Instead of Phil Hellmuth winning his eleventh bracelet , the defining image of the Series will be the shroud behind which he raked the fateful pot: impassive and inaccessible to all but the Poker Brat's ego. But where the shroud annoys fans and quote-unquote accredited media, however (and it will be gone next year, we hear), a more serious issue for the players themselves has been the tournament schedule itself.
In the case of high buy-in poker tournaments that aspire to attract the cream of the professional circuit, quantity does not always equal quality, and in the case of the 2007 WSOP, we've seen too much quantity and too little quality in the scheduling department.
In the first place, 55 bracelet events is far too many. A glance at the WSOP schedule for this year reveals a large number of similar or identical events whose purpose can only be to pad the bottom line at Harrah's.
Take, for example, the $1,500 No Limit Hold'em Events, of which there are six. All have attracted around 2,500 entrants (which, by the way, for a three-day event, is borderline crazy), and all could thusly be considered successes. But what purpose does it serve to have multiple versions of the same event playing out for WSOP bracelets? Is it foolish to think that the sheer mass of events on the WSOP schedule diminishes the value of each bracelet awarded? Surely it's not unreasonable to look at these events and believe that the value of a WSOP bracelet has decreased in value since Harrah's took over in 2004.
With six identical events geared towards the lowest common denominator, it's obvious that a WSOP bracelet can no longer be considered the mark of a poker champion. Two bracelets, maybe, and three most definitely, but one bracelet these days means nothing more than the fact that the wearer probably navigated himself through one of the poorly-structured donkaments that this year were avoided by most of the top pros.
Beyond the fact that there are too many events, it is lunacy to try to jam 54 events into a 35-day period. The fact that most of the top-ranked pros have been forced to double-dip and enter into multiple events on the same day (or run from final table bust-out to command a blinded-off chip stack in a four-hour old event) would seem to speak to a supersaturation of events on most tournament days.
It's not ridiculous to think that the level of skill in your average tournament is diminished when the top players in the world (and anyone else with the bankroll/crazy whim) are only playing with half of their attention spans. How can you crown a player a World Champion of anything when he or she was playing against opponents who were racing across the room at breaks and in between hands to play in other events, and whose minds were on the stack they had left dwindling in the "Poker Pavilion?"
Beyond the simple saturation of the schedule, it's about time to shore up the much-maligned tournament structures, which have been so universally despised that a very strong and very active thread has sprung up on 2+2 calling for tournament director Jack Effel's head.
The hallways of the Rio and the tournament-circuit boards of the forums are filled with complaints about the structures for most events, which Mr. Pollack and company touted as revamped and polished for this year's Series, but which, by near-universal consensus, give players far too much play in early levels but turn mid- to high-level play into a WPT-esque crapshoot (especially in non-flop events). This is something that obviously needs to be changed, and again I think one cause of the problem goes back to the issue of time.
As mentioned above, it's lunacy to play a 2,500-person tournament in three days. The World Series of Poker Circuit events (which, admittedly, are $5,000 affairs) generally schedule three or four days to work through fields of four hundred. It would be nearly impossible to work through a field of thousands over three days were it not for an aggressive structure that forced players into push-or-fold territory almost immediately.
By comparison's sake, the 2004 Main Event featured 2,576 entrants and took six days to play to a bracelet. You can argue that the Main Event was a $10,000 event and players were deserving of more time to play, but if we're awarding a bracelet to the winners of $1,500 events, shouldn't we be ensuring that we're rewarding skilled play and not just outright luck? (*note: the author is aware that winning a bracelet, any bracelet, requires more than just outright luck.)
To me, at least, the answer is clear: though it may not make the accountants happy, the 2008 World Series needs a schedule that is spread over more days, consisting of fewer low buy-in tournaments (especially identical $1,500 NLHE affairs), and including tournaments that themselves are spread over more days and are structured to reward the kind of skilled play that should be winning bracelet-events.
Commissioner Pollack has proven that he's willing to work with players and media to improve the WSOP experience for everyone. Though the '07 Series will be remembered for the Tent and the Shroud, Pollack has recognized the failures of both concepts and has promised to rework them. It's time to see what he can do about the schedule.