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World Poker Tour President On Delayed Final Tables: 'Risk-Taking Essential To Innovation'

WPT CEO Adam Pliska, Players Share Thoughts On New Final Table Format

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In May of last year, the World Poker Tour announced that all of its televised final tables for the 17th season would be filmed at the HyperX Esports Arena. The decision to have the $25 million dollar venue at Luxor Hotel & Casino be the sole location for WPT’s TV production meant that the tour would need to adopt a delayed final table approach, with each event halting the action at six players, not resuming until weeks or sometimes months later in Las Vegas.

Two years after the World Series of Poker did away with its own delayed final table format in the ‘November Nine,’ the first three delayed WPT final tables are set to play out this week, with a champion decided each day from March 11-13.

All-time WPT title leader Darren Elias told Card Player that he was “against delayed final tables.”

“In any poker event, I think who you are at the start of the tournament should be the same as who you are to finish the tournament,” Elias said last summer.

As fate would have it, Elias managed to make the final table of the L.A. Poker Classic as the chip leader, and will be among the first 18 players to experience the new format as he chases his record-furthering fifth WPT title.

Shannon ShorrCard Player decided to learn more about the new approach to televised final tables directly from WPT President and CEO Adam Pliska and also spoke with two poker pros who will be competing this week.

Shannon Shorr is second in chips at the WPT Gardens Poker Championship main event and will be looking to capture his first WPT title and add to his career earnings of nearly $6.6 million. Ian O’Hara, navigated a field of 1,415 entrants to make the top six of the WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open main event. Like Shorr, he is an accomplished poker pro with $2 million in live tournament earnings, chasing his first win on the tour.

When asked about his overall feelings regarding the WPT’s move to delayed final tables, O’Hara looked at both sides of the coin.

“Personally, I think there are pros and cons," said O’Hara. "The pros are that you can more easily have family and friends come out and watch your final table, celebrate with you and all that. The cons are that you have to travel again, in my case all the way across the country, and you also have to wait a long time to play it out.”

Shorr echoed that sentiment, adding that, "I like playing long hours and I train pretty hard, mentally and physically, to be ready to keep going strong late in tournaments. So, given that, I don’t like the idea that the other guys will have gotten to rest up and study.”

The Poker Community Reacts

While the poker world’s overall reaction can be hard to accurately gauge, it is safe to say that the initial announcement of the move to delayed final tables was met with skepticism and some negative social media chatter.

“The poker Twitter world can be pretty complaint heavy," said Shorr regarding the response. “I think whenever there is a big change like this in poker it is going to spark a ton of debate. From what I’ve seen in the community, most poker players are kind of against it.”

O’Hara agreed, saying, “I’ve talked to some of my friends about the delayed final table approach. We were all on the same page, in that we would prefer it not to be delayed, but we can all understand how it might be good for poker and the production.”

WPT CEO and President Adam PliskaAdam Pliska has been WPT President and CEO since 2009 and has overseen plenty of changes to the tour. When asked why the decision was made to host all of the WPT’s televised final tables for season 17 at the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas, Pliska started with the positives.

“Las Vegas is the global home of poker and has done so much to elevate the game all over the world,” Pliska said. “When the World Poker Tour started, it’s where we held our first event in Season I at Bellagio. We now have a $25 million state-of-the-art facility, making it the perfect venue to hold our prestigious final tables and celebrate the game the way that first-tier global sports are offered. The venue makes for a fantastic place for the players to play, showcase our sponsors, and put on a world-class television production. It also gives us a degree of control that ensures the live experience will be like nothing else we’ve done before.”

Of course, the high cost associated with transporting a final table set from venue to venue was also a big factor.

“Moving final table sets around the world had two drawbacks,” Pliska explained. “First, it really limited the amount of great world casinos who could possibly participate in our TV final table. This effectively prevents them from being promoted through WPT’s worldwide distribution. Second, it is really, really expensive, with a lot of that benefit never being enjoyed by either the viewers or the players, since most of the cost is in transportation and set up.”

Pliska said that the WPT incorporated much of the early player feedback into how they executed the event.

“I think the players will appreciate how much of their suggestions we used,” said Pliska. “One thing is now perfectly clear — if you make a WPT TV final table, your friends and family are going to feel the impact of the achievement you’ve accomplished firsthand.”

Despite their reluctance to endorse the format, both Shorr and O’Hara did acknowledge that the players who are going through the experience probably won’t complain too much as they battle it out for potentially life-changing money.

“I should say that the WPT has been really awesome," said Shorr. “They are getting us a room, they were able to hook our friends and family up at a good rate at The Luxor. I live in Vegas now, but the guys that don’t are being flown out. The World Poker Tour has been first class in that regard.”

“The player relations people and everyone in charge of all that at WPT have been great," said O’Hara. “Although, it hasn’t really changed the way I feel about the delay.”

Addressing Player Feedback

One issue that many vocal poker pros feared was that amateur players might skip an event with a delayed final table because they don’t want to have to commit to two separate trips for a single tournament.

“The biggest concern of those who originally criticized the idea was that it would affect the numbers of the TV events,” said Pliska. “This was not raised out of some cynical intent and I appreciated those concerns. In fact, I agree there was a risk. However, at WPT, nearly two decades of continually evolving has shown us that educated risk-taking is essential to innovation.”

Ian O'Hara"I can understand how some recreational players might not be able to get away for two different trips, but I honestly don’t think that is going to be that big of a problem, said Shorr. "For most players who might make the final table, it’s a good problem to have, needing to fly out to a play for half a million or even a million dollars. I think they can probably get away for that.”

Another concern for regulars is that their recreational counterparts benefit more than they do from an extended break in the action.

“When you have a delay, everyone has access to the same coaching or the same ability to work on their game. But there is a big disparity between how much an amateur and a pro can improve their game in a six-week time span,” noted O’Hara.

“I think [recreational players do benefit more] if they put in the time and study. A lot of us have already put in that work, and I think this allows them to catch up a little bit,” said Shorr.

Without Further Delay

A lot of the concerns raised about the format have been hypothetical and worst-case scenarios. Nearly eight weeks after the first of the three final tables playing out this week was set, the reality of how this new approach will play out is close at hand.

“Honestly, sitting here as somebody who has made one of these final tables, I haven’t thought twice about [the debate]. It is easy, ahead of time, to worry about it. But now that I am here and I’m going in with this huge opportunity, it’s a non-factor for me,” said Shorr. "I’m just dealing with that and focusing on the process.”

Shorr also noted that the unique dynamic of making the final table and then halting the action has allowed him to have a very different experience then he might have normally had at the business end of a tournament.

“It’s such a cool group of guys that I’m with at the final table so it has been cool to share this experience. There are a couple of old school legends at the table, and guys like Steve Sung and Brent Roberts that I’ve been playing with for 12 years," explained Shorr. "It’s been kinda cool to share the delay with them, text and tweet and mess around with each other a little bit. Actually, four of us went out together for dinner after making the final table and had some drinks, which is something that normally wouldn’t happen, so that was cool.”

Luxor Hotel & CasinoOver the course of three days from March 11-13, three new WPT champions will be decided at the HyperX Esports Arena. Pliska is optimistic that the venue will be a huge asset to the WPT.

“We now have a poker production playground, fully network ready, and available year-round, said Pliska. “With fewer and fewer companies producing multi-million dollar poker productions, we now can present the show in ways that only professional sports have been afforded. When a sponsor comes to WPT now, they can be assured the best in on-screen exposure and integration. Quite frankly, we have a level of control now that we always sought in years past.”

Only time will tell how the WPT’s new approach to televised final tables will ultimately be received. Pliska notes that, so far, the numbers in the events that have delayed final tables have been promising.

“We have already seen a record-breaking WPT Borgata Winter Poker Open, growing numbers at the LAPC, and a solid start for the WPT Gardens Poker Championship as well,” said Pliska.

Now what remains to be seen is who will capture the titles in these events. Stay tuned to Card Player for recaps of each of the three upcoming final tables.

Photos courtesy of WPT/Joe Giron.