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WSOP’s Seth Palansky Talks About New Additions To Summer Series

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jun 08, 2016

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The Rio All-Suite Hotel and CasinoIf you’ve attended the World Series of Poker recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen Seth Palansky at some point whether it was organizing a bracelet ceremony, taking questions from the media or addressing player concerns. The 45-year-old Toronto native wears many different hats, acting as WSOP spokesman and editor in chief of WSOP.com, but his official title is vice president of corporate communications for Caesars Interactive Entertainment. Previously, Palansky spent five years working for the NFL and three years with Fox Sports.

In 2015, Palansky and his team oversaw the biggest series of all time with a record-setting 103,512 entries from a whopping 111 different nations. The $565 buy-in Colossus event alone accounted for 22,374 entries. A total of 11,638 players received at least one payout from an overall prize pool of more than $210 million.

Heading into his ninth year at the summer series, Palansky is excited not only about how much the WSOP has grown during his tenure, but also about what is in store for 2016 and beyond. Card Player caught up with him shortly before the series began to discuss what’s new and how these changes came about.

Julio Rodriguez: Every year it feels like the WSOP sets records for total entries, events and prize pools. How much pressure do you feel to innovate and expand each summer?

Seth Palansky: We definitely feel that internally. In 2009, the Stimulus Special kicked off the summer and that got 6,012 people. Up until then we hadn’t done the $1,000 price point outside of the ladies or seniors events, so it was really interesting to see what we could do just by lowering the buy-in a bit and slapping a name on the tournament. From there we went to the Millionaire Maker, to the Monster Stack, to Lucky Sevens, to Colossus, and this year we have the Crazy Eights.

Click here to see the entire schedule, as well as news and results from the 2016 WSOP

We went from 45 events in 2006 to 69 this year. During that stretch, we realized that the tournaments from week to week can get a little lost in the shuffle, so Ty Stewart created these tent pole events to help break up the summer. The added benefit is that the weekend warrior-type players, who only get to play in big tournaments a few times a year, will circle these events on the calendar and plan their entire Las Vegas trip around it. That’s important. If you throw up 69 events on the schedule and nothing stands out, you just have eight random $1,500 no-limit hold’em events, it’s hard to choose and you end up not choosing at all. I think that’s why we’ve had a consistent run of huge fields and prize pools the last few years.

JR: The WSOP has announced a lot of notable additions for this year’s series, but I don’t think the general poker public understands or appreciates just how much work goes into these changes during the offseason. Can you walk me through that process?

Seth PalanskySP: Let’s take the headphones change, for example. Before, the rules stated that you had to take them off once you reached the money. This summer, you can wear them up until the final table. On the surface, that looks like a relatively simple and straightforward change to make, but it’s actually more complicated than you can imagine.

Jack Effel (WSOP Tournament Director) has his own list of things that the players have brought up in the previous year, just like headphones. So it starts with going to the in-house legal and compliance departments. Now, those groups don’t usually like to say yes to anything because they are risk averse, so Jack has to build a case for why the change should be made. Once you get those groups on board, you have to approach the regulators to get approval.

There’s a lot of back and forth, and consensus building, before you can move forward. You have to show that other places are using headphones in the money with no problems. You have to show that this rule was put in place at a different time and technology has advanced to the point where everyone is doing everything from their smartphones and other devices.

I’ve got to tell you, we get treated much more stringently than anyone else out there, and rightfully so. The WSOP is the biggest and most well-known tournament series around, and it has a worldwide audience, so it makes sense why the regulators are very careful when it comes to changes. So even after we are given approval, we now have to document the results of the change and report back any issues that might arise.

The bottom line is that I saw emails circulating about the headphones in November, and we didn’t actually hear back on it until April. That’s about six months for something as simple as headphones that won’t even affect our bottom line, it’s all for the benefit of the players.

JR: Speaking of benefitting the players, I’m sure everyone will be happy with the new ChipIn tool.

SP: One of the most frequently brought up issues each summer is from players who want to know why their chip count isn’t being reported. The truth is that there are just way too many people to count in the majority of these events and the tables break too fast to keep track of them. So unless you happened to be a well-known player, or we forced you to wear a jersey with your name on it, there really wasn’t a way to do it. That’s why we’re excited about ChipIn, which allows players to self-report their chip count during the tournament from their tablet or smartphone. Their friends and family will be able to follow along and the reporters will be able to focus more on the actual hands.

Joe McKeehen and Josh Beckley Heads-Up in Main EventJR: Some poker purists take issue with event buy-ins of just $565, arguing that it devalues the prestige of winning a bracelet. There have even been some pros, most notably 2015 main event winner Joe McKeehen, who aren’t happy about the WSOP moving start times up to 11 am. In 2014, the pros asked for flatter payout structures and in 2015 when those structures were implemented, they complained that the payouts weren’t top heavy enough. Does it ever feel like you just can’t win?

SP: Yes, it can be frustrating at times. But you have to realize that the people who make those complaints only represent a small portion of the players, they just happen to be the loudest. When you go above and beyond for the players, you don’t always hear the praise, you tend to just hear about what went wrong. We don’t go out of our way to upset our customer base, but it can be dangerous to listen to a loud minority of players that are really only looking out for themselves and not the overall health of the poker community.

One thing that the everyday grinders sometimes forget is that we absolutely have to attract new players. Bringing in new players needs to be our focus, because without new players, you can’t have a bigger and better WSOP each year. Any business will tell you that it’s a little tricky finding a balance between rewarding your frequent customers and catering to new customers, but poker is different because if you don’t bring in those new players then you can’t grow the game.