Settling in with the November Nine

For a seventh year in a row, I’m covering the final table of the World Series of Poker Main Event Championship. I’m fortunate to have witnessed the last final table inside Benny’s Bullpen inside historic Binion’s in 2005 when Joe Hachem got the sugar passed his way amidst an omnipresent chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!” Since then, I caught final tables played out inside the Amazon Ballroom and had ringside seats during the apex of the poker boom when Jamie Gold and Jerry Yang respectively won their championships. I have also been in the orchestra pit for each incarnation of the November Nine, and watched 20-something baby-faced wunderkinds — Peter Eastgate, Joe Cada, and Jon Duhamel — slip the winner’s bracelet around their wrist and hug a mountain of cash.

Now you can add this year’s November Nine to my resume. Technology is improving, demand is vacillating, and the world’s financial system is in ruins. Who knows if the November Nine will continue to exist (check out Change100’s stellar article on that very subject — The Last November Nine?), or if the WSOP Main Event reverts back to how it used to be played out — from start to finish — without any layoffs. Call me a purist, but that’s how the Main Event should be played out. I never liked the concept of the November Nine because it weakened the integrity of the Main Event. Big Business entities determined that the most prestigious poker tournament of the year should be a made-for-TV event like the Oscars or Presidential elections. But as far as fabricated events go — the November Nine is still one of the best spectacles you’ll ever see.

The lines between sports and entertainment have always been blurred since the inception of televised poker. But something happened this summer during the Main Event that revolutionized poker coverage — the live feed. It became insanely popular so the same concept has been added to the November Nine (with only a 15-minute delay and ALL hole cards instead of a 30-minute delay and hole cards past the flop). For the first time, the WSOP Main Event felt like a real sport because it was being covered like one on ESPN and ESPN2.

Generally speaking, Americans want their entertainment and art spoon fed to them. Best example is the popularity of the juvenile Jersey Shore, or why Michael Bay makes gajillion-dollar mind-numbing blockbusters (I admit, I like seeing shit get blown up) and Woody Allen has been banished to Europe to do his artsy-fartsy existential films.

TV programs are only in existence to sell shit. Just look back to the first “soap operas” that dominated the airwaves after the introduction to the TV. Dramatic stories with tepid acting were only created to sell… soap. Fifty years later, the same concept applied to the poker industry. Televised poker was created to sell online poker, masked as the grandiose American Dream. Alas, Black Friday squashed the lucrative televised poker market. Without PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker fighting for the hearts and minds of online poker junkies, a vacuum was created. Even though Ty Stewart is a masterful salesmen, he’s really been the only one to persuade non-gambling
companies to join the WSOP as a major advertising partner. The bottom line is that most Fortune 500 companies don’t care about poker, otherwise all of the November Niners would look like NASCAR drivers with ads peppering their entire accouterments.

Without the proverbial carrot stick in front of the donkey cart, it’s been hard to sell “packaged” poker programs to the masses. But, rabid poker fans love everything that has to do with poker. They’ll flock anywhere to get their poker fix. The ratings during the live stream of the Main Event proved that watching poker “now” (even though it’s on a delayed feed to protect the integrity of the game) is a profitable product. Let’s put it this way, if it wasn’t, there’s no way ESPN would dedicate an entire Sunday during football season to a poker tournament. Yet, that’s what happened. If the live feed continues to be a smashing and profitable success, the November Nine’s future is in jeopardy. Alas, the future of the November Nine will come down to the fate of so many projects in Hollywood — ratings.

I will be tweeting from inside the Penn and Teller Theatre at @taopauly. I will be also be providing some updates here on Tao of Poker and if/when Michalski shows up, we’ll record episodes of Tao of Pokerati podcast. I gotta be honest — the November Nine scheduled on a Sunday is utter torture for a sports bettor and NFL fan like myself. It will be hard to focus on the final table while NFL games are in action. I can’t promise I’ll stay inside the Penn and Teller Theatre. It won’t be surprising if you find me walking back and forth between the press box and the sports book. Besides, between Twitter and ESPN2, there’s really no reason for me to add to the static and regurgitate information you already know about. But on a good note, that will allow me to float around and dig up the juicy dirt behind the scenes, in the hallways, and in the farthest corners of the Penn and Teller Theatre.

For more on the November Nine, follow Paul McGuire at Tao of Poker.