Commentary

WSOP improves and impresses in 2008

Updated: August 6, 2008, 11:20 AM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN Poker Club

With another successful World Series of Poker in the books, we look forward to Nov. 9, when the final nine participants come back to crown the 2008 WSOP main event champion. As the 39th annual WSOP goes into hibernation for a few months, here are some of my thoughts, comments and insights about the event.

Year of the Pro

After several years of amateur players winning numerous WSOP bracelets, the pros decided to reclaim the tournament Benny Binion created for them 39 years ago. Whether due to better tournament structures (additional levels were added allowing more play) or the collective resolve of the professional poker players, 2008 will be remembered as the year the poker pros took back the WSOP.

More significantly, the 2008 WSOP saw numerous pros get the proverbial monkey off their back. First-time winners included Erick Lindgren, David Singer, Nenad Medic, J.C. Tran, Dario Minieri, David Benyamine, Kenny Tran, David Daneshgar and John Phan (who was the only two-time winner of the 2008 WSOP). Additionally, other previous bracelet winners added additional hardware to their trophy cases. These winners included Layne Flack (won his sixth bracelet), Scotty Nguyen (fifth), Daniel Negreanu (fourth), Barry Greenstein (third), Mike Matusow (third) and Max Pescatori (second).

Let see if 2009 will continue this trend or if the amateurs will return to the winner's circle.

Day 2B disadvantage:

The following was the schedule for the first three days of the 2008 WSOP main event:

July 03, 2008 -- Day 1A
July 04, 2008 -- Day 1B
July 05, 2008 -- Day 1C
July 06, 2008 -- Day 1D
July 07, 2008 -- OFF
July 08, 2008 -- Day 2A (Day 1A and 1B survivors)
July 09, 2008 -- Day 2B (Day 1C and 1D survivors)
July 10, 2008 -- Day 3 (Day 2A and 2B survivors)

The schedule had a day off between Day 1D and Day 2A to make sure that all Day 1 survivors would have a day of rest. However, this respite was unnecessary as no Day 2A player would play back-to-back days since Day 2A was comprised of only survivors from the first two starting days. Additionally, all players who survived Day 1C and 1D would reconvene the day after 2A to play on Day 2B.

Now, here is where the issue lies. Players who survived Day 2A would get a day off, while Day 2B survivors would immediately return to play the next day on Day 3 without any additional rest. Overall, this schedule glitch was a slight disadvantage for Day 2B players, as Day 2A players would be fully rested entering the critical days of the tournament.

The day off should have been between Day 2B and Day 3, allowing all participants a day of rest before Day 3 (which is usually the day when the money bubble is burst). This scheduling issue was discussed during the media news conference and will hopefully be corrected next summer.

Another heads-up event

Every year, the WSOP committee discusses possible changes/additions to the 2009 WSOP schedule. For next year, I would suggest that the committee consider adding another heads-up event with a smaller buy-in, anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. Given the popularity of the National Heads-Up Championship and the $10,000 World Championship heads-up WSOP bracelet (won this year by first time bracelet winner Kenny Tran), the WSOP should consider smaller buy-in heads-up events. When the $50,000 World Championship HORSE event gained tremendous popularity, Harrah's added smaller HORSE buy-in events. In 2008, two additional HORSE events (Event No. 22 with a $3,000 buy-in and Event No. 51 with a $1,500 buy-in) were included, in addition to the legendary $50,000 event, among the 55 WSOP bracelet events. I believe it is time do something similar and add additional heads-up events.

Ready…Set…Break!

With the huge fields at the WSOP, Day 1 breaks are chaotic. Even though they are 20 minutes in length, it's nearly impossible to run (literally) to the bathroom and return in time for the start of the next level. Thus, many players leave the room with a few minutes left to go in the level just to avoid the huge bathroom lines. Additionally, during every break, the supervisors do not allow the players back into the room until there are only a few minutes left in the break. This scenario made it virtually impossible to return to your table in time. Several players were furious as they missed a hand or two.

During the day off, I spoke with Harrah's about this situation. The organizers seemed to rectify it on Day 2 of the main event by allowing ample time for the players to return to their seats before starting the clock. In the past, Harrah's implemented a staggered break schedule in which different sections of the room would break at different times. At the very least, break times for the rooms should be staggered (e.g. first Amazon, then Brasilia). Additionally, the security guards were forcing the players to walk through the Lifestyle Show (something that was done to force spectators to pass through the booths). Since every second counts, guards should allow the players (who all wear wristbands to distinguish them from the spectators) to cut through and also give them access to one of the bathrooms down the side hallway.

Breaks are meant to allow players to take a breather from 120 minutes of intense play, not to get frustrated about going to the bathroom. Harrah's needs to revisit this situation.

2008 > 2007

After a poor turnout for Days 1A and 1B, poker fans were worried that the 2008 WSOP main event would not break last year's mark of 6,358. I believe the first two days' weak numbers had more to do with the schedule (Day 1A survivors would have five days off) and the holiday (July 4).

Nevertheless, the huge numbers in Days 1C and 1D easily made up for the two previous days, allowing the 2008 version to easily surpass 2007 by almost 500 (2008 finished with 6,844 players, a nearly 8 percent increase).

The fields were up across the board, including the preliminaries. Event No. 2, a $1,500 no-limit hold 'em event, had 3,929 players, making it the fifth largest poker tournament ever! Incredibly, it had two Day 1s (time to consider making this event a four-day event). Just a couple years ago all preliminary events were two days long.

Overall, this trend shows that poker is alive and well, not just a fad. Poker is part of not only American culture, but also world culture.

Final thought:

Next year in 2009, the World Series of Poker will celebrate its 40th anniversary. I wonder what Harrah's has in store for everyone. Only 11 more months to find out.

Finally, good luck to the November Nine! Let's hope it was worth the wait.

Bernard Lee is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and hosts a weekly poker radio show on Rounders Radio and in Boston. "The Bernard Lee Poker Show" can be heard from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, from 9-10 p.m. Thursday and from 10-11 p.m. Saturday on 1510 AM "The Zone." For questions or comments, e-mail him at BernardLeePoker@hotmail.com.

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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