The major story in poker news today is the open letter Matt Glantz wrote to the World Series of Poker, published by Bluff, in which he states that he feels the series has “lost its luster,” and explains all the things that are wrong with the series this year.
His conclusion is that the WSOP needs to bring back a players’ panel to consult with on decisions for future years. Such a panel has existed in the past, known as the Players Advisory Council, and in response to Glantz’s suggestion, Kevin Mathers has produced a partial list of its members to help advance the discussion about whether such a council should be brought back and, if so, who should be on it – I’ll go out on a limb and predict they’d leave Howard Lederer off the list this time around.
Although it’s true that the WSOP was faring much better during the period when the council was most active than it has been in recent years, this probably has more to do with the overall arc of the industry since the poker boom than it does with the advice the WSOP was receiving from the council.
Personally, I don’t think a new council would hurt things any, but I don’t think it’s likely to fix the sorts of problems Glantz is pointing out, for the most part. His complaints largely involve two sorts of decisions: business decisions, such as the change in card manufacturer and parting ways with PokerNews; and fine-tuning of the schedule and structures.
In the case of the business decisions, I imagine that a lot of the decision-making and underlying motivations go considerably higher up within Caesar’s Entertainment than scheduling and structuring decisions for the tournaments themselves. The amount of money involved in these decisions likely outweighs the difference in revenue created by a small change in attendance. Thus, even if a player’s council existed and was adequately informed about these decisions as they were being made, I suspect that any objections they made would carry little weight and lead to more frustration than anything.
A player’s council would have considerably more weight when it came to the details of scheduling, blind structure and payouts, but the trouble there is that you can’t please everyone and that players themselves often don’t know what they actually want until they’ve tried it. After all, the most commonly-heard request prior to this year’s series was for slower structures, but it’s only now that people are experiencing those structures for themselves that they’ve come to the conclusion that what they actually wanted was slower structures deep in the money, but faster ones early on.
Finally, there’s a basic paradox in that the sorts of people – like Glantz – who have spent a lot of time thinking about these things are, in many ways, the least important demographic for the WSOP. Top-level tournament professionals represent a minority of players at the WSOP even if they garner most of the attention, and more to the point, most of them will play a lot of events no matter what happens. They may sit out a few if they aren’t happy with the decisions being made, but that will make only a very tiny dent in overall attendance.
By contrast, a change which would make an on-the-fence casual player or circuit grinder a little more likely to make the trip to Vegas, or to play even one more event once they’re there would make a huge difference. Everyone, including Glantz, agrees that a panel would need to include such players. The trouble with that idea, however, is that this demographic hasn’t spent as much time thinking about these issues as the professionals and so their feedback will be less useful as a result. As a game designer, I know that asking players for their unprofessional opinions on what they expect would be enjoyable for them often gives you information which is worse than useless; to get useful advice, you have to give them something to try and then ask what they think of it.
In the end, I think that most positive changes at the WSOP will come about by doing what they’ve always done and continue to do: by trying things out, by listening to the response of the community as a whole – rather than some tiny subset of it – and then keeping the things which worked this year and changing the things that didn’t. There have been many complaints this year to be sure, probably more than most years, but mostly I think that attendance is lower simply because the growth poker as a whole is still in the process of correcting for the boom. As long as they take steps to correct the most obvious problems we’ve seen this year, I don’t think there’s a need to predict gloom and doom, nor for the WSOP to massively overhaul the way they go about planning the series in 2016.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.