Poker's popularity is at an all time high. Despite the number of entrants in this year's Main Event dipping down to 6,358 from last year's 8,773 you'd be hard pressed to find anyone to agree the game isn't as hot as ever.
Part of the reason the Main Event is down a couple thousand players from 2006 could be all about the sketchy Online poker situation.
With most sites turning away US players and others folding up shop altogether, the Online community just hasn't sent as many players to the big dance this year.
Those who did win a seat in the Main Event via the Internet have been paid $10,000 in cash rather than a seat card and may have chosen to spend the cash elsewhere. It's a good bet that for most, elsewhere was a few of the shorter buy-in events, considering many of those tournaments saw a record number of entrants this year.
With the Online poker community in a bit of trouble, at least here in the US, you see fewer logos around. PokerStars gear seems to dominate the scene and Full Tilt has it's stable of sponsored pros, but the smaller sites have fewer representatives, if any at all.
That leaves a lot of players in a bit of a pickle. In years past, top pros did not have to go far to find a site to help pay their way through the WSOP, now they must look elsewhere.
Still, by branching out into different arenas, it seems there are players who have no trouble finding the cash and turning their entire bodies into roadside billboards for any number of non-poker related sponsors.
Phil Hellmuth is the true king of this Big' Pimpin' poker style. He walked into the Main Event today in a Nascar driver's outfit laden with so many sponsor patches the ESPN camera man got dizzy filming Phil at the feature table.
In an early 2007 WSOP event I was watching as Hellmuth deliberately turned a conversation into an ad for the energy drink he endorses, just in time for the ESPN cameras to catch it all.
Speaking of energy drinks, Johnny Chan has seemed more interested in having his photo taken with the swill he pitches than playing poker throughout the entire WSOP. It was a disappointing effort from one of the game's greats, but I'm sure drink sales are up.
Mike Matusow might as well have been wearing the Planters Peanut guy costume yesterday, he was such a walking advertisement for the sponsors paying his bills and Daniel Negreanu, who once proudly wore the jerseys of his hockey heroes, now slaps sponsor patches on every inch of available space.
A lot of these products don't even make sense in the world of high stakes poker. The immune-boosting Poker Water is one - It's simply Kool-Aid attaching itself to poker's popularity.
Throw poker in a product name, write some lame copy using a few key words like "all-in" and you too can jump on the poker bandwagon.
I'm pretty sure Hellmuth will pimp it for you if you make a small donation to the Phil Hellmuth yacht fund.
There's nothing wrong with these players picking up a paycheck by taking advantage of the sponsorship cash available to them and if you can get a poker site to pay your way at least it's related to the game.
But when players become nothing but pitchmen for the products rather than spokespeople for the game something has got to give.
I'm hoping it all slows down before Hellmuth gets a sponsor's logo tattooed on his face, but it would seem the odds are against it.