Colossus Going to Day 5 was a Blessing for Mixed Games
Last night, WSOP live stream viewers were told they were going to get to see the final table of the Colossus. In case you’ve been living under a rock, that’s the newest, lowest buy-in event at the WSOP and the largest live tournament in history, with over 22,000 entries. Needless to say, that means you’d expect a much weaker and in some ways less interesting final table than is typical for the WSOP, but still, the event itself is historical that I imagine a lot of people would have been planning on tuning in.
As it turned out, the late stages of the Colossus turned out to take longer than organizers had anticipated, forcing a fifth day and pushing the final table live stream back to this evening. Fortunately, those who showed up looking to watch some live poker had another option available: the final table of the $10,000 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball Championship.
A lot of poker players have no interest in anything that isn’t Hold’em, so I’m sure the majority of viewers would have left disappointed upon seeing that the Colossus wasn’t streaming after all. However, those who did click on the Triple Draw live stream were in for a treat for a few reasons.
Mixed game tournaments are rare, commentary more so
Although the so-called mixed games are popular in high stakes cash play – whether actually part of a mix, or played individually – almost all high buy-in events outside of the WSOP are Hold’em or, occasionally, Pot-Limit Omaha. Since live cash games are played more privately than tournaments, it’s rare for poker fans to have any opportunity to watch high-level play of a game that isn’t Hold’em.
Compounding that is the fact that the density of the WSOP schedule is such that there are often two final tables on the same day. Typically, at least one of these will be a Hold’em event, in which case it will naturally attract the overwhelming majority of viewers, and is the obvious choice for commentary; the WSOP evidently feels that it would be a waste of resources to provide commentary on two live streams at once.
With the Colossus final table not happening, WSOP lead commentator David Tuchman and his guests were free to provide us their insight on what was happening at the 2-7 Triple Draw final table. Naturally, a lot of this was dedicated to explaining the rules of the game for the benefit of those who had no idea what they were watching, but there were also a lot of good points made about general strategy, as well as about some of the more advanced strategies such as “snowing” (aka pat bluffing), or raising to try to get an opponent to break their hand.
There is really very little information available online or in books about the less popular variants of poker. When you do find an article about 2-7 Triple Draw, it generally only tells you three things: the rules, a general recommendation about starting hands (e.g. only play hands with three cards to an 8 or better) and, if you’re lucky, a bit of statistical information about winning a showdown (e.g. that a pat Jack or better is a favorite against an opponent drawing one card on the final street). For anyone with the slightest interest in playing the game at some point, getting to hear a group of professionals discussing strategy was a rare and valuable opportunity.
Small fields, big names
There’s also a paradox at play when it comes to watching poker, which is that the most popular events to watch also tend to be the most popular events to play. Big fields necessarily mean a lot of unknowns and lesser pros playing, since there are only so many top-level players in the world, and so the bigger the event, the less impressive a final table it will tend to produce. The improbability of the best players getting through those fields is why such tournaments are often described as “minefields.”
Fans tune in to live streams and televised poker broadcasts at least partially in the hopes of seeing some big names play, so it’s ironic that the most popular events to watch are the ones which most rarely feature such an appearance. Meanwhile, if you take a look at the final table for any $10,000 Championship WSOP event (not counting the Main Event, of course), you’re almost guaranteed to see at least one familiar face. It’s simple mathematics: many top players and few amateurs play these events, which often draw as few as 100 entries or so. Given that kind of field size and composition, it’s nearly impossible that a final table wouldn’t include a big name.
In the case of last night’s final table, the name in question was Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond. He ended up finishing fourth, so latecomers might have missed him, and he is perhaps not a household name on par like a Negreanu or an Ivey… but he is certainly a more significant player than anyone you will see on the Colossus stream tonight, and it was a pleasure to watch him play.
A rare title defense
The final and perhaps most significant way in which the live stream proved fortuitous is that it gave those who stuck around the chance to witness a rare occurrence at the WSOP – the elusive title defense. Tuan Le came out on top of last year’s 2-7 Triple Draw Championship, and last night he did it again. There are fewer than 200 players who have won two bracelets, and far fewer that have won two in the same event. Winning the same event in back-to-back years is rarest of all; the last time we’ve seen that pulled off was in 2008-2009, when Thang Luu managed it in the $1500 Omaha Hi-Lo event.
Of course, the small field makes such an occurrence much more likely, just as it influences your odds of high-profile stars making the final table. But although Le’s title defense may not have been a miracle from a statistical standpoint, it is nonetheless the sort of dramatic narrative we look for in an event like the World Series. Whether or not you enjoy 2-7 Triple Draw, or even understand it, the tension was unmistakable as one player after another dropped out and Le drew closer and closer to making history in this way. By contrast, few people watching the Colossus are likely to care one way or another about who finally wins it.
Give us some hole cards
The one real downside to last night’s experience was the lack of hole cards, chip counts and other graphics. The camera work was good, so it was easy to follow the action, while Tuchman and his guests did a good job of speculating about players’ probable hand strengths for the benefit of the viewers. Still, the thing about Triple Draw is that it can come off as extremely dry if you see only the hands which get shown down.
The problem with streaming draw games without hole cards is that there are no up cards as in Stud, and no community cards as in the flop games. Meanwhile, the nature of Lowball poker in general is that the hands which reach showdown are always going to be qualitatively similar. Occasionally, you’ll see someone get snapped off trying to bluff with a pair, but the vast majority of the time you’ll see a 7-, 8- or 9-high winning or losing against a slightly better or worse hand. Much of the subtlety of the game is in what players discard and when – if a player decides to break a 9- or 10-high, for instance, you’ll never find out about it, since that card is in the muck by the time the hands are turned over.
I understand that adapting the Hold’em hole card and graphics system for a five-card draw game is not a trivial problem and would require money and effort on the WSOP’s part. And most of the time, these final tables are going to be overlooked in favor of the larger Hold’em events. Still, let’s not forget how key the introduction of the hole cam was in kicking off the Hold’em boom in the first place. It’s my opinion that drumming up interest in the other games is going to be key in stemming poker’s decline and renewing people’s curiosity and enthusiasm. In order to do that, we’ll need more streams like last night’s… and we’ll need them with hole cards.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.