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Sunday, November 19, 2017
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Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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Top 10 things we'll miss about the WSOP November Nine
 

Full disclosure: I'm not a poker purist.

Yep, go ahead and call me crazy. Tell me I know nothing about poker and that your opinion of anything I write about the game going forward will be tainted. You're entitled to do so. But it doesn't change the fact that I like — make that liked — the November Nine format the World Series of Poker Main Event has used over the last nine years.

Back in 2008, when the WSOP first announced that it would be inserting a three-month delay in between the time its Main Event final table participants were decided and then actually played out, it was met with much dismay by most of the poker community. So, as you can imagine, this week's decision to pull the plug on the November Nine was lauded and applauded across the poker mediaverse and among many notable players and pundits.

Frankly, it’s a major upset that it lasted as long as it did. Now, I understand the reasoning behind the angst for making the players wait so long to take part in the biggest poker session of their career. And, considering my painfully average poker skills, I will most likely never be in that positon. If so, my opinion would certainly change.

But from a poker fan and gambling media member point of view, it worked. There was plenty to like about it, and here are 10 things we'll miss the most from the November Nine.

Will the WSOP Main Event final table receive the same amount of media attention now that the November Nine format has been scrapped?

Will the WSOP Main Event final table receive the same amount of media attention now that the November Nine format has been scrapped?

10. The trip to Vegas
This is the most self-serving reason, but legit, nonetheless. The November Nine provided a clear-cut excuse to be in Las Vegas in November, which is an optimal time of the year to visit. First off, the weather is ideal; typically clear and in the 70s during the day and cool enough for a sweater or long-sleeved shirt at night.

But in addition to the sunny skies and cool evenings, it’s also the heart of the college and NFL season — so, a prime time to visit the sportsbooks, which I have been known to do from time to time, and on a couple occasions the final table schedule fell on the same weekend as the Breeder’s Cup. Last year, because of the U.S. Presidential Election, it landed on Halloween, and that made for some more-interesting-than-normal sights on the Strip.

9. The Penn & Teller Theater
With the end of the November Nine, the WSOP Main Event final table and the television set will be moved to the Brasilia Room inside the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, instead of the 1,500-seat Penn & Teller Theater, where it played out the last nine years.

Everything — from the media sections, the sightlines and the video boards to the former champion banners in the entrance way — gave the final table a “big event” feel and actually made watching nine guys play poker seem like a semi-natural act. The concessions (including alcohol) and restrooms were easy to access, and there was a Starbucks right down the hall for those nights when the play at the table forced you to be there until the early morning.

Obviously, this venue was not built for poker. But the WSOP did an excellent job of making it work.

8. The cheering sections
In recent years, the attendance at Penn & Teller Theater for the WSOP final table has been decidedly down compared to the early years, and that probably played into its demise. But take it from someone who was inside the theater those first few years: It was absolutely electric.

The crowd was full of celebrities and all of the big names in poker. Fans would wait in line for hours to gain entrance. The players had their own cheering sections, complete with costumes and chants, giving it all a soccer game kind of feel. Sometimes the faces in the crowd provided better storylines than the play at the table. (Remember "Joey Ice-Cube"?)

And, it was loud. I mean Game 7 loud. Hard to believe that a poker tournament could generate that kind of energy, but it did, and it was fun to watch.

There's a chance we could see a similar scene at the final table this July as we saw in those early years, but it's doubtful that without that extra lead time, the players will be able to get as many family and friends to Las Vegas in time to see them take a stab at making poker history.

7. The packaged TV coverage
Even though I have covered the WSOP in the past and always knew what happened as the Main Event went into hibernation, I still thoroughly enjoyed ESPN’s coverage and the lead-up to the final table in November.

We chronicled some of those episodes over the past few years, and they have been part of my regular DVR rotation as well as a perfect alternative to Monday Night Football when those games were lame (which, as most football fans would attest to, happens quite a bit).

Bottom line: PokerProductions will still post-produce one-hour blocks for airing on a weekly basis in the fall, but the luster will be lost because the champion will have already been decided. While I'm sure the coverage will still compelling, it won't be the same. I will miss those hours with Lon, Norm and Kara on the couch this fall.

6. The character development
One of the great attributes of ESPN's WSOP Main Event coverage was the manner in which it created storylines and developed characters. While at times it seemed forced, more often than not the cameras would reel the viewer in and generate deep feelings — good and bad — about certain players.

Case in point: William Kassouf. The man who made the phrase "Like a boss" a common expression at the poker table was the classic "love him or hate him" character during last year's Main Event coverage. Even though he didn't even make the final table, people could not stop talking about him during the November Nine.

The crowds at the WSOP November Nine have been loud and boisterous over the years.

The crowds at the WSOP November Nine have been loud and boisterous over the years.

5. The debate
Let's face it, the November Nine was controversial. It elicited strong opinions, mostly against the format. But either way, there was always that lingering deliberation, and sometimes a healthy debate is a good thing. It's much like the college football playoff system. Fans and media talk about its flaws all season long, but that always makes it newsworthy and topical.

4. The player storylines
The delay allowed us to profile many of the final table players in the months leading up to the November Nine. We were able to have extended conversations with them, get to know them as much more than poker players and come away with some interesting tidbits about their personal history.

In 2008, chess whiz Ylon Schwartz described how a guy by the name of "Fat Nick" taught him that Texas Hold'em was vital to a street gambler's arsenal, so he quickly learned the ins and outs. (Schwartz also told us at the time that the November Nine would "destroy the integrity of the game.")

A year later, Kevin Schaffel told us about the time he offered to exchange golf lessons for poker lessons with Phil Ivey, who would go to join him at the Main Event final table that year.

In 2015, we found out that Federico Butteroni previously took a 12-month hiatus from poker and worked as a dishwasher and on a watermelon farm in Australia. Neil Blumenfield described how he got laid off from his job in the software industry 10 days before the start of the Main Event.

Cliff Josephy admitted to us last year that he used to be the "donkey" at his weekly home game, and Gordon Vayo confessed he still resented the fact that his high school principal expelled him weeks before graduation, prompting him to leave home as a 17-year-old kid, head to Vegas and turn pro.

You have our word that we here at Casino City will still attempt to dig up these compelling tidbits about the Main Event final table participants in the years to come, but with just two days to work with instead of more than three months, it will be difficult to pull it off.

3. The coaches
Most November Nine players hired coaches during the long break, and this provided some great storylines.

For example, two years ago, Thomas Cannuli enlisted the help of poker greats Brian Rast, Jeff Gross and Jake Schindler to help him prepare in the months leading up to the final table. After Cannuli's elimination, we caught up with Rast, who provided some great insight on what the preparation was like. Extended coaching sessions like these are now a thing of the past.

At the actual final table, the "coaches" would sit in the first rows, taking notes, scouring through a laptop and speaking with other members of a player's coaching staff on the phone, who presumably would be watching the delayed coverage on ESPN and relaying what the hole cards were in certain hands.

While we may see some of the same antics this year, it won't be as pronounced as it was with the November Nine format.

The November Nine attracted many of the biggest names in poker during the early years, like in 2008 when the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren and Chris Ferguson were on hand.

The November Nine attracted many of the biggest names in poker during the early years, like in 2008 when the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Erick Lindgren and Chris Ferguson were on hand.

2. The analysis and predictions
Any major sporting event lends itself to dissection and analysis, and the WSOP Main Event final table is no different. With three months to deliberate, there was ample time really to dig in and come up with theories on how things would play out at the final table once the cards were finally in the air.

We had a lot of fun with our predictions, and some of them were actually dead on (we correctly picked Peter Eastgate to win in 2008 at 5-to-1 odds, and in 2009 we recommended a wager on Joe Cada at 10-to-1), while others not so much (of the 22 "experts" we polled last year, including yours truly, not one picked eventual champ Qui Nguyen to prevail — and, in fact, only a handful thought he'd even be a factor, even though he had the second-biggest stack entering play).

Right or wrong, it was an entertaining exercise to try to predict the outcome, and that task will be much more difficult without the November Nine pause.

1. The buildup
This is what Daniel Negreanu said back in 2008 upon the unveiling of the new November Nine format:

"This is a huge step forward for poker and more specifically poker on television. Not only will this innovative step create more buzz for the final table, the added time prior to the final table will help get poker mainstream media attention."

For the most part, Kid Poker was dead on, particularly during those first few years. The November Nine definitely helped bring more attention and buzz to the Main Event final table. From a media member's perspective, I enjoyed having that extended time in between. Maybe the delay was too long. As we have suggested in the past, perhaps a month or so would have been better.

But we applaud the WSOP for always carefully tweaking the tournament and continuously trying to do what's best for the game.

So, while most of the poker community rejoices, we mourn the loss of the November Nine. May it rest in peace.

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