I get the WSOP press releases. They're fun to read. They give me a sense of what's happening and I get to see if any of my friends has survived Day 1 or, mirabile dictu, cashed.
They come with generous helpings of self-congratulations from the organizers over the numbers of entries, the sizes of the prize pools and the swelling bankrolls of the skilled and the lucky.
I took a look at some of these numbers. There are trends there, some interesting, some troubling and many that have prognosticatory value for they give hints about what we can expect next year - because the suits at Harrah's are looking at these numbers too.
First, there's an overall increase in entrants. This is to be expected since there was an increase in the number of events, now up to 57, and one new event was insanely popular.
Second, registration numbers were uneven. The lower buy-in events either went up or held steady. The $1.5 NLH events in '08 averaged 2,788. This year it was 2,621, a small (6%) drop.
However, the new $1k "stimulus special" was wildly successful, a sell-out at 6,012 players. Factor this event in with the $1.5k events and the average for the "low" buy-in NLH events is 3,045 (an increase of 9%).
The "other" 1.5k events (those other than NLH) came in about the same as last year.
Moving up a notch, the various $2.5 buy-in events dropped about 7%, from an average of 1,753 to 1,625.
Other "mid-level" events, those with buy-ins from $3k to $5k also held their own, more or less. Some were down a bit (the $5k NLH dropped from 731 to 655 and the $5k NLH Shootout slipped from 360 to 280) but some went up, like the $5k NLH-6, which garnered 928 compared with 805 last year.
The "restricted" entry events are a mixed bag. The women's event dropped from 1,190 to 1,060 but the Seniors event jumped a full 22% from 2,218 to 2,707. The Seniors has, for what it's worth, grown faster than any other event, up more than five-fold from the 519 who bought in 2004.
The "casino employees" tournament has dropped over the last couple of years - perhaps because all the dealers are dealing in the WSOP!
The $10k buy-in "World Championship" events tell a different story. There were more this year than in '08 but looking at those that repeated we see a consistent drop.
PLH fell from 352 to 275 (22%), Stud from 158 to 142 (10%), PLO from 352 to 295 (16%), LH from 218 to 185 (15%), O/8 from 235 to 179 (24%). Only the NLH Heads-up (256 both years) and the Mixed games event (192 to 194) held.
The prestigious $50k H.O.R.S.E. event dropped precipitously from 148 to 95.
The Main Event drew about the same as last year, but that number is deceptive since many potential players were locked out when Day 1d sold out. The situation was a bit weird since Days 1a and 1b had more than enough room to accommodate these hopefuls who, alas, waited until the last minute.
Do these numbers make sense? I think so.
Players are flocking to the lower buy-ins. The $1k NLH event will surely be repeated next year and don't be surprised to see more "cheapies." The $1.5k NLH events are doing fine. NLH continues to be the big draw and pulls in folks from around the world willing to pull a dime or two out of their 'rolls.
The higher buy-in events will likely continue to drop in popularity unless something is done to get them back on television.
TV is the key here. For reasons mysterious, the only televised events this year will be the $40k NLH event, the Main Event and the two "celeb" tournaments - the Champion's Invitational and Ante Up for Africa. The latter two may draw an audience but it won't be a serious poker crowd.
Top pros are sponsored. If there is no TV there is no "free" advertising. If you can't get your company's logo in front of the camera for millions around the world to see, what's the point?
Many are also publicity hounds. No TV, no face time, no (fleeting?) stab at fame, no opportunity to boost your ratings and stoke the juices of your backers.
The $50k H.O.R.S.E. event, with its stunning 36% drop in entries, is the key datum. It's supposed to be the true test of the game, the event that the pros themselves have called the "real" world championship. Maybe, maybe not.
Daniel Negreanu thinks the format is a problem. Three-fifths of H.O.R.S.E. are stud games and they don't televise well. Neither does Omaha, which drives many viewers crazy.
Daniel favors having the final table be NLH. He might be right but this isn't the only problem. The fall off in the $10k "Championship" events is troublesome.
My two cents: I would like to see many of the events televised again. I don't know what the numbers looked like but I suspect that they weren't any worse than a lot of the junk sports that end up on ESPN every night.
It's nice having events streamed on the Internet but it isn't the same. Gimme Norman and his many divorces and the long-suffering Lon who puts up with his awful puns - and gimme a bunch of hours of top-drawer poker.