I should be writing to you from Las Vegas, from the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino where the World Series of Poker played out this week. I should be offering you a cocktail at one of the casino bars – maybe the infamously blogger-overrun “hooker bar” – at the Rio. But alas, my move to Las Vegas is still one week from completion, so I still sit amidst boxes in my Los Angeles apartment. I can only offer you a glass of tap water or my last bottle of Dr. Pepper, as my refrigerator is a bit sparse at the moment.
What happened over the past week in poker? Well, a lot of poker happened.
Some of the action around the world included the Australia New Zealand Poker Tour in Melbourne. The first stop of Season 5 was at the Crown Casinos, and the $2,200 AUD buy-in Main Event drew 345 players for a $690K prize pool. In the end, Paul Hockin won the title and $101,275 after a three-way chop. Ashley Warner finished second but took away $130K because of the structure of the deal.
A little tournament in Pompano Beach,Florida, at the Isle Casino had a big winner this week. The Isle Open hosted a $100 Main Event with reentries and a $100K guarantee, and the ultimate winner was none other than Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi. He was happy with the $128,900 cash and the win in his home state.
As for big names in poker, Phil Ivey re-entered the news and did something he notoriously dislikes – talked to the media. He granted an interview to ESPN to promote his new website and business, IveyPoker.com. The site looks to be a free-play online poker site devoted to poker training, and the newly-formed Team Ivey already includes himself, Patrik Antonius, Jennifer Harman, and now-champion WSOP player Greg Merson. Ivey sponsored Merson at the final table and spoke highly of the 24-year old. Meanwhile, in the same interview, he easily dodged a softball question about the Full Tilt Poker fiasco of the last year and a half, saying that he will speak about it when legal constraints are removed. I advise no one to hold their breath waiting for it.
During the WSOP festivities in Las Vegas this week, two new players were inducted to the Poker Hall of Fame. Eric Drache, long-time player and inventor of the tournament satellite, along with 1975 WSOP Main Event winner Brian “Sailor” Roberts were inducted on October 30. Drache accepted his award, and Crandell Addington accepted Roberts’ posthumous honour on his behalf.
Then there was the little matter of that WSOP Main Event. The final nine players waited long enough to play down to the winner. The wait was for sports network ESPN to air all of the coverage to that point so the final table could be aired semi-live (on a 15-minute delay) for poker fans. The results, as they were, were interesting.
Steve Gee was the first player out, putting his chips at risk with a questionable move, and Robert Salaburu left soon after. He lost a big pot and his fun-loving attitude, and when eliminated in eighth place, he simply left the building without participating in any interviews. Sure, he was probably disheartened by the boos of the crowd who held a grudge for his “idiot” comments about Gee during earlier broadcasts, but refusing interviews probably wasn’t the best way to show he was not really that kind of guy. Actions speak louder, as they say.
Michael Esposito left in seventh place, and Andras Koroknai quickly went from the top half of the leaderboard to the rail in sixth place. Jeremy Ausmus worked his original short stack into a fifth place finish for more than $2.1 million, and Russell Thomas departed in fourth place to end play on October29 in less than eight hours.
Play resumed on October 30 with three players, and they played … and played … and played. About 12 hours later, Merson eliminated short-stacked Jake Balsiger and took the lead into heads-up play. In less than an hour, the tournament was over when Merson’s K-5 bested the Q-J of Jesse Sylvia. Sylvia walked away with nearly $5.3 million, and Merson won the bracelet and $8,631,853.
It was a great moment in poker, for those who stuck around to watch it. Merson pushed his friends and family aside to congratulate Sylvia for a well-played tournament, then gave special hugs to family members in lieu of being swarmed by his cheering section. And upon looking at the money and bracelet and soaking in the moment, the new champion displayed a lot of emotion and tears. Those few minutes of poker were refreshing and heartwarming to see.
However, most of that didn’t make it to air on ESPN. After so many hours of coverage and a new hour of programming on tap, the winning moments for Merson were cut down to mere seconds, and neither the emotion or the winner interview with Kara Scott made it to television screens. Those moments were captured by photographers for articles, and a short snippet of Scott’s interview made it to ESPN highlights later in the day. Anti-climactic, it was.
The long hours not only lost the viewership of many casual poker fans but many diehard poker fans as well. Did this poker writer stay up all night for the biggest event in 2012 poker? Ummm, no! I recorded it and fast-forwarded through the next morning to catch the highlights. The ratings will likely show the low numbers, especially since the eastern portion of the United States was being battered by a hurricane, and power outages and life-threatening situations prompted those would-be viewers to be absent as well.
As much as poker purists tout the necessity of “real” poker being aired in “real” time, it is not realistic to expect more than a handful of fans – many of them friends and family of the players themselves – to tune in for eight hours one day and 13 the next. This simply must be examined before 2013 or risk losing ESPN as a television sponsor, not to mention fans and newcomers to the game. Is there one viewer who watched the broadcast of more than 20 hours of poker and became an insta-fan? “This is fascinating! I’m going right out to find a $1/$2 poker game this instant!” If so, please direct him or her to me for an interview.
With that said, congrats to Greg Merson. He worked hard for the win, and the support behind him was impressive. What kind of poker ambassador he will be remains to be seen, but his class and maturity at the table already impressed many.
For now, I must resume packing. If you could wash that water glass, it would be helpful, as I still have a lot to do before next week’s physical move out ofLos Angeles. As long as I don’t throw my back out or drop a box on my foot, I’ll be back next week.