Neil Channing on the WSOP

Neil Channing on the WSOP

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Structure changes don't suit recreationals.

A couple of years ago I was having a chat with UK bracelet winner and top player Craig McCorkell, (an excellent fella, quite cheeky and sarcastic when talking with his elders). He was giving me a bunch of opinions about the structures in the WSOP events.

Up until then I hadn't realised he was basically running the series and although it took him a while to get his way, they have now more or less done what he suggested.

Craig felt that the WSOP is a world championship and as such it should aim to test the skills of the players, to determine who is best and to reward excellence. He felt that the more importance placed in being skilful, the more validity there is in the results and ultimately the better it is for the brand. The decision has been made this year to raise the starting stacks from the three times the buy-in which we've had a few years to a five times the buy-in level. For the popular $1500 events players will start with 7500 chips instead of the 4500 they used to start with. The 25/25 opening level will go as will a couple of other levels and the antes will rise slightly quicker.

That sounds like good news doesn't it? Who doesn't like more chips? Nobody could ever get the hang of 25/25 and everyone loves the antes don't they?

It's true that recreational players love having more chips to splash around particularly in the early stages and it's definitely true that falling to 20bbs early and that with no antes at 50/100 you are forced to play extremely tight and that is dull. It's also true that many recreational players get only one or two shots at playing an event each summer and that busting after just two hours can be pretty unsatisfying.

There are some downsides though. The first is the extra time. It may have been true that until now players bust the events much earlier but that is not a totally bad thing. By the end of day one around 15% of the field would be left, around 30% would make dinner on day one and around 50% would be gone by just five hours in. I liked that. I don't want to spend a second more than is necessary in any tournament. For all professional poker players time spent in events that you don't cash is wasted time and that time could be better spent playing in other events, playing satellites or playing cash games.

For amateur players their time is also very valuable. For a lot of people the WSOP is part of a Vegas vacation, and the time they have taken away from their family and their job is limited - it could also be better spent on cramming in as many events and getting as many chances to cash, as well as having extra time for the pool, eating, shopping and strippers (that definitely goes for the pros too).


I reckon that with a 7500 starting stack the time at which 50% of the field bust rises to six or seven hours and that is a large number of extra people spending two hours more playing an event they won't cash in. You might think that is no big deal but there are two things you may want to think about here. How about 20% extra people making the dinner break over 30ish noon events where the structure has changed and an average of 1800 players per noon event. That's around 11,000 people going off to spend money in the food areas of the Rio and not spending that money on poker. It's also a very large number of people that will not be filling the deepstack events and the satellites and cash games as when they bust at 8pm they'll have had their fill of poker for the day.

You may also wonder about how many extra people will make day two now, many of whom will have to pay extra for an additional hotel room, but who won't even cash. It's also going to be tough to cram those events into three days which will probably mean that the final tables are going to run into the early hours and that the big-money decisions will all be taken when players are totally exhausted. All those extra people making day two and day three of these events will have to trim their schedules, losing the chance to play the tournaments they would have played if they'd have bust on day one.

My real problem with the change is that I don't agree with the assertion that this is a win, win, win. I'm certain that on balance the changes are very good for pros (despite the downsides I have listed above) and very bad for recreationals (despite the fact that they may not notice it), and generally I think it's very bad for the long term good of the game.

One of the reasons that chess is not a great betting "sport" is that it's too skilful. The best player will almost always win, or at least not lose. The thing that makes poker great as a betting medium is the randomness factor. The professionals have an edge and that is one of the reasons many of them flood to the Rio every year to play these tournaments in such numbers, the recreationals have a shot and they really can win and they flood in too.

If you look at the WSOP Main Event final tables before and after the change to give people 30,000 starting chips you'll notice that there are way more pros making it through in recent years. In the last few years there has barely been anyone at all getting through to the November 9 who has a regular job. The main event can survive that and the random truckers from Idaho will still turn up. They will probably also still turn up to the $1500 events, but they might not. The effect of the change will be noticed way more quickly on these smaller events as there are so many more of them and the cachet of playing a random $1500 is not the same as the main.

If it becomes very much harder for a recreational to get through to the final stages of these events then it's possible less of them will play, but at first they may not even notice. What they will notice is that if they simply aren't cashing and with less money in their pockets they can't play as many events. It's certainly possible that people staking players may notice the events are much harder to win and they'll cut down their level of investment, meaning players looking for staking may start to find they can't ask for such a decent mark-up.

I take Craig's point that this is the world championship and it should be hard but I think that point acknowledges that this is making things harder. It must be remembered that the WSOP was originally invented as a way to fill Binion's Horseshoe up with rich oil guys from Texas who would get fleeced by the pros while occasionally talking breaks to lose money in the casino.

Table Talk Vegas

Personally I think we already have the EPT which is a tour that has a disproportionally large number of professionals compared with recreationals and that is the main reason I decided long ago not to support that tour. I enjoy flying the 6000 miles to Vegas to play against a wide variety of players of all ages and from all socio-economic groups. The tables are more fun and it is possible to find yourself negotiating 2000+ players without having to play too many pros.

I quite like the fact that I can go to the Rio and find a room feel of sheep just waiting to be sheered. If those sheep are killed and the prospect is to play Craig and his 300 mates among a much smaller field I'll be way less tempted. A long time ago I realised that the idea of bracelet winners being the World Champion is a bit crazy. Clearly there are many people out there wandering around with a bracelet who aren't much good and with 68 events a year that just has to happen.

I'll be sad if we get to July and there haven't been more than a dozen regular Joes winning an event.

One thing I'm really looking forward to this year is to is greeting the Sky Poker qualifiers. I believe we are taking them out to dinner which will be nice, but the initial period when they first arrive and we have a drink and talk about Vegas will be great. I just love to see the reaction of people who are seeing Vegas for the first time. I'm quite jealous actually. I would really love to go back in time and see it with fresh eyes. If you have never made it out to Vegas, you really must. It's a hard place to explain, it's hard enough to capture what is special about it, but even just to explain quite how big the hotels are and to gain a sense of the history of the place and the scale of the whole thing. When you read about the thousands of people who work in the Bellagio buffet and then you think about all the other buffets and restaurants and bars and nightclubs and at the gym and the pool in every single hotel, it really is an amazing factory.

It's not too late to try and win a seat. Obviously the satellites on Sky Poker are the best.

Tags: Neil Channing, WSOP, World Series of Poker