Las Vegas, NV
I knew something was rotten in Denmark when I walked into the Rio and it smelled like shit. I figured that a sewer pipe had busted or all of the donkeys gearing up to play in Day 1D defecated all over the hallways. From that moment, I should have known that we were in for a long and controversial day.
At 8am on Monday, WSOP officials had to close registration for the Main Event. They had reached capacity and were sold out. Players with $10,000 in cash were turned away... something that had never happened before.
The WSOP's decision to turn away players on Day 1D was "the biggest single challenge we have faced in the last four years" according to WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack.
And for the few hundred or so that got the short end of the stick? They were wicked pissed. So much so, that a special press conference was set up so Pollack could address the denied players.
I navigated a jam-packed hallway in order to get to the Poker Palooza, where the meeting would be held. The massive ballroom, which once house the Poker Palooza, was empty aside from players sitting in the middle of room. A security guard called them over to the far corner of the room where a small room was set up with 120 or so chairs. Players quickly filled the seats and among them were Minh Ly, Capt. Tom Franklin, and Melissa Hayden. A dozen or so media reps gawked on the sidelines while a dozen suits stood in front of the room in silence. I had not seen that much firepower from Harrah's in sometime as Jeffrey Pollack stepped up to the podium.
"We are sorry and I am sorry," said Commissioner Pollack as he addressed the restless crowd. "The last thing we want to do is deny players entry into our events... we simply reached capacity today... we are unable to accommodate any more players for the Main Event this year. We're disappointed about this. I wish more people had played other days of the Main Event. I wish that we accommodate you, but we can't... I apologize for this. You have my word and my promise that this is going to be topic #1 as we plan for 2010."
"Why can't we play from Midnight to 12?" one player screamed as a few others walked out.
"What about alternates?" asked Melissa Hayden.
"No. We have not alternates for this event and will not start now," explained the Commish.
Pollack when he was grilled by one player who had first-hand knowledge of a well-known European pro who got into after registration was closed.
"As far as I know, there was no special treatment," said Pollack. "There should not have been any special treatment."
Well, actually, there are several instances and stories and rumors where that was not the case. One family member of a former world champion was given a late seat. A significant other of another bracelet winner also got seated a few hours after start time. And another well-known pro and multi-bracelet winner helped his buddy get in at the last minute.
And then there was documented stories about rock star Sully Erna and high stakes pro Patrik Antonius. At the onset of the tournament, ESPN had reported that both Antonius and Erna were shut out and later on that both were eventually seated.
A French reporter asked David Benyamine how exactly did Antonius get in and he gave a suspicious non-answer. He flat out remained silent and did not say a word. The explanation that I was given was that someone from the Bellagio had bought Antonius... yet he somehow forgot and tried to buy himself in. Do you actually believe that story? I'm dubious. (Editor's Note: After a glimpse of Day 1D starting list, Antonius was not among the entrants.)
Several players shouted out suggestions such as alternates, playing Day 1E, or even starting action at Midnight and playing until the next morning. All of those ideas and many more at some point were considered, but ultimately were rejected.
"We are pretty well versed in the mechanics of a large poker event. We are simply at capacity and there's nothing else we can do today," said Pollack.
"Why can't we play from Midnight to 12?" one player screamed as few others gave up and walked out.
"We do not want to be in the business of turning people away," said Pollack. "This is not our preferred outcome. Operationally, we are at capacity today. It's unfortunate."
One player from Europe said that he traveled a long distance to play and his dreams to play in the WSOP was crushed.
"It crushes me as well," said Pollack. "It crushes all of us."
When asked about making Day 1D ten-handed tables, Pollack answered... "We're not comfortable running today ten-handed when we started the other days nine-handed."
"What is the worst thing that can happen by opening this up?" one player asked.
"It would not be appropriate for us to simply allow people in this room in. We have already drawn the line this morning and that is obviously unacceptable to some people," said Pollack.
"What part of $3 million don't you like? Let's play some poker!" screamed one guy.
"Let them play!" one player shouted from the back obviously pulling a line out of a Bad News Bears sequel.
"I apologize. I apologize," were Pollack's last words before the Commissioner ended the press conference.
Several players spoke out while others tried to talk over one another. But it didn't matter what they said or pleaded. A decision had been made by the Harrah's junta. At the end of the press conference, the head of security motioned that Pollack and the rest of the executives exit through a side entrance in order to avoid any confrontations or potential altercations from angry players. I gotta say that despite the angry players, they all kept their cool unlike the scene I witnessed in Mexico when the federales shut down the LAPT in the middle of the tournament, and a group of drunk and rowdy Venezuelans almost started a riot.
I asked former WSOP TD Matt Savage his thoughts on the fallout of Day 1D's sellout... "While I am fully aware of their concerns," said Savage, "This is the first time in 40 years that a player with $10,000 and a dream has been shut out of the Main Event. 10-handed play and alternates, while not ideal, were options and it is sad for those that came so far had to miss an opportunity of a lifetime. However, it is hard to feel sorry for those that had ample opportunity to register and chose not to. Year after year Harrah's has made improvements when needed and I am sure that they will have this as top priority for 2010."
"Every player has a cosmic right to play in the WSOP, but in this instance it was not possible," said Joe Sebok who understood both the appeal to play and also knew Harrah's limitations.
Sean, one of my Australian colleague summed it up, "What a day. No winners, just WSOP management shrugging their shoulders and angry players walking the hallways."
"Sadly, this is one of those times where everyone gets screwed," said MeanGene. "You had the very strange scene of 150 poker players demanding that Harrah's take their $10,000, and a score of men in suits holding up their hands and saying, 'We're very sorry, we can't take your money.' It was surreal."
Did logistics outweigh greed and overall number of entrants? The Poker Shrink thought that in the history books the 2009 WSOP Main Event entrants should contain an asterisk (just like Roger Maris) next to it. Without the cap, the number would have surpassed last year's mark.
Although most of the people I spoke to said that the players were ultimately responsible, there were definitely a few steps that Harrah's could have done since ten events had sold out at the 2009 WSOP prior to the Main Event.
"They really should have been better prepped for this possibility," added BJ Nemeth.
Then again, registration was open for 24 hours since the WSOP began. Seth Palansky, Communications Director for Harrah's Sports & Entertainment Division, said it best, "You had plenty of time to register. Why didn't you show up earlier?"
Harrah's had repeatedly warned the masses about an impending sellout. Some people dismissed it as PR spin since the first two days attracted the lowest fields since the WSOP was moved to the Rio.
On Sunday afternoon, the press corp received an email from Harrah's stating...
Media: Please help us alert any potential WSOP players that there is a good chance Main Event Day 1D tomorrow may reach capacity. Seating is limited and first come first serve and once all available seats are sold, the tournament officially closes. Players are encouraged to get to the Rio as soon as possible if they intend to play in the Main Event.Of course, several hundred players ignored the warning.
"Poker players are procrastinators. It's the nature of the beast," said Flipchip who has been around the WSOP since its infancy in the 1970s at the Horseshoe, when no player was ever denied entry to the Main Event. "Let's go back to the old system where you pay your $10,000 and get your seat assignment and that's it. You play when they say you play."
That used to be the policy of the Main Event until enough players complained, so Jeffrey Pollack and company changed that rule and allowed players to pick their starting day. That eventually backfired and it appears that privilege might not be around next year.
"It's most unfortunate about TJ Cloutier," explained Flipchip about the Hall of Famer. "You know he probably just scraped the money together, too. For TJ, this might be the first Main Event that he's ever missed. When you get to be TJ's age, how many more years do you have left to play? These days, they throw you out of you drool on yourself."
TJ failed to get into the Main Event, maybe because he lacked the connections that some of his counterparts had. In life, it's not what you know... it's who you know. And these days, aside from craps dealers, TJ doesn't have quite the pull like Phil Ivey. supposedly Ivey was able to avoid playing on one of the featured TV tables, even though his table was picked before the day started. Somehow, Ivey managed to keep himself out of the spot light.
Yes, there's star system in poker, much like there is in real life. Stemming all the way back to high school when the dumbass jocks get to bang all of the hot cheerleaders, and leading into today's poker world, if you're one of the elite, you control the power and get to call the shots.
The big scandal on Day 1D was not the fact that players were turned away because of a sell out. That was an unfortunate byproduct of mismanagement by (pick a side... players or Harrah's). In my eyes, the atrocities occurred when players were able to get into the Main Event in favor of other lesser known players and amateurs.
The system is inherently corrupt on all levels and players were able to circumvent the safeguards in place by exploiting the weaknesses of some of the staff. In a city like Las Vegas, where cash is king, that's not very hard to do.
Whether personal favors were called in or people were straight up bribed... I don't know. But it's hard for me to ignore all of the whispers from people in the industry whom I trust the most that tell me they know for a fact that certain players gained entry after the supposedly cut off point that WSOP officials made at 8am on Monday.
The room where the press conference was held already had a somber tone to it before Commissioner Pollack spoke. It almost reminded me of those bizarre FEMA press conferences after Katrina decimated New Orleans where a slew of helpless politicians just stood there and pretty much said, "We're fucked. You're fucked. There's nothing we can do about it."
At this point, the 2009 WSOP Main Event is not even out of its first official day and it will always be known as the one where players were shut out.
"We have come to a solution," joked one Harrah's executive. "Next year, we will have flights starting with Day 1A and ending with Day 1R."
That's a grand idea. Start the WSOP in late May and let it run five and a half months with the Main Event running over two months. At least that way, there will be no more final table delay.
Post Script: Inconsistencies
Kudos to Kevin Mathers for doing his homework and checking the player list from Day 1D. He posted on a 2+2 thread about four players who appeared in the 10 seat, despite assurances that action would not be 10-handed...
Jeppe Nielsen - Amazon Green 143/10
Joe Reitman - Amazon Green 144/10
Marco Bertaccini - Amazon Green 145/10
Dale Poynter - Amazon Green 146/10
Day 1D Numbers and Stats
The crack unit of math interns at Tao of Poker came up with these numbers...
2009 Main Event Runners:
Day 1A: 1,116
Day 1B: 873
Day 1C: 1,696
Day 1D: 2,809
Day 1A Survivors: 655
Day 1B Survivors: 821
Day 1C Survivors: 1,106
Day 1D Survivors: 1,816
Day 2A Runners: 1,476
Day 2B Runners: 2,922
Overall Remaining: 4,398
End of Day 1D - Top 10 Chip Counts:
1 Troy Weber (West Terre Haute, IN) - 353,000
2 Tyson Marks (Missoula, MT) - 196,500
3 Stephen Costello (East Longmeadow, MA) - 192,000
4 Mads 'Not Wizzing' Wissing (Copenhagen, Denmark) - 185,750
5 Jose Sanders (Lima, Peru) - 175,800
6 Mikael Ay (Gothenburg, Sweden) - 173,900
7 Carter King (Columbia, SC) - 170,000
8 Mark Weil (Cincinnati, OH) - 168,575
9 Paul Wolfe (West Palm Beach, FL) - 163,000
10 Alessandro Pastura (Guidizzolo, Italy) - 160,900
Notables (Thru 420 Places):
15 Tran, J.C. 139,975
17 Hougaard, Jesper 138,675
20 Arieh, Josh 135,700
21 Kalmar, Jon 135,050
26 Banghart, Jeff "Mr. Rain" 132,650
30 ELKY 127,475
35 Friedman, Prahlad 124,125
41 Boyd, Dutch 121,050
57 Dang, Hac 112,525
87 Dypvik, Borge 103,300
119 Boeken, Noah 94,175
161 Levi, Nicolas 87,400
169 Kostritsyn, Alexander 86,400
173 The Big Randy 85,625
174 Norce, Mike 85,420
186 Ivey, Phil 84,025
199 Benyamine, David 81,700
200 Esquandoles, Marco 81,420
253 Esfandiari, Antonio 75,025
275 Gazes, Bill 73,300
279 Hilger, Matthew 73,000
293 Alvarado, J.C. 71,600
296 Beevers, Joe 71,450
305 Baldwin, Bobby 70,900
311 Shaniac 70,400
341 Violette, Cyndy 69,000
374 Phillips, Lou Diamond 66,650
388 Tran, Kenny 65,600
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