I kept wondering if the World Series of Poker Europe (WSOPE) would be a bust? Poker is extremely popular outside of North America. All you have to do is look at the success of the EPT, the Aussie Millions, and the newly formed APPT. The question of all of the poker insider's minds was... could Harrahs establish their brand across the pond and create a series of tournaments that would appeal to Europe's premiere poker players? Harrahs' suits were gambling with the biggest brand in poker as were the folks at Bluff and PokerNews since the WSOPE was also included in their exclusive coverage deal.
I suspected that the biggest issue would be lack of available space. And on Day 1 of the WSOPE, that was evident. Casinos in Europe were not built with poker in mind. The majority that I have attended are substantially smaller than what you would find in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Most of them do not have a hotel attached to it and very few have a sizeable poker room, let alone a space to hold a massive poker tournament.
Part of the problems that occurred at the EPT Barcelona last week were due to the lack of physical space. This is an issue that folks like John Duthie have to address in the future due to the explosive popularity of the EPT. The poker room at the Barcelona casino was small to begin with and they had to break of Day 1 into two flights to accommodate almost 600 players. The EPT Championships in March had to be held in a ballroom adjacent to the Monte Carlo Bay Casino. That was due to Monaco's gaming laws but due to the high volume of participants, spectators, and international press, they needed a large area to hold the event.
The limited space problems that the European Casinos have to deal with is something that also challenges American casinos and tournament organizers. The two largest poker rooms on the East Coast (Foxwoods and the Borgata) utilize ballrooms to host their tournament series and WPT events. As does Commerce Casino in LA for their LAPC events. Those are arguably the three largest poker rooms on the planet and they use a different space for their events to alleviate congestion. At the same time, it generates more income for the casino since it frees up their poker rooms for serious cash games. That model has proven to be successful and the medium-sized card rooms and casinos in America are replicating the methods employed by Borgata, Foxwoods, and Commerce.
One of the major factors for why Harrahs picked the Rio to host the WSOP was due to their large convention area. There have been rumors over the last two years that Harrahs would move the WSOP over to Caesar's Palace but that has always been debatable due to their lack of facilities (when compared tot he Rio). And even then, the Rio had plenty of problems over the last couple of years such as the Poker Sauna and the Poker Kitchen. The Amazon Ballroom is a massive space and yet, they still could not accommodate fields over 2,000 players. Some of you who played in those $1,500 donkfests might have been stuck playing in the Rio's poker room or the hallway near the Hooker Bar. And some of you sweated your asses off in the Poker Sauna during the 5PM tournaments. In an interview with Michele Lewis, WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack mentioned that there will not be another "Poker Tent" in the upcoming future.
Poker is popular. Too popular for the facilities that want to run poker tournaments. When concert organizers wanted to host music festivals, they had to explore alternative options outside of a simple sports arena or stadium. Some of them picked places in the middle of nowhere and built the infrastructure from the bottom up. The Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN is a perfect example. They picked a farm in the middle of nowhere and made it a venue for a yearly music festival. The band Phish wanted to host an end of summer multi-day festival and often rented out abandoned Air Force bases in Maine and Vermont in order to accommodate their rabid fan base who followed them out to the middle of nowhere to partake in their passion.
Harrahs picked the Rio for the WSOP and as much as everyone (me included) like to bitch and moan about how they ran the event, they had very little options to begin with. Just think about the problems that the Horseshoe would have if the WSOP was still theirs. I covered the last final table inside Benny's Bullpen (when Joe Hachem won in 2005) and that place was a freakin' zoo. In previous years (before the Moneymaker/TV/internet boom), the WSOP spilled over into other downtown casinos and tables at the Four Queens and the Golden Nugget.
The space problems that every tournament organizer fears were among the issues at the WSOPE. When I heard that the main event would be spread out over three London casinos, I knew that would be a nightmare, not just for us at the media trying to cover the event, but for the players and organizers. London is not like downtown Las Vegas where you walk across Fremont Street past a bum soaked in his own urine and can easily get from the Nugget to the Horseshoe. The three London casinos that will host the main event are not that close. You have to take the tube to get from the Empire to the Sportsman.
Obviously, Harrahs had to make due with what they had. The brand new Empire Casino is extremely swanky but it's simply too small to host a prestigious tournament such as the WSOPE. They were forced to use other casinos for the main event. For the first two events (£2,500 HORSE and £5,000 PLO) they are only using the Empire Casino.
The inaugural event of the WSOPE was the £2,500 HORSE tournament which featured 105 players. The poker room consisted of only nine tables on the ground floor and there were spillover tables upstairs near the entrance which housed the remainder of the players. The poker room was cramped to begin with and several of the players complained about how hot the room was (compared to the freezer at the Rio). There was a tiny space roped off for unofficial media. A few spectators snuck in and camped out in an area equivalent to the size of a Las Vegas Strip hotel bathroom.
When I saw legends such as Texas Dolly and Johnny Fuckin' Chan cramped into that poker room, I could not help but think that Harrahs jumped the gun. They should have took more time to find a better space for their event. Unless they did that and all the only solution they could come up with was the Empire.
Anyway, that was the big story on Day 1 of the WSOPE. If they expect to expand the most prestigious poker tournament into Europe, they have to come up with a solution with the lack of space.
On the good side, the 105 person field in the £2,500 HORSE was stacked with the best players in the world. It reminded me of the 50K HORSE event where each table had four or five superstars. One table had Phil Hellmuth, Jeff Madsen, Tony G, Andy Bloch, Brandon Adams, Pascal Perrault, and Jen Harman. I felt bad for that random guy who drew that table.
Hellmuth, Madsen, Adams, and The G getting massages
"This is a tough field," mentioned Jesse Jones. "The tougher, the better!"
Several pros failed to advance to Day 2 including The Grinder, Robert Mizrachi, Kenny Tran, Ted Lawson, Lee Nelson, Ted Forrest, Todd Brunson, Robert Williamson III, Michael Binger, Andy Bloch, Doyle Brunson, Jesse Jones, Phil Hellmuth, Dave Colclough, Humberto Brenes, Dan Shak, Tony G, Andy Black, and Marcel Luske.
Kirk Morrison and Jen Harman topped the leader at the end of Day 1, board along with Atlanta native and FOWCP Yuval Bronshtein.
Here's who advanced to Day 2:
Kirk Morrison 40000The top 16 players will win prize money. Action will resume at 2pm London time and not end until we're down to 8 players. Check out the live updates of Day 2 at PokerNews.com.
Jennifer Harman 37500
Yuval Bronshtein 35400
Jan Sorensen 33000
Scott Fischman 33000
Alex Kravchenko 31500
Pascal Perrault 31200
Marc Goodwin 30000
Gary Jones 29500
Jan Ola Brandborn 29100
Annie Duke 27500
Chris Ferguson 26700
John Juanda 26500
Nikolaus Jedlicka 25000
Barbara Lewis 24000
Jeff Madsen 22500
Lee Watkinson 21100
Barny Boatman 20400
Gus Hansen 20200
Justin "ZeeJustin" Bonomo 19800
Jeffrey Lisandro 19600
Bruce Yamron 18700
David Williams 17800
Torstein Iversen 17300
Allen Cunningham 17200
Mark Vos 16400
Rafi Amit 16100
David Levi 15200
Max Pescatori 13800
Farzad Bonyadi 13500
Vegard Nygaard 13400
Eli Elezra 12200
Marissa Chien 11700
Thor Hansen 11200
Thomas Bihl 11100
Brandon Adams 11000
Michael Craig 10200
Joe Beevers 10000
Donnacha O'Dea 9800
JJ Hazan 9000
Jon 'Pearljammer' Turner 8200
Marco Traniello 7500
Bruce Atkinson 7400
Erik Seidel 6700
Howard Lederer 6500
Jani Sointula 6000
Jimmy "Gobboboy" Fricke 5800
Mel Judah 5700
Patrik Antonius 5500
Richard Ashby 4700
Scotty Nguyen 4600
Bruno Fitoussi 3200
Phil Gordon 2800
Dominic Wells 2500
Andreas Hoivold 2400
Johnny Chan 2100
Bouncin' Round the Room: £2,500 HORSE - Day 1
There's a bar along a narrow passageway that leads to the poker room. That's where PokerNews is set up... along the last four spots at the bar. I always wanted to live blog a poker tournament from a bar and I finally have my chance.
When players go on breaks, they are forced to walk past us single file to get out into the casino area. That's how I do a chip count. I don't bother actually counting chips, I'd say things like, "Hey Kirk, how many you got?" Some folks like Gobboboy and Marissa Chien would come over to me and tell me their counts.
Before the tournament started, Phil Hellmuth conducted a series of interviews with various British media outlets. Of course, he referred to himself in the third person and rattled off all of the family members that have one of his 11 WSOP bracelets.
I overheard one Empire Casino gaming executive that he will not accept Harrahs chips as a form of payment to buy into the events. Lots of pros carry around large denomination Bellagio chips as a form of currency, which they use to get cash from other players or pay high stakes prop bets. I assume they won't take $25K Bellagio chips either.
Charles from Wicked Chops Poker is among the media reps covering the WSOPE. Owen and Arthur from Poker Listings was around along with Benjo, who is covering the event for various French outlets. Their press room is in the basement in a hotel across Leicester Square, which is about a five minute walk past all the high school girls dressed up like hookers who are standing in line waiting to get into movies. (I gotta give Stephen Bartley credit for that line).
Michael Craig played in the HORSE event and mentioned that one of the guys at his table was reading a Noam Chomsky book. Only in Europe.
Patrik Antonius looked pleased to be back in Europe. After living in Las Vegas for a brief stint, he decided to move back. Kirk Morrison was another player who is overly fond with Europe. "I'm staying. I'm not going back. I love it here!" he said. Melissa Hayden mentioned that she was trying to convince her boyfriend Allen Cunningham to stay in Europe for a full year so they can play and travel.
The poker room opened up a 5/5 PLO game. That would be about 10/10 US. I almost jumped in after my shift ended! But rushed home to do my football picks before the NFL season started.
I tried to find the Indy-Saints game on one of the three SkySports channels that I get in our hotel room. No luck. One showed ECW wrestling, the second showed rugby, and the third showed... billiards! I got shut out. When I was in Australia, their version of ESPN showed NFL games as did at least one of the three FoxSports stations. Maybe I'll get something on Sunday.
There is a legal sports book 10 meters from my hotel. Ladbrokes has a betting parlor on the corner and they will take action on the NFL. Schecky and I went to a parlor near the casino the other day with Change100 and Jonno. They have special wagers that are called "triple" for a three team parlay and "accumulator" for four and up. I have to get in on the action for this Sunday. Gonna bet those home dogs heavily.
And now, the first ever WSOPE version of...
The Last 5 Pros I Pissed Next To...
1. Brandon Adams
2. Phil Gordon
3. Jeff Madsen
4. Patrik Antonius
5. Jani Sointula
Come back at the Tao of Poker for daily recaps and head over at PokerNews for live coverage and updates including chip counts, photos, and videos.
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