One of the most striking things to me during my brief 2008 World Series of Poker experience to date is just how much more smoothly things seem to be going than they have the past two years. The sense of chaos that permeated the Rio the past few years is nowhere to be found.
Where the previous years were marked by less-than-popular "features" such as starting events in tents during the Las Vegas summer heat, sequestering final tables like murder trial juries, and registration lines stretching halfway back to the Rio proper, this year has been a breeze of almost orderly satisfaction on the part of the players, staff and media alike.
Keep in mind, too, that the numbers of players in the Amazon Room have been even higher than last year. The tournament fields are more comparable to those of Sunday tournaments on PokerStars or Full Tilt Poker than to, say, a WPT event.
Compared to the last two years of barely contained chaos, it's almost like Harrah's hired a feng shui expert to align the room's energy properly and then had clergy from all the world's religions bless the grounds to ensure peace and prosperity.
That's really not all too far from reality, at least in terms of realigning the room. Some of the biggest changes involve foot traffic patterns in the room.
Moving the satellites to another room was a fantastic start, freeing up nearly a quarter of the space in the Amazon Room for more tables in WSOP events. Then the WSOP management moved the cage to its own area and made separate cages for tournaments and cash games to speed up the process for those recently bereft of their chips.
Of course, making the decision to implement such changes isn't the same as following through on them. Without leadership and initiative on the part of the people behind the WSOP, no number of changes would make any difference. Luckily for everyone involved, it appears that on an organizational level the ship is being run the right way.
I talked with Tournament Director Jack Effel while waiting for the $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em w/Rebuys event's bubble to burst today, and asked him what exactly has made the difference in how this year feels compared to the past. He attributed it to preparation on the part of all the departments involved in pulling off a successful event.
"We wanted to make sure everyone was following suit," he told me. "We got all the departments together ... you don't want to leave accounting out, or customer service, or the cage. You want to get everyone together and hold them to the fire to make sure they're doing their jobs."
He also credits a new registration system designed to get players into poker games faster than ever before, which has led to higher customer satisfaction.
Apparently the approach is paying dividends. Effel says that all the comments he's gotten from players have been positive. "There will always be operational challenges, of course, but - knock on wood - there hasn't been anything major this year."
If turnout stays steady for the rest of the summer and the management continues steering the ship in the right direction, it won't be a stretch to say that 2008 was the best WSOP of the modern era.