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Mike Sexton 'Calls Out' The World Series Of Poker

WSOP Responds At Length To WPT Commentator

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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.”