Friday, November 07, 2008

Prelude to the November Nine

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

Over the last few months, Change100 admitted that instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, she tries to recall the names of everyone from the November Nine. I can always get eight but I always seem to miss the elusive ninth. Try it sometime. It will either drive you mental or put you into a deep slumber.

Dennis Phillips, Craig Marquis, Ylon Schwartz, Scott Montgomery, Darus Suharto, David 'Chino' Rheem, Ivan Demidov, Kelly Kim, and Peter Eastgate.

One of those nine players will join the ranks of poker's elite as the newest member of the small fraternity of poker players who are former WSOP Main Event Champions. One of the November Nine will get to rub elbows with the likes of Stu Ungar, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Scotty Nguyen, Jesus, Phil Hellmuth, Fossilman, and Chris Moneymaker. But which one will it be?

Say all the shit you want about Jerry Yang or Jamie Gold or Robert Yarknonyi or even that cheating asswizard Russ Hamilton. They each earned something that you will never achieve.... a victory at the WSOP Main Event.

Super side note... Flipchip told me that for years Russ was considered a cheat at the tables. We saw what he did at UB, I wonder if he cheated his way to victory in the Main Event? And I wonder if any of the November Nine were approached by other members or by external forces to manipulate the outcome? This is not an accusation by me whatsoever, I'm just super curious to see if anyone decided to work out a deal...straight up or on the sly.

I know, I know... Pauly, you're not supposed to talk about or write about deals, especially in a televised poker tournament that includes the letters WPT or WSOP. But what can I do? Chopping and deals are a part of the game that a lot of poker fans don't know about because they only get their poker knowledge from the TV or mainstream poker publications that will not report dealmaking. And since TV people ignore or try to hide the fact that deals are made all the time sort of distorts the reality of the situation.

Last weekend at the EPT Budapest, there were three players remaining at the final table. They went on a break that last much longer than originally scheduled. I knew what was up. So did everyone in the media room. A deal was being discussed. The final table had already been going at a fast pace and the deal ensured that we'd all have a proper dinner and be able to enjoy our a Saturday evening in Budapest. That deal took 35 minutes to hash out. Makes me wonder if anyone had been working out a deal over the last couple of weeks?

I have to admit that going into the final table, I was vaguely familiar with only two players... Ylon Schwartz and Chino Reem. I knew Ylon from playing at the Borgata in Atlantic City and I followed Chino on the tournament circuit many times before. The other seven were a mystery to me. I guess that's what the four month layoff was for... to get to know everyone.

Maybe I'm lazy or just jaded or was simply too busy with other projects, but I blew off every single opportunity to interview members of the November Nine. I'm friends with the PR people at PokerStars and they gave me more than enough chances to talk with their represented players. Lara Miller does PR for Dennis Phillips and said I had an open invite to talk. Even the agents like the crew at Poker Royalty gave me a shot to talk to their players. I respectfully declined all offers. Yes, only I can be lazy and busy in the same breath.

While the Main Event was paused, my life continued. I made a promise to fit poker into my life instead of vice versa. I went on a couple of trips. I saw two kick ass music festivals in Denver and San Fransisco and I saw concerts in New York City, San Diego, and Providence. I visited friends all over the country and went back home to New York City. I also covered a handful of other tournaments in Atlantic City, London, and Budapest which included stops on the WPT, EPT, and WSOPE.

In short, the last four months have been hectic and busy but I generally don't like interviewing players. They are sort of a waste of time because you really can't ask the questions you want to ask and if you do, you'll rarely get an answer that you're looking for. And if you piss off the wrong people, the publication that you write for will no longer get access to that player or pool of pros from a particular site. Ah, there in lies the rub of the media. I'm here to fluff it up instead of to dig deep. So rather than be conflicted and piss off my clients, I just don't bother with interviews. Sure, I can do them on Tao of Poker, but very few pros will be that candid with me... on the record. They'll tell me stuff but won't let me use it on Tao of Poker. I have to save it for the book.

However, there was one interview by Shamus that I enjoyed. Check out his interview with Dennis Phillips.

Instead of a traditional interview, I'd rather spend a week with someone and really get to know them better and make my observations from that experience. Sadly, that wouldn't be possible for each of the November Nine. Neither of had the time. And at this point to sit down with any one of the November Nine is pointless. Everyone has gotten a crash course in media relations and some were coached to say the right things.

Plus, everyone has already made judgments about the November Nine. ESPN aired all of the episodes and everyone has their favorite heroes and villains. No matter what got captured on film, if you love the player you'll find a way to justify their actions and vice versa, if you loathe them, you'll find a way to vilify their every move.

I hung out with Craig Marquis in London and watched some football with him. I could have slithered my way into an opportunity to interview him and sell that conversation to the highest bidder (magazine/website) as fodder for their WSOP coverage. We were enjoying the moment so I didn't want to alter the flow of events. I'm not one of those media vultures who tries to befriend the pros to use them at a later date.

I saw several other members of the November Nine on the tournament trail including Ylon Scwartz, Chino and Dennis Phillips at the Borgata and Ivan Demidov, Darus Suharto, and Peter Eastgate in London. I simply let them be instead of pestering them like the other vultures. Or as Benjo would say, "like vampires sucking the blood out of them."

The time to interview the November Nine would have been moments after the WSOP ended. Alas, I was mentally drained, physically exhausted, and still reeling in waves of pain after a car accident. And as the last day of the WSOP began when they were down to the final three tables, the Tiffany Michelle/Tony G saga was a raging inferno. That was the story at the time and I focused all my efforts on getting to the bottom of that story instead since it involved everything that's both good and bad about poker.

But now, the big story in poker is about the lack of stories about the November Nine. Yeah, the TV ratings are positive and the best in years. But aside from one excellent NY Times article on Ylon Schwartz and Dennis Phillips getting to throw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game, there hasn't been much hype on the November Nine. Heck, the Ruskie kid almost won the WSOPE in London and that barely made any ripples in the vast poker ocean.

Does mainstream America really care about poker?

Does mainstream America really care about tournament poker?

Does mainstream America really care about a made-for-TV event?

Does mainstream America really care about poker during an Olympic year and in the middle of an election year?

The short answers are... no, no, no, and no. I have to call out the November Nine decision makers for a poor choice. The concept was unique however, the timing was ill advised. They should have waited until 2009 to do this and not in 2008 when there was too much to distract the masses. The November Nine lost the focus of the sporting press when everyone headed to Beijing to cover the first ever Olympics in China. And the rest of the press sort of got lost in the shuffle during an election year and Obamamania.

And to broadcast the November Nine one week after the election was another bad move. Maybe the mainstream media doesn't give a rat's ass about poker. However, on a slow news day, the media vultures will latch onto any story whether it's Lindsay Lohan's lesbian girlfriend, a baby falling down a well, or another suicide bomber blowing out the brains of US troops on patrol in Iraq. On a busy news day (or rather news cycle) stuff like winning poker tournaments is an afterthought.

Lou Krieger had some interesting things to say on the November Nine in a post titled... The WSOP's November Nine: Seduced, Abandoned, and Forgotten.

Here's a bit from Lou...
Even the poker media—and as editor of Poker Player Newspaper, that includes me—hasn't gotten much publicity material about the Novembrists. All I receive is a weekly email from a PR firm containing about two to three paragraphs about another one of the nine finalists, and that's not nearly enough to tell compelling stories about these players. It's certainly insufficient to build the kind of rooting interest needed to grab curious, casual poker fans and viewers by the throat and make sure they're in front of their TV sets and not moving during the "almost live" telecast. And it won’t provide the kind of publicity needed to generate endorsement deals.
I have tons of respect for Lou and have to agree with his post. Perhaps if there was a more assertive effort done by all parties involved, the November Nine would be bigger than they are today. Maybe that's something that will be improved upon next year if they decide to repeat the November Nine.

Next year's November Nine will be much bigger than this year's installment. The timing will be better in 2009 since there's less to distract the masses. Perhaps the economy will perk up and the murkiness of the online poker legislation will improve and people who see the Full Tilt and PokerStars logos will sign up and fund their accounts and donk off millions of dollars to help pump the poker industry back up to pre-UIGEA numbers.

And in Harrah's defense, although they have been slow to make changes and address serious problems with the WSOP over the last four years... they eventually fixed some things. It might take longer than we'd like, but I have a feeling that the next WSOP will be better than this year's... including the November Nine if they decide to do it again.

That's the good news. Next year's product should be better. However, we still have to finish this year's November Nine. It was hyped as the greatest event in poker history. We'll find out in 48 hours if that is true.

I'll be in Las Vegas providing live coverage on Tao of Poker. Check back in starting at 10am PT on Sunday for the final table of the 2008 WSOP main event. I will also record a couple of episodes of Tao of Pokerati with Michalski.

In the meantime, feel free to re-read my 2008 WSOP archives.

And of course, for all you hardcore poker junkies, you can get Twitter updates if you prefer that method. Sign up today. Click here to follow me on Twitter.

See you fuckers in Vegas.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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