This year's press conference to usher in the Main Event was a star-studded ceremony-for both poker and Hollywood. Hosted by the charismatic Nolan Dalla, we were given stats on the World Series thus far, an exclusive preview to a Hollywood poker movie, and a welcome address from World Series of Poker (WSOP) Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack. The event was punctuated by two inductions into the Poker Hall of Fame, making us a lucky part of poker history. Poker legends Billy Baxter and T.J. Cloutier graciously accepted their status as hall-of-famers. Then they opened the floor up to the media for a Question and Answer period. Here are a few words from the two exalted inductees.
Billy Baxter (excerpt from his acceptance speech):
First, I'd like to thank Harrah's Entertainment and all the casino executives here. You've all done a wonderful job with this year's World Series of Poker. Poker has come a long way. It's certainly an honour to be included with all of these great players of the past and present. It looks like poker is really on the way up, and I'm just thankful that I was able to be a part of it.
T.J. Cloutier (excerpt from his acceptance speech):
A few years back, Becky Binion told me I was going into the Hall of Fame, and for some reason, I didn't make it. Then the next year, she told me I was going in, but somebody else made it. But when they came and told me this year, I knew they meant it. It's one of two things I've always wanted to win. I wanted to get into the Poker Hall of Fame and I wanted to win the big event here - it's the only one I haven't won. But there's still a chance because I'm still kicking. But now, there's three things. Now they've added the H.O.R.S.E. So now I've got to win the H.O.R.S.E. event too. I thought I deserved this award about five years ago. Now I'm an old dinosaur, so I'm happy I got it. Thank you very much.
How tough is it now to get through the Main Event with all these so-called amateurs and all the satellite entrants?
It's like anything else, you just have to play your best hand. You just have to play well. I actually like the big fields. There's a lot of talk about in order for people to have a better chance, they should raise the entry fee to make it a smaller field. I totally disagree. The World Championship of Poker should be open to everyone. It was $10,000 to buy-in in the 70s and it's $10,000 today, and I think everybody deserves a shot at the tournament.
I have to agree with Billy on both points. It's always been tough to win, but for me it's the first day. If I get through the first day, then it's hell on me. I've been through the first day seven times and made it to the top five on four out of the seven. It's the same poker. You're still playing the same poker you played 30 years ago, and the only thing you can control is the one table you're playing on. The only difference is back then you had to beat about ten tables and now you have to be about 2,000. So that makes it quite a challenge, but I love the challenge anyway.
In regards to the H.O.R.S.E. event, how do you feel about having to play such long hours at a time, and do you think next year that they're going to expand the event so that people aren't playing for such lengths of time?
Well, I'm sure they will. And you heard Jeffrey Pollack say that it'll be four days next year. You have to realize that this was the first year for this event. Nobody in their wildest dreams thought that there'd be 143 players pony-up $50,000. Nobody knew what would happen, so they kind of had to go along with the guidelines that they had to start with. But it worked out - you had the finest final table you'll ever see in the history of poker up to that point. Who could say anything bad about that? We were tired. We played 19 hours the second day. It was tough for me, because I can't sleep in the day time. But that's the way it had to be. With all the old pros they had in that event, they all sucked it up and played good.
[A sidebar question for Jeffrey Pollack] I had heard on ABC News that someone had trained a chimpanzee to play poker and had entered it into the Main Event. Are you aware of that?
There has been no chimp entered into the World Series of Poker, let me be very clear on that, nor will there ever be.
With all the popularity poker is gaining on television and online, why does the World Series of Poker remain such an important tournament? Why is it still the gold standard of poker?
As far as I'm concerned it always will be. It was Benny Binion's idea with a little input from Doyle Brunson in the old days, and that's good enough for me. I don't think any other event will top it in the poker world. There are plenty of other events out there that might come close, but they can't top the World Series. There are events out there that are getting 500 players, but how many are getting 8,000 players? I think that speaks for itself.
There's always a lot of poker tournaments. They're everywhere, but they're just poker tournaments. There's only one World Series. It's like the majors in golf or tennis or whatever. The ones you really want to win are the majors, and without a doubt, the World Series is definitely the majors.
Most of the time players put up their own money and contribute to the prize pool with the exception of a few pre-rolls like the Tournament of Champions. With poker's wide viewership on TV, do you look forward to the day when perhaps television production money trickles down to the players, and what can the players do to see that that happens?
As a player, you put up your own money, you get up everyday and it's just a job. That's how I've always looked at it. I never had anybody put up any money for me, and I never wanted anybody to. To me that was always extra pressure, and I never wanted to answer to anyone. There's a lot of players out there that probably need a lot of assistance putting up these entry fees. It would be nice to get some "trickle down" from the TV companies, and I think it'll come to that one day because poker's got a bright future, and it's only going to get bigger.
I think for Billy and I, we might not see that happen, but it's definitely coming. But I believe that some point in time money will trickle down even from the online sites. The young guys have got it made, let's put it that way, so we'll see what happens.
Gentlemen, who will win the Main Event?
Um, I think it'll probably be one of the 8,000 entrants in the tournament.
I'm betting on the gentleman on my right, Doyle Brunson.
Thank you Billy and T.J., and congratulations on your induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.