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Mike Sexton 'Calls Out' The World Series Of Poker

WSOP Responds At Length To WPT Commentator


Mike Sexton, voice of the World Poker Tour, took to his blog last week to criticize the World Series of Poker for some of the things that he thinks poker’s richest and most popular annual tournament series does wrong. Sexton won his bracelet in 1989.

Though Sexton said he still loves the WSOP and has respect for it, he wishes some things could change. Sexton addressed three main areas of concern: the November Nine final table format, the number of WSOP bracelets awarded each year and the current criteria pertaining to the WSOP’s Player of the Year race.

In response to Sexton’s blog, WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart penned a lengthy comment, and in this article we will try to blend that with what Sexton said to give you the opposing views on each of the three aforementioned and crucial areas.

November Nine

While Sexton called the idea to delay the final table of the main event until November “admirable,” he said he is now against this format. He complained that the WSOP is “keeping players’ money for four months,” that “players have an opportunity to train for an additional four months” and that “those of us that are in-shape are being penalized by allowing others months off to rest.” Sexton added that “one of these days, someone is going to die in the four months before the final table.”

According to Sexton, it’s always a potential waste of time and money for a poker player based in a foreign country to fly back to Las Vegas for the November Nine final table if he or she has a severe short stack. “A player from Finland, South Africa, or Australia, one of these days, is going to make it to the final table with 2-3 big blinds and have to travel all the way back to Vegas to, most likely, go out in the first couple of hands and receive no additional money,” he wrote.

“Simply put, the November Nine doesn’t put players first,” Sexton said.

Sexton acknowledged that the November Nine was created to boost TV ratings and popularize poker, however he thinks ratings would remain solid even if the time between the formation of the final table and its conclusion was just a few days. “I wish they would allow players to take two days off—one for rest and the other for player interviews—and play the final table on the third day,” Sexton said. “This would allow family and friends time to travel to Las Vegas to watch. The Rio showroom would still be jam-packed…and I’m sure the TV ratings would be good.”

Stewart replied that “in this era of social media and live reporting it was not optimal strategy to put out a documentary of action that happened months earlier.” He said that the prime-time slot where the November Nine final table currently airs is great for the game of poker. “I don’t think anyone (with exception perhaps of another tour) would want to see those weekly prime-time slots on ESPN go away that reach the masses,” Stewart said.

The November Nine is also good for individual poker players, according to Stewart. “At the same time, we don’t want to mistreat players who have gone on this ‘good for poker’ journey known as the November Nine,” he said. “I want to point out that 1) We do in fact pay out 9th place money in July 2) We put the remaining prize pool in an interest baring account and distribute to the players 3) We furnish business class travel and expenses for [the] return trip.” Getting a sponsorship deal is tough these days, but the wait for the November Nine final table can definitely make it easier to find something, according to Stewart.

Also according to Stewart, the energy level in the Penn & Teller Theatre is leaps and bounds above some of the final table atmospheres before the November Nine was implemented. “The November Nine has always been about putting players first, albeit more focused on the future players we all so desperately need,” Stewart said.

Number of WSOP Bracelet Events

Sexton expressed nostalgia for the days when there were fewer WSOP bracelets available every year. Nearly 70 bracelets will be awarded in Las Vegas this summer, as the WSOP has been growing consistently in this way for years. Sexton implied that he thinks it’s short-sighted to do this. “They’re attempting to strengthen their bottom line (which we all understand and appreciate), but in doing so, are diluting their product (i.e., the value of the bracelet),” Sexton wrote. "Winning a WSOP bracelet is the dream of nearly all poker players, marketing of which has played a key role in attracting customers. The staying power, however, will evaporate if more and more bracelets are continually handed out.”

“My suggestion to the WSOP decision-makers is to keep tradition in mind and not let their attempts increase the bottom line destroy bracelet’s value,” he added. Sexton referred to a bracelet as “coveted,” and he apparently believes that distinction is at risk.

Stewart replied: “I think we can all agree the WSOP was once primarily the stomping grounds of professionals/serious poker players. For this highly coveted original group, we try to service your needs with the higher buy-in options and mixed games…Yet we also want options for the recreational player who desires to experience the game and ‘the show’ without having to break the bank.” In addition, Stewart said that mid-sized buy-ins are also designed to cater to the player who treats poker very seriously, but by no means is a high roller. “We’re simply not going to let any one special interest group rule the roost,” Stewart wrote.

Stewart took aim at Sexton’s remark about the WSOP being considered about profits, implying that it was the only motivation. “I’ll agree to disagree with you that we’re only worried about the bottom line,” Stewart said. “We re-committed to a two-track system for all core disciplines of game, our growth has been quite calculated over the past several years and based upon response leading to all-time records in entrants and prize pool, it seems to be good for players.”

As for the idea of the bracelet’s value being diluted, Stewart claimed that “it is still statistically harder to win a bracelet than at any time in the past” and that a bracelet is also a huge accomplishment, regardless of whether there are 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 bracelet events a summer.

StewartWSOP Player of the Year

The bracelet tally arguably is still the thing people care about the most, but wrapped up in that quest for bracelets is the WSOP’s annual award to the player who performed the best in bracelet events in that year. Sexton respects this award and thinks that it’s incorrect to have bracelet events in other countries count for the POY since traveling for some players is an issue. It is worth noting that most of the time the players challenging for POY honors are well-established players with the means to travel overseas to play a tournament. Sexton’s concerns about the POY might be his weakest of the three main issues he raised, furthered by the fact that it’s almost a continuation of his dislike for the number of bracelets.

Regardless of how many bracelet events there are, Sexton believes that bracelets should only be awarded in Las Vegas. Thus, “the award should go to the player who performs best in Las Vegas.”

Stewart responded to this by saying: “[…] with a blend of righteousness and embarrassment I can admit the majority of the international events have operated at a loss.” In other words, the WSOP doesn’t make a lot of money directly from bracelet events overseas, and so the international events are more designed to increase popularity of poker—but also surely the WSOP brand. “The international events were another of our convictions to do what we can to grow the game through power of our platform—-with a long term view of the world,” Stewart said. “We have always believed in the ‘World’ in WSOP and that with a fast growing global game not all events should be on home soil where Americans can save the travel expenses.”



over 6 years ago


Nothing is liked it used to be. This is life.


over 6 years ago

Mike makes a lot of good points and Mr. Stewart counters many of those points by saying they aren't financially motivated. My question would then be why, when The Binion's sponsored the WSOP, there was no juice taken from the Main Event and all the money was put into the prize pool? Now that Harrah's owns The WSOP, 6% is taken from the Main Event and even more from the smaller buy-in events! They practically guarantee themselves 3rd place money! And then, nothing is expressed about expanded payouts! Great for the house, IMHO, not so great for the player! I always enter tournaments to finish in the top 10%, to get a pittance of a return! No I play to win the tournament and make a lot of money! I am not suggesting winner take all, but I am saying you should be proud of your accomplishments and finishing in 700th place is not my discription of a great accomplishment! Now, I am proud to say I have 4 final table appearances, with 3 seconds and 1 fourth place finish, first final table in 1999 and last final table in 2009! I'm sure this isn't a discussion Harrah's or anyone else profiting from these formats want to discuss!


over 6 years ago

I dont think the number of bracelets is a big deal,you have to remember that there is so many diff types of games and diff formats of holdem so each bracelet is for a specific type/format,not just all no limit holdem. And other games have been added also so i think the wsop has just grown ,thats all


over 6 years ago

It wasn't a well-thought out PR ploy to respond to Mike's blog last week with my own version of War and Peace. It was simply an honest, emotional reaction to seeing one of the Mt. Rushmore of the game question your motivations, albeit something he has earned the right to do. Yes, I wanted reinforce to Mike (and any player) that we are not in some ivory tower counting rake like Uncle Scrooge McDuck, but actively collecting and processing your feedback to try and be something that lifts the industry. But one of the real negative consequences of my public response was to see it play out like Mayweather-Pacquiao. Firstly, there is no fight (Mike is a class act and immediately tweeted similar) and if there were - perhaps Sexton is akin to a legend like Mayweather, but I am a lot more Gerry Cooney.

So, in this matter, it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But...

As I monitor the feedback, I'm kicking myself for not addressing what I see as the heart of the matter. And that's players valid concerns as to whether the "suits" (a role I understand is mine even if I choose to lampoon it) are willing to put business before poker. If the authenticity/integrity of the game is even a consideration in the decisions we make.

So, I want to make it very clear...we are willing to be progressive and make changes, some which are good for business now, some which we hope are good for business later, but never at the expense of being true to who and what we are. Every cause and effect is scrutinized and no change is made lightly. To wit, I want to present for consideration that the modern WSOP Final Table - aka the November Nine -may be the hardest and truest test of poker in the world today. While I was foriegn to the game arriving from the NFL system a decade ago, I am a willing student. Poker has many definitions, but most accept that it involves the balance of probability, psychology, and game theory. Not so long ago, a player like Peyton Manning may have been labled a cheater for being able to see instant snapshots of the defensive coverages, or counsel with his offensive coordinator on the headset between series. No one denies the WSOP Final Table is quite unique. With the 3.5 month gap to develop (or have other players believe you may develop) variances in your game from what they observed in the early rounds. With, due to the live broadcast, a steady stream of information to be processed, ignored, or even used as a weapon to build table image. With players clear understanding of the media/audience who will scrutinize their decision making, peer pressure of the cheering crowd, even the pride of their countrymen hanging on their every move. It is a brutal pressure cooker. And with ratcheted up stimulus to process in the areas of pyschology and game theory, it seems a highly differentiated but very authentic test of the game. And we're not sure winning the World Championship of Poker was supposed to be easy.

Yet without being too defiant, I would also argue that in the 7 years of the November Nine execution, there hasn't been one clear example that the format has materially affected the outcome. it wasn't coaching during the break which saw Darvin Moon hit a Q on the flop while Ivey casually chomped his bad-luck apple. Greg Merson didn't suddenly become a seasoned grinder in the downtime. And jet lag from a 2nd journey to the Rio didn't seem to slow down Martin Jacobsen. We want the poker to play out as it should. This is why, despite the fact we have perhaps the industry's only true global broadcast event, we refuse to make sacrifices specifically for television. We have two-hour levels, deep deep structures, and as observed, a willingness to roll the cameras until 7am to properly determine the outcome. We take for granted the poker community understands the marketing benefit of the final table - having one elusive date a year everyone can circle. That an analytically inclined audience can look to the prize pools of the "Majors" like WPT Championship, PCA, Monte Carlo, etc. and compare for themselves the difficulty maintaining high prize pools since 2008. But what I really wanted and needed to say is we absolutely prioritize the integrity of the product.

We're ok if the field size of the 7th WSOP Europe looks a lot more like 1976 at Binions vs. Event #7 at the Rio. If Kemath tweets the WSOP APAC mixed game event didn't reach triple digits. And we're ok to ask players to make a second trip to Las Vegas for what we hope is the ride of their lives. For all our tweaks in recent years, there is leadership at the WSOP unabashedly old school. We're honored to steward something I call a public trust and something that has been around since 1970. We know it will continue only if the competition remains as credibible and prioritized as the business pursuits. So that is the heart of the matter. That is what I wanted to relay to Mike. We're marketers yes. But carpet-baggers no. We too love and prioritize the game. We want to be a group you observe making more good decisions than bad ones, and never with cavalier process. And above all, we are concerned about the satisfaction of our customers. The 2015 WSOP is only 10 weeks away and we can't wait to continue to face whatever music comes our way. Passion from the community is far better than apathy. In the words of Ryan Riess (sp?) #LFG.


over 6 years ago

While it is appreciated that you have posted such a detailed and intelligent response, it is also to be noted that you appear to have ignored what the previous poster LionKing29Palms has written.

Allow me to quote directly what he/she has said:- "when The Binion's sponsored the WSOP, there was no juice taken from the Main Event and all the money was put into the prize pool? Now that Harrah's owns The WSOP, 6% is taken from the Main Event and even more from the smaller buy-in events!"

So is this correct? Care to comment directly on this?

The Voice of Reason has spoken, and has spoken damn well.


over 6 years ago

I agreed with Mike Sexton that the main event game shall continue and it should be played after 2 or 3 days of rest. WSOP has no reason to keep the players money for 4 months without paying the interest. After 4 months, each player luck and skill change, the November game will not measure the real player luck and skill since the continuously momentum has been interrupted for the reasons that maybe benefits to the organizer, but not to the players who put a lot of time and energy to create this fabulous event.