Universal agreement in the poker world is something one seldom finds. After all, the game is based upon competition and a desire by players to live life by their own rules. Each player has an opinion and a will made of steel, incapable of bending; and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the type of determination and solidarity that being a professional poker player entails. It could be said that the 2010 main event at the World Series of Poker is an ocean that started with 7,319 islands, one for each entrant in the tournament.
It's because of this reality that I found the results of interviews I held during Day 2A to be so fascinating. With more than a dozen players covering most demographics polled, every one of them agreed that the changes made this year to the payouts, a change that lessened the percentage being taken home by those at the top of the standings, was a good one for them and a good one for the series as a whole. This despite poker's requisite greed.
Barry Greenstein, a member of the Players Advisory Counsel, along with Tournament Director Jack Effel and mathematician Andrew Schwartz have come up with what they've called "The Golden Ratio," a formula for payouts that sees a roughly equal disparity between payout levels. The result is a more even payout structure that's seeing more players getting more money for the time they're putting in at the tables.
"My own idea for the main [event] is if you make the top 100, you should make a lot of money," said Greenstein, one of poker's most-respected professionals. "I've made it so [those finishers] are getting a good paycheck. That's consistent throughout all the events at the WSOP. You don't have to make the final table to make a little more. [In 1992], I made the money, came 22nd in the main event and got $8,100 back, so I lost money on the deal. We want people to make a reasonable profit if they make the money."
In embracing this philosophy, Greenstein and company have created a payout structure that will ultimately make a lot of money for a lot more people at the cost of glamorous numbers at the top of the results. This year's winner will actually receive less for their efforts than 2008 champion Peter Eastgate did, even though Eastgate's field was some 500 players fewer than this year's.
Winner's percentage of overall purse
"There's certainly differences depending who you ask on our side," said WSOP spokesman Seth Palansky, admitting there's reason for Harrah's to be attracted to sexier numbers. "Ultimately we let the math win out. We think 'sexy' is never knowing what the number is each year and having all the players 'ooh' and 'ahh' in reaction to being told the payout information."
Speaking of that structure, here's a look at a couple spots where year's payouts differ from last year's:
(1) 2010 - $8,944,138 (12.22 percent of the prize pool), 2009 -- $8,547,042 (13.16 percent)
(2) 2010 - $5,545,855 (7.58 percent), 2009 - $5,182,928 (7.98 percent)
(3) 2010 - $4,129,979 (5.64 percent), 2009 - $3,479,670 (5.36 percent)
(8) 2010 - $1,045,738 (1.43 percent), 2009 - $1,300,231 (2.00 percent)
(9) 2010 - $811,823 (1.11 percent), 2009 - $1,263,602 (1.95 percent)
(10th-12th) 2010 - $635,011 (0.87 percent), 2009 $896,730 (1.38 percent)
(13th-15th) 2010- $500,165 (0.68 percent), 2009 $633,022 (0.97 percent)
If you just make the money this year, the percentages are the same, but the minimum cashers in 2010 will earn $19,263 compared to the $21,365 a year ago.
The change in payouts should slow down play at the final table in November with larger payoffs for each elimination. On the other side of the equation, the days leading up to the final table should see heightened tempo with each player assured a larger piece of the pie.
Whereas last year's prize pool featured seven-figure payouts for each member of the November Nine, this year's has traded public relations tranquility for player satisfaction. The $20,000-$30,000 increase in payouts awarded to finishers in the high double-digits won't get a lot of media attention, but will leave players who've eaten, drank and slept poker for some two weeks far more satisfied with the rewards their efforts have produced. While there has been talk of increasing the number of players who get paid, Greenstein has gone to lengths to maintain tradition, with 10 percent of the field finishing in the money.
The WSOP has changed their payout structure over the years. Here's a look at the change in prize pool distributed to first place since 1986. Before that time, the winner was awarded the entire prize pool.
"I think its great for poker," said Greg Mueller, chatting between hands on Day 2A before his elimination. "The champion could in theory win nothing and still make the most money if he markets himself right. Winning isn't about the money. The money will take care of itself.
"With endorsement deals and logo bonuses and life in general, he doesn't need to take all the money," he continued. "The more guys who make money, the more who come back. I think it's great that they've flattened the payout, especially in this event."
"I actually like that idea a lot," agreed Tom Connor, a 45-year old amateur from Jacksonville, Florida. "I think more people making a lot of money will bring more people back next time. I'd feel that way if I were at the final table. I mean, $9 million $8 million really, at that point, what's the difference?"
In most cases, the winner will be set for life regardless.
One pro, one amateur, both echoing the exact same sentiments. Time and again, those being questioned sighted the massive money at the top and the additional drawing power inherent in more players making more money as the top two reasons they liked the change. Of course, they have no direct stake in Harrah's marketing efforts. Greenstein does have one potential happy medium solution that can produce an eight-figure first prize and seven figures for each member of the November Nine.
"I told [Harrah's] 'next year, get us 8,000 players and it'll work out,'" Greenstein said with a smile.
That would create some nice new payout problems to have.
Gary Wise is a poker columnist for ESPN.com.