Hold pattern

O, BY THE WAY

Final to begin about 4 months after start

On the World Series of Poker

May 02, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

Talk about your TV timeouts.

The World Series of Poker Main Event, the biggest poker tournament of the year, will suspend play when it gets down to the final table (nine players) in mid-July and then resume nearly four months later Nov. 9. ESPN will broadcast the conclusion Nov. 11 at 9 p.m.

ESPN is tentatively set to begin televising pre-Main Event tournaments July 22 (all telecasts are on Tuesdays) and Main Event coverage begins Sept. 2. A preview show of the final nine players is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Final table survivors will pick up where they left off in the summer on Nov. 9 and play down to two. The one-on-one match is set to begin at about midnight Nov. 10.

The timing means that the final two-hour show will air only a half day or so after a new champion wins millions of dollars, thereby giving the telecast more immediacy than normal. In the past, the Main Event final-table broadcast occurred weeks, even months, after the no-limit Texas Hold 'em World Championship ended and the results well known.

Televising poker has always been a challenge. ESPN's World Series of Poker telecasts have been considered the gold standard of the genre but they are much more like a documentary than actual event coverage with painstaking editing that condenses hundreds of hours of card playing in order to create dramatic story lines.

Tournament organizers (the event is owned by casino company Harrah's Entertainment) hope the new scheduling strategy will preserve ESPN's storytelling while creating the suspense and anticipation of who will be the big winner, similar to an Olympics telecast. As part of the process, there will be about four months to hype the nine survivors from a field that typically starts with thousands of players.

WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said the ambition is allow the public "to see the personalities and stories [of the final nine players] come through" and form a rooting attachment.

Severn accountant Steve Dannenmann, who won $4.25 million when he placed second in the 2005 Main Event, said the change has some disadvantages but sees it as an overall plus.

"I think more people will watch and be entertained and encouraged to play, which means bigger tournaments and bigger prize pools," said Dannenmann, who remains active in poker.

The downside, he said, is that "it does take away from momentum and it gives an advantage to the less experienced players because they can get more experienced in all that time."

They can seek coaching from experts and "guys that can't read other players ... can watch on TV and maybe learn their secrets," Dannenmann said.

Chris Moneymaker, who won the Main Event in 2003 and helped propel the game's popularity, isn't thrilled that skilled players will lose their edge.

"I may spend a week or two weeks learning about whether a player is bluffing and at the end you hope to use that information," he said. "Now, that player can go get coached and I have to worry that those tendencies haven't been coached out of this player."

Like Dannenmann, though, Moneymaker understands the upside.

"In those months before the final table," Moneymaker said, "all nine of these players can go on David Letterman and become famous."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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