1. The World Series of Poker is a powerful brand - Despite dire predictions for the series as a result of massive online poker concerns, the WSOP set records in many events and experienced average improvements in number of entrants and prizepools of 8%. The six week series distracted the poker world from their online concerns while creating a new crop of poker heroes. The true test will likely be next year when over a year’s worth of reduced online poker options and the trickle down effect will have played out more fully. Not without fault or room for further improvement, give the WSOP credit as they continue to tweak their schedule and offerings each year taking in player and industry feedback.
2. The mothership has landed - The ESPN/PokerPROductions team put together a much improved and professional featured TV table. More work needs to be done on where to place it so it doesn’t negatively affect the Amazon room flow and dynamic, but it was a big step forward overall. Similar, if lesser treatment, needs to be done for the secondary and tertiary featured tables.
3. Celebrations and bringing attention to yourself is down - There was a very noticeable trend to players bringing less attention to themselves by their costumes and garb, or more importantly by their demeanor at the table. Wins were celebrated more calmly, and bad beats were handles more maturely.
4. Kudos to the Poker Kitchen - Although they could tweak the pricing and offerings a bit, the Poker Kitchen works remarkably well during the series. You can get a quick meal, from great salads to sandwiches, soup, pizza, Mexican and even good sushi from Sen of Japan. I can admit I miss the days of of the press room having catered food for media, I can live with my daily $10 voucher to pick a meal during the long hours in the Amazon and Pavilion rooms.
5. Cash games, Satellites and Deep Stacks blow up - With no significant U.S. internet poker options, live satellites, daily tournaments, and cash games at the Rio were bustling the entire series like never before. Hundreds and thousands participated in the cavernous Pavilion room but better effort next year could go to defining, differentiating and marketing these parts of the overall WSOP experience to casual fans and players.
6. Less festive Vegas - The party options for those not privately partying or celebrating a big win were very limited this year. In the current murky environment, none of the traditional blow-out parties were in evidence around the Main Event. Even the parties that were held were less lavish and much mellower than in years past.
7. Meetings and Interviews are always a challenge during the series - Each year I try to arrange a number of meetings and interviews that fall through for multiple reasons. Vegas is such a frenetic environment during the WSOP and players and industry players are constantly making and breaking arrangements as conditions or their mood changes. For instance, three of my arranged interviews were canceled because the players were no longer in the mood after busting prematurely.
8. Figure out the smoking area - The area just beyond the exit leading to the Taxi stop and parking area has become a gross transition not only to the heat but all the individuals who congregate to grab a smoke. This could be significantly improved.
9. Poker swag is a good thing - Poker players and fans like mementos of their WSOP experience. The reality is most poker players head home with nothing more than a lighter wallet. This year, Dearfoam slippers stepped up in a big way to give away many thousands of quality slippers to players, staff and media. If the glory days of poker vendors and promoters giving away a lot of poker swag in the Poker/Living Expo it would be nice to build on the Dearfoam experience this year for people to return home with some tangible association with their experience.
10. Strides made in the established media realm - The hardcore established poker media can feel very tight knit and exclusive to the independent members. This year I was able to meet and befriend a number of the main players, gaining new perspectives on their particular poker voices in the industry. This was the first year that media who had never met me knew of me as Zimba, the guy who blogs, tweets and creates interesting poker content.
11. No gambol once again - I was a huge disappointment to the mighty gambling machine that is Las Vegas because I abstained from any gambling endeavors despite railing friends playing poker and Pai Gow.
12. Epic Poker League could be epic - I had the opportunity to speak with Annie Duke one night for over a half hour and Michael Craig who leads their poker content team for an hour on what the EPL wants to do and accomplish. Based off the history of previous attempts, I was a skeptic previously. There are some great aspects to this effort that could finally create a PGA type league that has player’s interests at heart; rake-free tournaments, valued added to tournaments, transparent and fair qualification process, players share 5% of gross profits, and a promising GPI dynamic tournament player ranking system. The FS+G see themselves as a social media marketing company more than a poker company and will move along the lines of Zynga to monetize the concept. The are close to announcing a a major TV partner that will bring the EPL serious credibility and visibility. They have partnered with the Heartland Poker Tour and are looking at other opportunities to expand their brand and reach in the poker world. The first of four scheduled tournament series begins in August.
13. Streaming and expanded near-live coverage is the future - We live in a here and now world. Although I haven’t seen any ratings numbers yet, the streaming and ESPN coverage was universally hailed and appreciated in the poker community. I’ve always disliked the decision to create the November 9 and long delayed ESPN episodes as sapping the momentum of the Main Event. I think this years near live coverage experiment from Day 3 on can show the way to replace that flawed model in the coming years and usher in a new more competitive, vital and youthful coverage of the series to fans and casual watchers around the world.
14. Big names need to prosper - As I discussed in my last blog, for the health of the WSOP and poker in general "big" online and live poker players need to go deep and do well in the tournaments. Poker will never reach its potential if no-names win most of the tournaments each year, especially the Main Event.
15. Roll Call - Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted to share a list of poker friends and acquaintances who I enjoyed meeting and talking to on my 2011 WSOP ME trip. Relationships made and kept will always outlive any media coverage of a tournament.
Media (will use their Twitter handles)
Poker Players (ladies first, of course)
Mary Ann Hisel
Carol - the lawyer
Olivier Busquet’s manager Arie