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Breathing room: Player's forum clears air
After four weeks of muted grumblings, semi-heated tirades and the occasional full-on outburst, poker players at the 2007 WSOP were invited to express their concerns directly to the powers that be this morning during the first-ever WSOP player's forum.
Rafe Furst and Bill Gazes - actually turned out for the forum, given the early start time, but they did seem to hit on the bulk of the main issues.
Pollack himself dealt with some of the expected ones right off the top, clearing up any ambiguity about the poker pavilion immediately. Pollack acknowledged it didn't quite work out the way they had hoped, and put it this way: "On a scale of one to 10, it was a 10 for intention, but a one in reality."
But he did indicate the World Series of Poker had achieved its goal for 2007:
"I think the World Series of Poker is better than it was last year, and that was our main goal, to be better than we were the year before. Are there some things to fix for '08? Absolutely."
Among those issues, according to the players: some of the tournament structures (too much play in the beginning, not enough in the middle.), chip handling procedures (Furst said he witnessed a player's entire stack being raced off accidentally), the length of the levels at the final tables, not enough cashiers on duty, security for women leaving the Rio at night, and how tables are broken down.
The three biggest issues, however: space, the "Sequestorium" and the question of Harrah's supposed focus on profiteering.
As far as the issue of space goes, all agreed the bottom line was simply more is needed. And more space inside preferably - most players asked to be brought in from the tent and into the building.
Said Pollack, "Our biggest challenge is our footprint. It's all packed into a room we've outgrown."
Pollack, however, indicated the required rooms inside aren't necessarily available for the entire run of the Series as of yet. In 2009, he said, the tournament will likely be in a bigger space. But for '08 it's still the Amazon Room.
For Bill Gazes it's also a space issue, but from a different perspective.
He actually loves the tent, mostly because he's away from the fans talking behind him and breathing down his neck. He acknowledged most were great, and the fans are a necessary part of the ingredient at the WSOP, but a little breathing room wouldn't hurt.
"I love playing in the tent. I love the peace in there. When I'm playing in the main room - in the H.O.R.S.E. tournament I was back against the rail both times and people are this close - people are leaning over the ropes, and saying 'What did you have in your hand that time Bill?' or 'You played that hand well' or people talk about who got married last week. It's brutal. Fans can't be there right now."
Big issue number two: the "Sequestorium," as Pollack called it, or the enclosed compound final tables have been played in for the online pay-per-view audience.
Pollack indicated it was likely the last year it would appear in that form, but he defended the experiment, saying it was a necessary investment to test poker's mainstream viability.
"It was uncharted territory," he said, suggesting they likely overdid it with security over concerns for the integrity of table play, but if the final table pay-per-views succeed, it will materialize again in another form. And if it does, he announced to Furst's rousing approval, it would likely involve some form of revenue sharing with the players.
Last but not least, the players were concerned - Gazes in particular - the WSOP may become a little greedy. Too many tournaments, too much juice, too much marketing.
Pollack addressed it this way:
"We are not trying to suck this dry of every dollar. That couldn't be further from the truth. We're growing like never before and seeing things through a strategic lens ...
"We're trying to do this the right way. Our hearts are in the right place. We may not always get it right, but we intend to."
On a good note, Furst also noted there had been a number of improvements over last year, including the variety of events, the bathroom lines, making the halls non-smoking (a lifesaver, even) and the valet.
Pollack also indicated another forum is likely to be held, the next time probably in the evening.