celebrity by pushing all-in whenever he gets aces.

But it doesn't mean a damn thing in terms of rankings.

The old adage for poker is the we keep score by money. Really? I believe the #1 money winner for the last 5 years has been whoever won the WSOP ME. So by that logic, Moneymaker, Raymer, Hachem, Gold, and Yang have had the highest scores in years past. There's what, 2 people on that list that could reasonably be considered high-calibre players, and they were ALL unknowns before that. Ferguson was the last legit champ.

The nature of tournaments isn't that you beat everyone else, just that you beat some of them and outlasted the rest. So can a tournament really determine the best player in the world? A case could only be made for this if all the participants were of similar ability and qualifications.

So how do you assure this? It seems to me that perhaps the PGA is the closest template to be used. A series of tournaments where the players need to actually qualify or be invited to play. A final championship that isn't the answer to the question of who's best, but the contributing factor.

Yes, I'm familiar with the Professional Poker League, but I'm not talking about teams. Poker isn't a team sport. It's an individual pursuit, so requires individual qualification and performance metrics.

So you set it up using a tour model. Different events, different games, different stakes, at different casinos/rooms around the world. A handful of them are opens, where anyone who meets the requirements (be it total money won, ROI, winning one of a LIMITED number of satellites, invite, etc.) can enter provided they have the buy-in as well. The rest are via tour qualification rules and invite-only. Just having the buy-in and being in the neighbourhood isn't enough. Obviously the known roll of pros gets invited initially. Past WSOP and WPT champs as well and a few celebrity players for media attention, but ones that have shown at least SOME ability in the game. After that initial invite, tour cards can be kept or lost just as in the PGA. At the end of a season, money and points are tallyed up to determine player of the year.

Sure, the magazines and sites do this already, but is any of it really official? With disparate organizations holding thier own events, there's no unifying oversight. It's sloppy, and creates confusion, which in turns leads to interest being lost. Poker as a whole benefits, although the current WSOP and WPT models might suffer. It's not like the PGA has hurt the number of people going to their local golf courses.

I'm just throwing this out there. Maybe there's a better way. Or maybe the way it's going now is as good as it gets. Then again, if I ask you who the best golfer in the world is - you know. If I ask who the best poker player is? Well, we know how that goes.


BWoP said...

It was great to see you again!

Wwonka said...

I think that this is a terrible Idea unless your trying to be an exclusive club. By your way of think you will make play better but that won't happen.

"The rest are via tour qualification rules and invite-only."

so Invite only? who is going to be doing the Invites? seems like it leaves alot of room for croniesm. You know including or excluding players based on whether they are a big enough name or Liked by the people making the decisions.

Raymer was a legitamite winner who went deep again the following year.
he just wasn't well known to alot of folks west of the Mississippi.


Mike Maloney said...

Isn't that what the WSOP Player of the Year standings are for? I know it's not cumulative for the entire year, but it's cumulative for the entire WSOP (Although they discount HORSE and the ME, which probably skews things).

Astin said...

Wonka - no different a club than golf, tennis, or any other major competitive events. An oversight committee is set up to make these decisions. Does anybody complain if Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus get invited to PGA events?

Qualification rules would be set up to set a minimum standard to play. Exemptions would be in place, just like the golf majors. Hell, maybe you include the WSOP as a major event and keep it to a wide-open "pay to play" field, but it isn't be-all and end-all to the rankings.

Mike - That's WSOP only. Granted, my suggestion could create another "league" that is just as exclusive, or it could be an independent body that incorporates big tournaments from other organizations.

The point is that the WSOP actually determines nothing. To fairly determine who "the best" is, you NEED to be exclusive. I'm not talking about playing nice and letting anyone have a shot at #1. If some local superstar wants in, then he brings his amateur qualifications and buy-in to one of the opens and plays. He wins, he's on the tour for that year and is exempted for the next season.

Or would you rather that the guy who hits 10 yard drives into the woods be able to play in The Masters?