Tournament Director Jack Effel is walking through the Amazon Room on Day 2A. With a cheery demeanor he looks out at a few members of his staff, hard at work inside the ropes. He gives them a look and a nod. They respond with a smile. Effel continues to make his way through the room and assists a player. He heads my direction.
"Happy Day 2," I say to Effel, attempting to acknowledge the baby steps taken thus far in the main event.
"Day 2 was May 28th," he replies without hesitation.
The main event is the cap of the World Series, but since May 27, Effel has been on the floor day in and day out doing his best to make sure every event goes off without a hitch. Of course the spotlight is on the main event, but when it comes to the World Series of Poker, every hand that is dealt is important and the planning that goes into it begins even before the previous edition's conclusion.
"The WSOP comes together nicely. It's a year-round project," Effel said during a break in action. "Everyone does their part. We're cognizant of timelines and we always have the sense of urgency so that the show can open."
Before play begins each day, either Executive Director Ty Stewart or Effel takes the microphone with a goal of providing instruction or hype for the field in attendance. Effel has become the front man, but he's the first to admit that it's those by his side who constantly make a difference. The team organizes everything from table service to payouts to the floor plan and aims to make the players' experience as optimal as possible.
"All of us are standing up there at once," Effel says about the times he's talking to the masses. "I may be the voice representing us, but the whole team is standing up there together making it happen. ... But it's the players' event."
The focus on the players is a common theme since Effel joined the WSOP as tournament director in 2005. Always looking to fill the next niche and satisfy a need, Effel has worked with players both in person and through social media to create the right opportunities that will lead the event to greater success.
"This event belongs to the players," he said. "As long as we keep giving them the best competition and the best experience, the WSOP will continue to be successful."
While there were many, two of the biggest successes of the 2014 WSOP were Effel's innovations: the Monster Stack and the Dealer's Choice events. The Monster Stack offered players the ability to buy into a $1,500 event and receive 15,000 in starting chips, far more than the 4,500 that they would receive in another similar buy-in event. It was a way to provide players the opportunity to compete in a different structure, similar to the depth of the main event, and play for a huge prize pool. It was a stunt that Effel and team expected to work and attract a field of around 4,000-5,000. Then 7,862 players showed up. Effel was floored.
"I wasn't doing a dance when everyone showed up," he said when I asked if he was excited by the incredible field. "I tried to get everyone in."
The structure wasn't conducive to the alternate system since players weren't busting out quick enough, so Effel decided to add a second starting flight that began at 5 p.m. that day. By the end of the sixth level, every player had been seated and a new record for a field on a single starting day had been set.
"I thought it would be popular, but I had no idea it would do what it did. We had one extreme with the turbo event, so we needed one on the other extreme. There were lots of players and lots of chips. When they all showed up I had no idea what I was going to do with them."
The thing is, the more you talk to Effel, the more you realize that his determination and creativity are what make him tick. He knew exactly what he wanted to do and figured out a solution that could handle it. His vision also led to what some players have called the best event of all time: Dealer's Choice.
"Players could try all of the 16 games for a small buy-in," he said. "It was a way to introduce new games into the mix and gauge what would be most popular. It also gave mixed-game specialists the poker game of poker games."
The item that scared many prior to the start of the event was the capabilities of the dealers. However, Effel and his staff handpicked the crew for this event and said those dealers loved having the opportunity.
"This is all you are going to be doing for the next three days," Effel said he told his crew. "They were all good and they were role models who looked forward to this event. They were all excited and it was an honor for them to be part of this being dealt for the first time."
Dealer's Choice went off without a hitch and was another notch in the belt of a very successful summer. With only a week left of the main event, Effel knows that more time with his wife and kids is just around the corner. He also knows that the magnifying glass is in place on the main event and that any mistake in the main can overshadow the success of the past six weeks. The truth is that Effel is ready for anything, and ready to handle anything that may come his way. He believes he needs to, and that with every passing day, he's still building the legacy of the WSOP.
"The train stopped to pick us up and we're all on it for a ride," he said. "Poker is a great game. We know what it means to us and want to do all we can to get everyone in the seats and keep them here for years to come. We want to inspire new players and have people say that they're glad these guys did what they did. I'm proud of where the WSOP is, and where it's going."
In a week the Amazon Room will be empty. The players will have moved on and the media will have left the city, but Effel will be back in his office. More innovation is coming for 2015, and for his team, there's plenty of work to do.