$50K H.O.R.S.E. Turnout Suffers Without ESPN Coverage
Field Shrinks Considerably in 2009
There is still plenty of star power at the 2009 $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. world championship — often referred to as the “players’ championship” — but one can’t help but notice the empty tables that sit in the Amazon room.
At the end of registration, the prestigious event featured a field of 95 players. In 2008, 148 players put up the cash to compete in the tournament.
This is the first year in the $50K H.O.R.S.E.’s four-year history that the tournament will not feature any television coverage on ESPN, a move made by the network because the TV ratings for the event were never great.
“The turnout is directly related to ESPN deciding that they weren’t going to film it because it’s not no-limit hold’em at the final table,” said Daniel Negreanu, a member of the Players Advisory Council, a group of poker players who give their input to Harrah’s each year concerning the WSOP schedule. “Next year, we’ll switch it back to no-limit hold’em at the final table, then we’ll have all those extra sponsored players and we’ll be back to 150 if not more next year.
“It’s clear and simple. Make it no-limit hold’em.”
In 2006, the inaugural year of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. world championship, the tournament made the controversial transition to no-limit hold’em for the final table. No-limit hold’em, of course, is not one of the five games featured in H.O.R.S.E. (all games are limit — hold’em, Omaha eight-or-better, razz, stud, and stud eight-or-better).
After player complaints, the final table of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. world championship returned to the five games for 2007, and has remained that way ever since.
“The PAC (Players Advisory Council) was notified that unless there was no-limit hold’em, (the H.O.R.S.E. event) likely wouldn’t be televised,” said Seth Palansky, WSOP communications director. “The PAC said that it was too prestigious of an event, and they didn’t want to change it back.”
Negreanu said that he fought the PAC’s decision.
“Originally, it was no-limit hold’em at the final table. I designed it that way because I knew it would give them what they wanted,” said Negreanu. “People cannot watch H.O.R.S.E. on television, it’s boring. They asked to make it no-limit hold’em, I guess some people thought it was a bad idea, but I was not one of those people. And guess what, I’m right and they’re wrong, as usual.”
Not everyone agrees with Negreanu, however. Eli Elezra, a regular at the high stakes mixed games at Bellagio, thinks that no-limit hold’em should never replace the tournament’s original format.
“You have to stay with the H.O.R.S.E. all the way,” said Elezra, who actually wishes the $50k event added a couple more games. “I would definitely go for the eight-game (mixed format) and I already told that to Jennifer (Harman), Barry (Greenstein), and Daniel (Negreanu). Make the $50,000 an eight-game mix, so that no-limit hold’em will be a part of it.”
Elezra believes the added games would definitely increase interest.
“Everybody’s playing pot-limit Omaha online,” said Elezra. “And no-limit hold’em, we know (is popular).”
The eight-game mixed format at the World Series includes all of the games of H.O.R.S.E., along with no-limit hold’em, pot-limit Omaha, and deuce-to-seven triple draw.
Annie Duke, one of only two women playing today’s event (Harman being the other), approves Elezra’s idea of making the $50,000 championship more of a mixed games format, but said she could be open to the idea of making the final table of that event just no-limit hold’em for TV purposes.
“Just make it a mixed game, but include no-limit hold’em and then maybe there’s no-limit hold’em alone at the final table,” said Duke. “But if we start doing everything for TV, it only becomes no-limit hold’em. I think at some point you just have to stand up and say, ‘Yeah, the TV is really good but you have to preserve what poker really is as well.’”
Duke wants the World Series to make a $10,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, and make the $50,000 event a mixed game format, with the possibility of just no-limit hold’em at the final table for TV purposes.
“You just have to stop calling it H.O.R.S.E., which is fine. Make the final table no-limit hold’em, I don’t care,” said Duke. “I just want to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that regardless of whether TV likes it or not, Omaha eight-or-better is a great game, limit stud is a great game, and limit hold’em is a great game.”
Even with the smaller turnout for the $50,000 event, Duke insists that it still deserves the “players’ championship” title.
“When you look around the room, it’s still the best players in the world. I don’t think it’s deteriorated at all,” said Duke. “The people who really feel like they have good equity in this event are going to play anyway. The ones who might have been playing because they have TV bonuses, or some of the sites buy them in but they don’t really feel like this is their game, those are the people that you lose.”
While the drop in turnout in such a prestigious event is noticeable, the World Series has fared quite well in terms of turnouts and prize pools thus far in the 2009 WSOP.
The 2009 World Series has set records in the $1,000 Stimulus Special (most entrants ever outside the main event), the $40,000 no-limit hold’em tournament (largest prize pool outside the main event), the $1,500 Omaha eight-or better tourney (biggest live field ever for such a tournament), the Seniors event (largest field ever for such a tournament), and the $2,500 razz tournament (biggest cash prize ever for a razz tourney).
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