Anytime you put thousands together under one roof, there are sure to be complaints. The second largest World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event field of all-time gathered at the Rio in Las Vegas this summer, and with a poker tournament that big, 7,874 players strong, it’s no surprise when controversies abound.
While some griping is just the product of poker players looking for something to gripe about, there have been plenty of legitimate complaints, too. First, there’s the dinner break fiasco, which saw a somewhat perplexing 3 p.m. meal break get changed to 8 p.m. without notice on Day 3. Then there’s the issue of not having enough 5K chips (seriously, WSOP?), and a little power outage that halted play early on Day 5. Maybe one day, the WSOP will break free of the prison that is the Rio.
In addition to fixing some of the obvious issues they’ve heard a lot about already, the WSOP brass might want to consider these other ways they can improve the Main Event:
Introduce big blind antes
I previously wrote an article praising the WSOP for introducing big blind ante tournaments to the schedule. Now, they need to take it a step further and run the Main Event with big blind antes. The format is perfect for large field tournaments, and it’s reasonable to expect the Main Event to grow even larger in the coming years.
There was initially some debate about the merit of big blind antes, but now that they’ve been implemented in WSOP events for the first time, most players seem to be on board.
Benefits of big blind ante:
Don’t need to make change for antes every hand
Nobody ever misses an ante
Dealers spend less time collecting antes = more hands
You can’t bet 11475
— Bryce Yockey (@SuddenlyBryce) June 11, 2018
If the inability to bet odd amounts is the only downside, big blind antes are a no-brainer. This format also partially solves another prevalent issue, but we’ll get to that a little later in this article.
Enforce your rules uniformly
There is a problem with rules consistency at the WSOP. Floor rulings, penalties, clock calls — all of this stuff is inconsistent even at the best of times, when everyone is actually trying to do their jobs.
But throw a “celebrity” into the mix, and who knows what the WSOP will do. Yes, we’re looking at you, Phil Hellmuth.
Here’s Doug Polk’s rundown of what “The Poker Brat” did this time, but the short of it is Hellmuth talked about his hand during a multi-way pot, which put another player (James Campbell) — who eventually busted on the hand — at a disadvantage. According to WSOP rules, he should have been assessed a penalty, but he wasn’t, presumably because he’s Phil Hellmuth and his behavior is expected and thus tolerated.
Rather than making this incident about Hellmuth, who eventually apologized and offered to pay for the Campbell’s 2019 Main Event entry, it needs to be about the rules. More specifically, about how the rules are enforced. Any rules that are treated more like suggestions — meaning they are broken often and without penalty — need to be cleaned up and enforced. Rules are rules.
Perform color-ups and chip races with players present
You see multiple players complaining about an incorrect color-up every WSOP Main Event. This year is no exception:
WSOP ME, I always count my chips before break, txt my friend I have 398K. Back from break, @WSOP has colored up my chips without my permission and I have 393K one 5K chip missing. @WSOPTD why do you guys touch chips without player being able to verify?
— Nick Jivkov (@NickJivkov) July 7, 2018
There’s a simple solution here: The WSOP should do chip races and color-ups with players at the table. Dealers and tournament staff shouldn’t be allowed to touch chips without players being present. It shouldn’t fall upon players to have to fight tooth and nail for that 5K they’re missing when the WSOP inevitably messes something up. It’s a serious problem and it warrants immediate change.
As discussed earlier, the big blind ante format would reduce the number of color-up issues. Couple that with performing all color-ups and chip races when players are present, and the WSOP might be able to eliminate this problem completely.
Track tanking and other player behavior issues
There are a lot of jerks at poker tables. Many of them take way too much time to make decisions. And unfortunately, the tools available to other players to police issues like slow play are ineffective.
Currently, a player can agonize over a decision, or just intentionally stall, and the only recourse for other players is to yell out, “CLOCK!” Yup, that’s it.
Once the dealer repeats this phrase and gets the floor person’s attention, which often takes a while, the floor starts a countdown. The slow player then stalls again next time and the whole process is repeated, or the slow player retaliates unnecessarily against players who are just trying to speed up the game.
Again, there’s a relatively simple solution. Players should be able to make a complaint to the floor about past hands. Once floor arrives, they can check with the dealer about the table history. The dealers can then put the player on the clock themselves from there out, an ability that would then extend to every new dealer.
To eliminate problems with dealer changes and table changes, the WSOP could issue a tournament card to every player that they’re required to carry for the duration. It wouldn’t be very difficult to use the card, either digitally or physically, to track player behavior infractions. Punch a hole in the card every time a player is warned about something, or scan a barcode and record it digitally. At the very least, tournament staff will be able to easily identify and penalize habitual troublemakers, which is a huge win for the non-jerk majority.
Room for improvement
Running a tournament for nearly 8,000 people can’t be easy. The WSOP and its tournament director, Jack Effel, do a commendable job. But there are always improvements that can be made to achieve the goal of doing the best possible job. If the WSOP wants to improve the player experience at the Main Event, solving even one or two of these problems would go a long way.