Commish brings in change

Updated: January 10, 2006, 1:18 PM ET
By Steve Rosenbloom | ESPN Poker Club

Time to meet the new commissioner of the World Series of Poker.

Bet you didn't know there was an old commissioner of the World Series of Poker. Or that there was even such a position to begin with.

And there wasn't, until now. But Jeffrey Pollack adds that title to his already-crowded business card as Harrah's vice president of sports and entertainment marketing. (He also becomes the second commissioner in the family, since his brother is Gary Bettman, who runs the National Hockey League.)

The commissioner bit is not meant to be taken as a seminal event in the poker world. It continues Harrah's positioning of poker as a sport, using a sports term as a nod to the World Series of Poker's being broadcast on the cable network that modestly calls itself the "worldwide leader in sports.''

Pollack says his new title covers the same responsibilities as his existing one -- sponsors, tournaments, sites, players, blah, blah, blah. What this "commissioner of the World Series of Poker" stuff does is reiterate that the action's on him.

In other words, he's the complaint department.

By the way, you can reach the complaint department at this e-mail address: jplt@harrahs.com. Pollack said he got a lot of response when I ran his e-mail address in a previous column, adding that everyone who writes will get an answer from him.

And the new Commissioner was busy this week with a couple of announcements - one being the addition to the bracelet events at the 2006 World Series to include a mixed-games tournament, the other one being formation of a players advisory council.

The new bracelet event is actually a two-fer: It will be a H.O.R.S.E. tournament (Hold'em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, Stud/Eight-or-Better) and it will cost $50,000 to buy into, the first WSOP event to cost more than $10,000.

The lack of a mixed-games event rankled many players, pros and amateurs alike, because many believe that such a tournament is the measure of the best all-around poker-playing ability, not the no-limit hold'em played in the main event. It would appear that the Commissioner and Harrah's heard those complaints and responded, even without a formal players advisory council.

But the formation of such a group, which ideally will meet every four, six or eight weeks, was unveiled to consist of 1998 World Champion Scotty Nguyen, 2000 World Champion Chris "Jesus'' Ferguson, 2004 WSOP Player of the Year Daniel Negreanu, and bracelet winners Howard Lederer, Robert Williamson III and Jennifer Harman.

The players will serve for a year, making suggestions and offering debate on making the World Series of Poker and WSOP Circuit events better. Council members also likely will serve as consultants if/when Harrah's takes poker in other directions.

The council will include some kind of Joe Average Poker Player, who would represent the vox populi of the growing poker world. Pollack confirmed that the 2006 Tournament of Champions will be played during the early stages of this year's World Series, not after it, as had been the case. This means that the competitors will consist of qualifers in the current WSOP Circuit events and the nine players who reached the final table of the 2005 World Series of Poker main event. Those players were given spots in the recent TOC, and one of them, Mike Matusow, won it.

In addition, Harrah's is making it very public very early that it retains the right to seed the field with sponsor exemptions. The owner of the World Series and Tournament of Champions franchises drew criticism at the recent TOC for allowing Pepsi to come in late as the main sponsor and add to the field Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, the three greatest bracelet winners in World Series history.

The issue became most acute when the final table became three-handed with Matusow, Hellmuth and Hoyt Corkins. Matusow referred to Corkins' ability to hit some miracle hands by saying, "You should have been broke three times,'' and said of Hellmuth's freeroll, "and he shouldn't have even been here.''

So, one might suggest that the 2006 Tournament of Champions would give Matusow another chance to win another $1 million and rag on Hellmuth some more.

Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.

Steve Rosenbloom has been contributing to the ESPN Poker Club since March 2005. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Rosenbloom writes for the Chicago Tribune and is the author of "The Best Hand I Ever Played."

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