Thursday, May 01, 2008

Worst. Idea. Ever.

Still suffering from the monkey croup I picked up in Vegas, which as hung around for nearly a week now. Boo.

On the brighter side, I did manage a decent score in the $200 Caesar's 7 PM tournament the last night I was in town, finishing 6th to claw my way back to close to even for the trip. Given that I lost two ginormous pots with AA versus A7o and QQ versus 1010 (both all-in pre-flop), not a bad result, although it was disappointing to get bounced when I did with 1st place paying close to $10K.

Apparently Harrah's is serious about this delayed-Main Event-final-table thing, which leads us to the title of this post. I get the point of the move and I've argued myself that the poker industry and poker powers-that-be need to make some serious changes as far as making tournament poker more spectator-friendly, but this attempt is just about the worst way possible of going about that.

The biggest skeleton in the closet of tournament poker (as far as its potential popularity as far as a televised sport) is the fact that final table deals and players owning stakes in other players happens all the freaking time, and will continue to happen. If the results are largely predetermined (or at least the financial outcome, which is all that matters to most players), that obviously takes a lot of drama out of the outcome, if that fact is made public.

If you can keep those facts under wraps, the potential drama remains. So far that's mostly been the case, as your average Joe watching poker on tv has no clue about final table deals and other shenanigans. But pushing out the final table of the Main Event nearly four months is almost guaranteed to result in much talk and speculation about deals being made, as that's the most obvious pitfall that should leap into anyone's head when such an idea is proposed.

With the amount of money at stake and four months to barter, haggle, and horse-trade, it's inevitable that deals are going to be struck. That's not to say that there have never been deals at a Main Event final table, as there most inevitably have been, but now it's virtually guaranteed. And that doesn't even touch on potential collusion, as four months is plenty of time for 2 or more players to come to a financial agreement and put together a fairly sophisticated, non-detectable plan that significantly increases their collective EV. Again, such a thing wasn't impossible under the old system but was very difficult, as you simply didn't have much time to come to an agreement and concoct a plan.

People have raised the issue of players getting coaching in the four month downtime, but to me that's much less of an issue. I mean, sure, a lucksack could use the four months to markedly improve their game, but you're still playing the chip stack you had entering the final table, and there's always going to be an element of randomness at any final table. A few "bad" calls where you suck out could have propelled you to a win back in your lucksack days, where when you learn a bit more you fold those hands, only to get bounced out the next hand when you make the correct play, etc. Since anyone could receive coaching if they so chose, that one seems a wash to me, as a final table simply isn't enough hands for any accumulation of skill to play a significant role.

Not that I put much stock in the history and lore and statistics of poker, but it's also going to make it hard to compare past winners to winners moving forward. Having the time off to rest, recuperate, and plot out your course of action is pretty significant. Not a huge concern, and times they are always changing, but the new format is an entirely different beast than the old one. You can claim that there will be better poker played at the final table, and true, maybe so, but there'd be better poker played throughout the tournament if every other day was a rest day, so that's a bit of a silly claim.

But I'm mainly concerned about deal-making and collusion, as far as the Worst. Idea. Ever. pronouncement. There's way too much money at stake for such questions and concerns not to arise, which is inevitably going to lead to more talk and knowledge about final table deals and players swapping percentages in general, all of which are major obstacles to the potential mass-market appeal of televised poker.

Would the Super Bowl still retain its shine if the general public knew that losing teams regularly lost on purpose because they were promised a larger percentage of the TV revenues by the NFL than they'd otherwise get so that a more "popular" team in a hot new market would be guaranteed to win? Of course not, yet roughly the same thing happens with regularity at the poker tables, each and every major event.

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