Effel, Mercier Explain New 'Split Format' WSOPE Tournament

Jason Mercier
Jason Mercier likes the format, but sees a few areas for improvement.

A new location wasn’t the only novelty at this year’s World Series of Poker Europe. We’ve also been introduced to a brand new tournament format.

Dubbed “No-Limit Hold’em (Split Format)” this tournament style sees play transition from nine-handed, to six-handed to heads-up as the tournament progresses.

Kicking off this evening at the Hotel Majestic in Cannes, the event boasted a €10,000 buy-in and attracted 126 players, many of whom didn’t even fully understand the tournament structure before showing up and buying in.

“I know some people still don’t fully get it but it really is just nine-handed on Day 1, six-handed on Day 2 and then a 16-player heads-up bracket,” WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel told PokerListings.com.

“It really is that simple but players are going to need a ton of strategy along the way,” he added.

Effel said that the idea has been around for a while but was put into action here at the 2011 WSOP Europe in part because of how restrictive gambling laws are in France.

“When we were talking about running this event in France, given that we can only play Hold’em and Omaha because of French gaming laws, this was a way to put a new spin on a familiar game.”

So far player reaction has been positive, although a few logistical problems were identified early on.

The biggest gripe so far has been about what’s going to happen when the field reaches the final 16, and they are arranged into heads-up brackets to play down to a winner.

Jason Mercier, who has two WSOP bracelets and over $6.7 million in winnings, says that the random draw that will decide the heads-up matchups could pose problems.

Jon Duhamel
Reigning world champion of poker Jon Duhamel played the €10k split today at the 2011 WSOPE.

“The problem I see is when we get down to sixteen people we’re not playing heads-up by seeds, it’s just random draw, so you could be one of the big stacks but still have to play someone with more chips than you,” said Mercier.

As it turns out this is a problem that the WSOP staff is aware of, and just like the original motivation to introduce this format here in Cannes, it has to do with French gaming laws.

“Originally I wanted to seat the heads-up part of this event like they run the NCAA, with the biggest stack playing the smallest stack, and the second-biggest playing the second-smallest, and so on, but because of the laws here in France we were told you must have a random draw,” Jack Effel explained.

“So with that in mind, we simply put in 16 names and let the computer decide the bracket, then we just play down to a winner,” said Effel.

The upshot of the random draw is that depending on how the computer decides to match players up when the tournament moved to heads-up, we could see big stacks against big stacks, shortstacks against shortstacks and everything in between.

If, by random decision, all the big stacks are pitted against one another, we might see a heads-up final in which one player has a prohibitive chip advantage.

But Mercier and Effel are both optimistic about the format’s chances of catching on, especially in locations where lower buy-ins would attract bigger fields, and more relaxed gaming laws allow the heads-up bracket to be decided by seeds.

Chances are we’ll see at least one Split Format event at the 2012 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

PokerListings.com is picking up full live coverage of the €10k Split event tomorrow. In the meantime click through here to read summary coverage of Day 1.

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