New card design a big deal at WSOP

Too Close To Tell
New card design leaves many players upset.

The biggest controversy of the first day of this year's World Series of Poker was the new playing cards put into use. It was hard to miss the fit Mike Matusow threw about them and the rumble it created among the rest of the players as well.

Today the United States Playing Card Company hosted a "town hall meeting" to explain the process that went into creating the new card design and give players a chance to comment on them.

Unfortunately many of the players who were most vocal about the problems with the new PokerPeek cards didn't come talk about it during the meetings, but USPC president and CEO Jason Lockwood was more than happy to talk to the people that did come in.

He started off the presentation with an explanation about the cards and how they came about.

After last year's World Series, players had several complaints in relation to the cards:

  • The cards were wearing out fast and were susceptible to chipping fading, cracking and marking, which created concerns about cheating.
  • Less experienced players had a hard time not flashing their cards when looking at their hands.
  • The flop was hard to read.

Lockwood said that in October 2006 then, the card company set a goal to design new cards and card faces that would help solve those problems and implement them during the 2007 WSOP.

To make the cards more durable and less easy to mark, the company chose to use KEM cards. KEM cards are made from a cellulose acetate that blends wood pulp with plasticizers.

To resolve the readability problems, the company went through several designs and settled on one with the index at an angle in the top left corners of the cards. The pips were also made smaller on the card, with the numbers and letters given more prominence.

However, the angled index corners meant they had to be smaller, which made them harder to read for anyone with vision problems.

Then there was the confusion between the sixes and the nines, especially in spades.

All of these issues came up on the first day of play despite the company working with the WSOP Players Advisory Council to develop the new cards and 10 days of practical testing during tournaments at Caesars Palace.

"In retrospect, debuting the cards at the World Series of Poker may not have been the best way," Lockwood said. "The intentions were pure. The intention was to make the peek more private and the flop more readable across the table."

He indicated that the company is looking at a different process to introduce new card designs in the future.

"We are going back to the well in terms of how we get the market feedback," Lockwood said.

USPC will get feedback from fewer players, but focus more on representatives from all the different subgroups within the poker world such as online players, poker pros, Texas Hold'em players and those who play in less-popular games such as Stud and Omaha.

A version of the new design, PokerPro cards, will still be going out to the retail market despite the PokerPeek cards being pulled from the tournament tables at the Rio for now.

Lockwood said their research has found that most average players rely on the numbers and not the pips like most pros do, and the numbers are more prominent in the new design.

"We still perhaps fundamentally have the problem with the sixes and the nines," he said. "Even this, Bicycle Pro, may go through some minor tweaks before going out to the retail market."

One participant commented that because each pro has their own little way of looking at the cards, perhaps any change will be seen in a negative way, and perhaps the outcry for change wasn't as great as it seemed.

"I think there was originally, but now I think, against the right criteria, when you really force people to enact the changes we talked about, they're not so receptive," Lockwood said.

"We're learning some of the same lessons people learned 100 years ago, 80 years ago, 60 years ago, and now it's our turn to learn those lessons. There is a great deal more resistance to change than I think anyone expected."

Even without the issue with the six and the nines, many of the players didn't like the new design just because it changed how they squeezed their cards.

"If you give them any reason, poker players will complain about something," said Martin Stilling, poker player and town hall attendee. "They'll whine, but you don't know how serious they really are about it either."

Case in point, many players were vocal about their discontent with the cards on Day 1 of the WSOP, but not many showed up at the town hall meetings Wednesday to seriously talk about the issue and give their input about the cards.

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