The 2014 World Series of Poker begins on May 27 with the customary $500 Casino Employees event and the $25,000 mixed max world championship. Those two events fit in two completely different ends of the spectrum with every player involved in either event just trying to prove they have what it takes to become a WSOP champion. That's why I love the WSOP, where hopes and dreams will form and fade every day over the seven weeks. The WSOP will surprise and delight fans throughout the process and for a number of reasons that I'll highlight in my upcoming stories-to-watch piece, but one item has dominated my thoughts over the past few days and could ultimately shape this summer's experience for the industry.
Last week during the WSOP's annual pre-event conference call, it was announced that players could play online while sitting at the table. Now, on the surface that sounds like an absolutely absurd idea, but while not many have taken this position, I'll try to defend it. Allowing players to play both live and online is first and foremost, an option, not a requirement.
First off, a little background. In my column for BLUFF this February, I wrote about the idea of offering an online bracelet in 2014. I wrote the column a little tongue-in-cheek, knowing that its prospects were incredibly far-fetched at that very moment. My proposal makes sense to a certain point, and in it I included my take on a multi-platform/table approach: "Organizers could also take the unorthodox approach and schedule it at the same time as a live low buy-in event and encourage players in the massive field to multi-table. I think that option might just be a little too greedy."
My reasoning for holding this event was pretty straightforward: give the players the opportunity to win a bracelet through online poker, which remains the lifeblood of the industry on a day-to-day basis. While groundbreaking, online poker in Nevada has been far from a blazing success. What that industry needs is a jolt; an infusion of players that can take the legalized sites and make them relevant with larger prize pools. The World Series of Poker provides that opportunity with over 50,000 die-hard poker players looking to spend big money to become a world champion.
The WSOP needs players at their tables, both live and online, and considering maximizing revenue is the ultimate goal, why not offer the players the ability to double dip? The WSOP itself seemingly has nothing to lose in this case. Again, players can opt not to play, but those with the never-ending thirst for action can get it at all moments when they're fully entrenched in the game. The WSOP will also offer a "Grind Room" where players who step away from the live tables can go and play online.
There are three major potential negatives with this multi-platform approval, so let's take those one by one:
This will further reduce the social nature of the game: As much as I hate to admit it, we've already reached a point where at the WSOP, the social aspect is really limited. Players sit at the tables with their headphones already offering minimal table talk. Oh, and in many cases the players are already active on their devices playing Open Face Chinese. The Seniors and Ladies events are pure exceptions to this concept. Those fields are there to enjoy the social atmosphere and if you want to see what the potential for the WSOP could be, be part of the rail in that event. You'll never see so many smiles from people losing thousands.
It can slow down the game: Part of the conversation on the conference call was that the players would be allowed to play as long as it didn't slow down the game. There is no excuse for a player who is sitting at the WSOP felt and not paying attention and I do hope the WSOP finds the right way to approach and crack down on this problem when it arises. The logical thought, though, is that live players are, at the minimum, playing in a $1,000-plus buy-in event. There are very few options in Nevada online for those stakes and ultimately the focus should be on the table in front of them, not their computer. Additionally, players cannot be on a device while in a live hand. If anything is a deterrent to play, it's that alone.
Technology: If you've ever been at the Rio during the WSOP, you know how spotty the Wi-Fi can be. A poor experience can be a major deterrent to this process. Additionally, as BLUFF's Lance Bradley reminded me, there's no app available. Players lugging laptops to their tables is not ideal.
I'll admit that the focus is on those playing at the table, but it's important to think big picture. In order for a thriving online poker economy in the United States to return, the already legalized states need to prove there is a success story in place. A strong summer on the online felt for Nevada can tell a great story to the other states considering the offering, and there are quite a few. It proves that if there is a market, the players will compete and significant revenue will be generated. I wrote last summer that it would be a big failure if WSOP.com wasn't active during the WSOP and ... it was. Now, with everything in motion, the WSOP has a big opportunity and keeping players off their online tables for any reason would be a mistake.
A few more notes on the online poker initiative from WSOP.com:
Players will be able to deposit into their online poker account from the cage
They're hoping to award 200 main event seats through online initiatives
The WSOP.com Online Championship Series will take place June 1-15 with $550,000 in prize money guaranteed. There will be additional events following that series with reduced buy-ins.
Small blinds: The WSOP will offer 32 days of live streaming. ... Mike Matusow's book "Check-Raising the Devil," will be made into a movie. Honestly, I can't wait. By far one of the most entertaining "poker" books out there. ... Eddie Ochana won the Chicago Poker Class main event for $217,810 and a WSOP main event seat. ... Philipp Gruissem won the EPT Grand Final High Roller and jumped Pius Heinz as Germany's all-time money leader. ... BLUFF takes a look at the "Triple A" level and how James Calderaro leads that PoY race. ... Matt Stout has organized the Charity Series of Poker with the support of Planet Hollywood and a number of the game's best players. Half of the prize pool goes to charity in every event. ... The 2014 WSOP National Championship begins on Thursday. ... Great poker selfie here from the WPT's Adam Pliska. ... Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey are welcoming wagers against them this WSOP. ... Coming this fall, Sunday night is now poker night on ESPN.