At the 2006 WSOP, Harrah's added several low buy-in events which began after the Main Event was underway. Unlike last year, where these added events were just daily tournaments in the same room as the WSOP, the events in the 2006 WSOP were bracelet events.
Of course, unless you were there, you probably don't know about these events or care who won them, because they were ignored by CardPlayer, which was the only outlet authorized by Harrah's to carry live event reports. It was unbelievable to me that there were bracelet events going on, right there in the Amazon room, and they weren't getting any coverage at all. Was it a glimpse of the future? Last year, many predicted that bracelets wouldn't mean what they once did, because there were so many of them to be won this year, and it appears that those people were right.
As the final table of the Main Event played behind us, I stood in the Amazon room and watched Bill Chen at the final table of one of these events. That's Bill Chen, who had two bracelets already, and was going for a third. I think that's kind of a big deal, but there was no media, few spectators, and nothing to indicate that this event meant anything at all, even though there was a WSOP bracelet on the line.
I said to a friend of mine, "You know, the World Series will always be a big deal, and it will always be The World Series of Poker
. . . but looking at this," I pointed to the mostly-empty room, the final table of this event entirely ignored by the media and spectators and said, "I can't help but feel like this wonderful thing that was started so many years ago, this thing that really used to mean something . . . just doesn't any more"
"Welcome to corporate America's version of Poker," he said.
At the time, I just nodded my head, because it seemed correct, but the more I think about it, the profundity of the statement has really sunk in.
The World Series of Poker has become just another cog in the corporate machine: with an eye toward the bottom line, Harrah's cut corners on handling the players, repeatedly screwed the dealers, alienated much of the media, and stuffed their pockets with gigantic piles of cash from advertising and corporate sponsors (and never let any of that money find its way to the players, in the form of comps, a better playing experience, or even putting new decks of cards into play.) When he finally faced the media, Jeffrey Pollack gave a press conference that would have impressed Karl Rove. He dodged every pointed question, ignored the few tough follow-ups (which only came from bloggers, by the way) and had the nerve to proclaim that the WSOP was just getting started, as if over thirty years of history didn't exist.
When Becky Behnen took over the WSOP and, by all accounts, screwed it up real good, several players, including Doyle Brunson, left the WSOP and played in Jack Binion's World Poker Open instead. If Harrah's doesn't take a good, honest, critical look at the 2006 WSOP, and engage and listen to the players, there's a good chance for someone else to come along, just like Jack Binion did in the 90s, and provide a competing tournament that gets it right where Harrah's gets it wrong.
Nothing will ever entirely replace the World Series of Poker, but, as Michael Craig put it recently
, "I don't think the people at Harrah's are necessarily evil. They are capitalists and I applaud that. But are they make-every-dime-we-can-and-get-out-of-town-before-sundown capitalists, or make-a-shitload-of-money-and-keep-'em-coming-back-for-more capitalists? Their behavior during the Series was too often the former, too rarely the latter."