The following info is a hodge podge of stuff I've picked up over the last several months of interviews with Harrah's/WSOP brass plus personal knowledge gleamed from way too much time in the Rio.
Also, if you haven't looked lately, I've added a lot of stuff to the Vegas Summer Tournaments calendar. It now has all of the events for the Binion's Poker Classic, Grand Poker Series and WSOP. Still need to add the Caesars Mega Stack, Venetian Deep Stack, Orleans Open and Bellagio Cup.
WSOP Rookie Orientation
By Johnny Kampis
Never been to the World Series of Poker? No problem. In this column, I’ll give you a tour of the facilities and share some tidbits you need to know for your first trip to poker’s big time. In addition, we’ll look at some new features for the 2008 incarnation of the WSOP.
First, prepare to hike to the tournament area even if you’re staying in the Rio. The WSOP is located in the convention area at the back of the casino, which is a good one-quarter to one-half mile from the main casino area. If you are coming via cab or rented car, go to the right when you enter the Rio’s entrance and direct your cabbie to let you out at the convention center entrance or if in your own car park in that lot or enter the valet lane.
Upon entering the convention area doors hang a right. The Amazon ballroom is the main WSOP area and is in the back left corner of the convention area, which is all the way down the hall after you make that right turn. Last year, Harrah’s had an outdoor tent in addition to the 200 tables in the Amazon ballroom, but after players complained about the faulty air conditioning and worrisome wind conditions in the tent all play will take place indoors this year.
WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel recently told me that there has been a move to alleviate congestion that has taken place in the Amazon ballroom in the past. The registration area will be moved into a separate room, with 21 windows dedicated to registration or payouts. In addition, the satellite area will be moved to a different ballroom.
“We have the Cardrunners satellite room this year,” Effel said. “We have 23 tables and a fully-functional cage. There will be five windows for registration and payouts, and everything that happens in that room will be single-table satellites. That will be great because in years past the single-table satellites in the general population with everything else created chaos. Now we’re giving the single-table satellite area much love. We’re giving it the love that it really deserves, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Effel didn’t specify which ballroom will contain the satellites, but it will be near Amazon and surely will have plenty of signage directing patrons in the right direction. In fact, several ballrooms in the Rio will be dedicated to the WSOP this summer for the first time. Effel said another room will be acquired on June 14 (presumably after a convention ends) that will provide an additional 65 tables. He also indicated that the Rio poker room, which is usually closed during the WSOP, could be used if needed this summer. In all, the WSOP will have 274 available tables to accommodate massive fields. However, Harrah’s will not accept alternates this year so if those 274 tables are filled, no one else will be allowed into the tournament.
To enter any tournaments or satellites you will need a Harrah’s Total Rewards card. If you don’t already have one or forgot to bring yours, there’s a desk catty corner to the Amazon ballroom where you can get another.
There are a variety of cash games for both high and low rollers at the WSOP. They have been held in Amazon in the past, but with the additional spaces available they could be moved to a separate ballroom. The most popular cash games are $2-$5 and $5-$10 No-Limit Hold’em, with a dozen tables of each running at any time (sorry, no $1-$2 NLHE). You can also play $10-$20 or $20-$40 Limit Hold’em or $10-$20 Omaha Hi-Lo with a half kill. If your bankroll is bigger, use your imagination. There is no shortage of big buy in games, just watch yourself in that Chinese Poker game, ok?
Food is available at the WSOP Kitchen near the Amazon ballroom where you can get your share of overpriced pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, salads and other chow. For some reason, Harrah’s doesn’t offer comps in the cash games during the WSOP. (You will get $10 off a meal with any bracelet event tournament entry though.) The Sao Paulo Café is the closest casino restaurant to the convention area and offers a nice variety of food.
A recurring issue at the WSOP is bathroom availability. To help alleviate the congestion, the WSOP implemented staggered breaks during tournaments, which has helped some. If you have to go during a break and find a long line into the main bathroom just in front of Amazon, walk further back to the entrance to the convention area. Just past the entrance along the left wall is another bathroom that few people walk all the way back to. Using this restroom should save you time during breaks.
The schedule this year has a variable cornucopia of events, further moving the WSOP away from the “World Series of Hold’em” as poker pro Daniel Negreanu derisively called it a few years ago. Included on the slate are a record eight $10,000 buy-in events, along with a similar number of $1,500 buy-in events for us more recreational players.
Gary Thompson, director of communications for Harrah’s, said there was a real call for more variety among the parties who help give input into the schedule.
“We talked with the Players Advisory Council and the International Players Advisory Council and there seemed to be a real desire to have something for everyone. For the elite players, people who can afford a $10,000 buy in, they like the idea of having smaller, more experienced fields that they can go up against. It’s less of a crapshoot they say than an event that attracts three or four or five thousand players,” Thompson said. “At the same time, we want to have the lower buy in events because there are tons of people who have not had an opportunity to play in the World Series and don’t have $10,000, but who also want to have the opportunity to play in an event and win a lot of money.”
Included on the schedule for the first time this year is a new $10,000 Mixed Event that includes the five HORSE games, plus Pot-Limit Omaha, No-Limit Hold’em and Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw Lowball. “It was another thing that the Players Advisory Council said they wanted to try out this year, so we found a place for it. It will be interesting to see how it actually works because there are a lot of games,” Thompson said.
The biggest news in recent weeks was the decision to delay the main event final table from July to November, allowing ESPN to air it “plausibly” live (it will air less than a day after play is completed). The decision has been controversial, with some people arguing the pros and cons of the move. Effel likes the fact that the decision builds anticipation in the months in between.
“Obviously, the tables get turned as far as the perceived notion of who’s going to win the tournament, and I think that is a big thing. Traditionally, the World Series of Poker has been played out in its entirety and usually by the time the winner is crowned there’s a brief moment in publicity and then sometimes you hear about that person doing something and then sometimes you don’t. Like last year you didn’t really see a lot after the fact and I think this actually builds up the momentum as far as who’s going to win and the overall excitement wrapped around the final table,” he said.
Some have argued that players making the final table can then get months of coaching and study their opponents, which is unfair to the traditional end of a tournament. Effel argues that everyone has an equal chance to do this.
“Everybody is on a level playing field in that everyone has the same opportunity to pursue a coach, to train, to learn about their opponents – just as you would in any other sporting competition. Instead of you being able to see through the play of hands over the course of a few days playing the final table as scheduled, now you have time to really look into your opponents and improve your skills and really compete. The competition is going to be really tough. I think we’re in uncharted territory, but I think this can be a really good thing.”
There are a handful of new rules this year, as well. For one, you can’t use your cell phone within one table length of your assigned table, even if you aren’t in a hand. I recommend just keeping the thing off until you go on break.
Tournament officials can also penalize players for excessive celebration. Will we see fewer shark antics this year? Effel said the rule gives officials more leverage and guidelines to work around.
“We’ve always had a rule that any disruptive behavior could draw a penalty, and we’ve just gone beyond that because of some of the theatrics that have occurred over the last couple years to put the excessive celebration rule in there. If a person gets out of line, is yelling, screaming, throwing chairs – that’s disruptive. It clarifies now more what is considered excessive and what isn’t. It’s still not 100 percent and you’re still going to have to make the decision, but I think putting it out in the open for the public to see, that you do take this very seriously, then hopefully it will divert people from engaging in overly disruptive behavior,” he said.
Meanwhile, more major changes could be in store for 2009. WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack has said that due to the growth of the Series, he may look to expand further.
“Space at the Rio is our biggest challenge. I’m confident that in 2009 we will have an entirely new footprint for the World Series of Poker and I’m confident that…2008 will be the last year we play in the Amazon ballroom as our principal tournament area,” he said.
Asked if that could entail a move to another Harrah’s property in Las Vegas, Pollack responded, “The only thing I will say to that is the following – the Rio has been a terrific home to the World Series of Poker the last few years and in a very short period of time it’s become equated with the World Series of Poker. I think it’s a terrific host for the WSOP and I hope we’re here for a very long time.”