It's been as brutal a six-week stretch as anyone can remember for poker in the United States. With Black Friday (and now, Black Monday where 10 additional domains were seized) putting a halt to most online play in the birthplace of poker; with bankrolls still in limbo as U.S. players wait for Full Tilt Poker and Cereus to begin US payouts; with targets on the backs of principals within those companies; with much of the U.S. poker media doing quick searches for new advertising partnerships, it's been miserable for just about everyone. In short, this industry needs a little pick-me-up.
The good news is the Red Bull for the industry is right around the corner.
When the calendar turns to June, the World Series of Poker will be in full swing. The WSOP is a revelation. It takes us back to simpler times, reunites the poker world and it gets players back to what they do best --namely, playing-- for a cool seven weeks, a gauntlet by any stretch. At the end of it all, we'll have the final table for the world championship and we may all be so sated that for a couple of days, we'll forget what happened in April.
Of course, Black Friday casts a big shadow and as such, it dominates the list of the biggest stories we'll be watching heading into WSOP. From March 31 until July 19th, here are the headlines we'll following in Las Vegas:
Black Friday No Shows
It's sad to say, with all of the great players who will be in attendance, much of the early attention will be on those who might not show. Black Friday put a lot of pressure on a few names in the poker industry and there are real questions regarding whether they'll want to face the music.
The two big names at the top of the list are Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson. Long alleged to be involved in the formation and operations of Full Tilt, both have been more or less silent since 4-15. An appearance may result in constant questions regarding players getting their funds returned and a potentially less-than-friendly situation anytime they're at the tables. And that might be the least of their problems.
While hardly in the same boat as those two, Joe Sebok and Prahlad Friedman could also find good reason to stay away. When Sebok joined Team UB two years ago, he made promises he wasn't able to keep regarding the company's transparency. Friedman, one of the UB scandal's biggest victims, joined that same team early this year, suggesting to other victims that it was safe to go back in the water.
With UB's failure to reimburse U.S. players thus far and the revelation that Scott Tom (the scandal's alleged perpetrator) was still involved in operations, there are plenty of poker players with boiling blood who'd love nothing more than to get a chance to tell Sebok and Friedman about their thoughts and feelings. All that angst just may not be worth confronting.
Futher indictments or seizures
While Black Friday's were the biggest shock waves thus far, the domain seizures of Doylesroom.com and Truepoker.com last week served as a harsh reminder that this story is ongoing and there might be more to come. With many smaller operators choosing to stay within the U.S., one eye will be kept on the news wire this year as we collectively wonder who's next. It wouldn't be shocking if we got an answer during the WSOP.
Debuts: Isildur1 and Jungleman
Not all will be doom and gloom at WSOP. While there are number of noteworthy online players graduating to the realm of adulthood and live play this year, two names stand out. Viktor "Isildur1" Blom and Daniel "Jungleman" Cates have both turned 21 and can finally play in Vegas this year.
Blom is the single most enigmatic player to come on the scene since Tom Dwan. The young Swede came out of nowhere to dominate Dwan for some $5 million late in 2009, famously playing each of Dwan, Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius on multiple tables simultaneously. He then lost most of those winnings in a controversial session against Brian Hastings. Since then, he's signed a deal with PokerStars, where he been competing in a series of relatively low-stakes challenge matches against some of the best players in the world, including Daniel Negreanu twice.
Cates is the other wunderkind who taught Dwan a thing or two about playing hold 'em heads-up. After dominating Dwan in cash play, Cates answered Dwan's challenge of 50,000 hands. While the play has stalled, Cates is presently up over $1,250,000 in less than 20,000 hands. Now, he'll be trying his hand at the live tournament game, at least he will if he can find time to get away from Bobby's Room and Aria.
The hot hands
If you're going to watch eight players on a heater in the hopes they'll continue their success, these are the names:
Eric Seidel - Long considered one of the all-time greats, Seidel has moved to a whole new level in 2011, with seven six-figure scores, four of those tournament victories. It may just be the single greatest run of all-time.
Vanessa Selbst - The best female player in the world today, but even that statement limits her. She's one of the best in the world today. Selbst pulled off a miraculous repeat of her Mohegan Sun championship haul in April, with those two victories bookending her $1.8 million score at the Partouche Poker Tour in September.
Jason Mercier - You can find more about Mercier here, but the man's won over $1 million in each of the last three years and already has almost a half-million piled up in 2011.
Sam Trickett - England's young prodigy has been busy with cash games in Macau and the like, but he cashed six times at the 2010 WSOP and has won over $3 million since.
Scott Seiver - Seiver's $1.6 million win at the WPT championship only served to reinforce how solid a citizen he's been over the last few years.
Ronin1085 - He has a fricken fictional horse. How cool is that? Enough said.
Galen Hall - Hall finished third to Seiver at the WPT Championship, but between that and his $2.3 million win at PCA this year, we're not crying for him.
Vivek Rajkumar - He'd rather you not know who he is, but Vivek has two WPT final tables and over $1.5 million in tournament winnings since late February.
Jennifer Martino - While mainly known for marrying a garden gnome, she should be a force to be reckoned with in this year's WSOP.
More players to watch can be found here.
The WSOP Grudge Matches
In one of the most fan-friendly innovations to hit WSOP in some time, three rematches from the annals of WSOP history will be re-staged. Chris Moneymaker and Sammy Farha will replay their historic duel for the 2003 championship, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan will put their 21 combined bracelets on the table to re-contest their heads-up meeting at the end of the 1989 main event, and then Chan will play Erik Seidel in a replay of the most famous head-up contest of all-time. Realistically, the lead up will probably be bigger than the action inspired, but it'll be a fun trip down memory lane for poker's long-time fans and a chance to get educated about the game's history for the newbies. These matches will be broadcast on ESPN3.com on Thursday, June 2.
The prop bets
From the word go, a lot of eyes are going to be on two men: Tom Dwan and Phil Ivey. While that's nothing new where either is concerned, a lot of those eyes will be filled with concern whenever either so much as approaches a final table, since each has holdover bracelet bets from last year. Ivey reportedly stands to win some $5 million in side action if he manages to win a bracelet this year, while estimates on Dwan's potential winnings go much higher. If last year's second-place finish from Dwan is any indication, when either one makes a final table, the poker world will stop to watch.
The bracelet race
Part of the reason the prop bets story has gathered so much steam probably routes in part from the lack of activity at the top of the WSOP bracelet race. Hellmuth hasn't added to his total of 11 since 2007, while neither of the guys with 10 -- Chan and Doyle Brunson -- have seen movement since 2005. The real names to watch now seem to be Seidel and Ivey who both have eight bracelets.
PokerStars and Full Tilt Patches
Simply, there are hundreds of professional players who have an affiliation with the world's two largest sites. With both PokerStars and FTP now out of the U.S., it's unclear whether the wearing of their patches and paraphernalia will be applauded, antagonizing or even allowed.
ESPN's expanded coverage
For years, poker fans have been calling for expanded coverage of the WSOP main event and this year they're getting it. WSOP's television partner is taking the next step in poker broadcasting. Days 3-8 of the main event will be broadcast on a 30-minute delay with hole cards from July 14th-19th, the first time that's happened, giving fans the chance to see it unedited.
The last, biggest elephant in the room will be attendance at the WSOP main event. While the consensus is that the smaller events will be mostly unaffected, the big buy-in tournaments may see their numbers hurt by the after effects of Black Friday. The main event will be the real test. While many of the initial prognostications suggested the numbers would be as low as 2,500-3,000, many of those same prognosticators suggest the numbers will be closer to 5,000.
The reality is that the main event is an oak. In 2009, when the recession his full bore, many predicted similar numbers drops and they never came. My personal guess is that the final number is somewhere around 6,000-6,500, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it ended up being higher than that.
Departures from the poker scene
Sadly, with the end of America's mainstream online poker, U.S.-based professionals are dealing with tough choices. While many have already pledged to leave the country once WSOP concludes, there are others for whom leaving won't be an option. For the latter group, the 2011 WSOP is the last great chance to continue being a professional poker player. Take your shot and miss and you find another line of work.
Win the bracelet and you have a few more years in the sun. Never in the history of poker has more been on the line for so many players.
Of course, those are only the stories we know about. As the events unfold, as has happened every year since 1970, new tales of triumph and agony will emerge. New names will take on the roles played by the Mizrachi brothers and Frank Kassela in 2010. New players will find stardom by making the November Nine. As much fun as it is to speculate about what lies ahead, it's what we don't see coming that makes it so much fun. Welcome to the World Series of Poker.
You can read more of Gary Wise's musings at jgarywise.com.
Follow Gary Wise on Twitter: @GaryWise1
Don't be surprised if a certain person with a fictional horse chip dumps to her. (while requesting half the play money) LOL j/k
Ian Ross said:
Putting my money on Jenn in the Martino grudge match!
Save your money. You're betting against a guy with 1st, 2nd, 2nd and 4th place finishes in fields of 20-30+ players throughout the month. I suppose the payout would be good since I'd be a significant favorite.
Betting on me and winning wouldn't pay nearly as well. But..it would pay :P
Anthony Martino said:
Lol @ tossing Jenn into the story, love it! And yes, it will be interesting to see how things shake out at this years series!
WOOT! *take a bow* Thank you, thank you! That was nice of you putting that in.
Anthony Martino said:
Ian Ross said:
Putting my money on Jenn in the Martino grudge match
Betting on me and winning wouldn't pay nearly as well. But..it would pay :P
Hey man, look who beat you with 9 and 2 heads up! Your game needs work man ;) Tony's just jealous because he knows I've got "mad skills" LOL. Actually, you should definately save your $ and not bet on Tony there are better poker players out there like; Jamie Gold LOL sorry I had to say it.
Ronin1085 . said:
Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile. :)
True but we're talking about Tony here