Tuesday, June 2, 2015

WSOP 2015: Has anything changed?

Just before the Main Event last year, I wrote a post called "Six ways Caesars screwed up the World Series of Poker." It was one of my most popular posts, and even attracted the attention of some people in senior management at the WSOP (who, needless to say, disagreed with much of what I had to say). As the WSOP has just gotten underway, I thought this was a good time to revisit that post and see what's changed, and to add some new grist to the mill.

Prices. Not only has nothing changed here, but the problem has, in fact, gotten slightly worse. I didn't realize that the $1.50 banana I whined about was a bargain - it turned out that there was only one venue that didn't charge $2.50, and I hit it. This year, $2.50 is the going rate. That's right - for one banana.

But just to be sure that you don't think I chose an isolated case - there are practically no meals you can buy in the Poker Kitchen that cost less than $10. I bolted in on a break from the Colossus to grab something, since we didn't have a dinner break, and paid $12.50 for an Italian sub. It was good, but had roughly the same amount of meat as the Italian BMT you can buy at Subway for $5. Add a drink and you're up to $15; add a bag of M&Ms and it's $18.

Now, I recognize that the WSOP is an expensive event to run. But seriously, Caesars, you're making some really decent rake on this event; there's absolutely no reason to pretend that you're an airport - except that you can. And bear in mind that, because all of the regular restaurant venues are jammed during the WSOP and it's not practical to go somewhere else, the meal choices on breaks are very limited. 

Rake. This has, surprisingly, gotten better, although I'm not sure that it's intentional. I played a few hours of cash games on two different days, and both times it was no flop, no drop. (Last year, it was possible to win a pot and lose money because of their policy to take the full rake even on uncalled bets.) But since I played only on the first few days, it's possible that this was an aberration - please chime in if you know what the official policy is this year. [This is now official policy - thanks, Bart.]

Marginal staff. This has gotten considerably worse at the dealer level. As I did in my article last year, though, I'll cut Caesars a little slack, since the WSOP is an almost unimaginable poker resource hog. And this year it seems like there are more tournaments in other rooms, so an already thin resource pool is even leaner.

That having been said, I've seen some absolutely appalling things. Example: a player bet 800 (in a tournament), comprised of one pink 500 chip and three black 100 chips. The next player put in one orange chip (5,000) and three black chips. As soon as he released them, he realized his mistake and said, "I only meant to call." The dealer pushed the orange chip back and motioned for the player to put in a pink chip to correct the action. There was a moment of silence, after which I said, "I think you better call the floor." The dealer actually looked at me and said, "Why?" I let the rest of the table pounce.

I was standing in line waiting for a payout today and another player told me about three veteran dealers from his home club in Washington state who drove to Las Vegas, hoping to deal the WSOP. They auditioned and all three were rejected. Yesterday, while playing in the nightly Deep Stack, that player had a dealer tell him that 4 days ago, he was working in the Poker Kitchen. A shift manager came in and said, "Anyone want a crash course in dealing poker?" He said yes, and 48 hours later he was dealing. (Note that I can't confirm this story, but it sounds credible.)

The one piece of good news is that the floor staff seems to have gotten considerably better. I didn't see a single bad decision; by this point last year I had seen at least 5.

One suggestion that Caesars won't like, but that they need to consider: they shouldn't attempt to run a massive event like Colossus until their staff is up to speed. Many of the problems we saw just wouldn't have happened had staff gotten a little experience under their belts.

Pervasive lack of understanding of poker. It's hard to tell whether this has gotten better, although the Colossus payout situation (see below) certainly indicates otherwise. I still vehemently object to the array of logos on the table in areas that can cause confusion, particularly large black logos (since they almost completely obscure black chips). To Caesars' credit, they changed card vendors this year, switching to Modiano cards, which I think are far better. Dealers think so too; some initially complained because the cards are thinner, but soon realized that they are, in fact, very easy to shuffle and rarely show wear or cracks.

Break time clusterf***. This seems to have gotten worse, but that may well be because of the Colossus event, which had about 13,000 unique players. The big problem is that there is simply no way to get to the bathroom and back in 20 minutes unless you leave before the break starts. I suggested last year that they consider staggering breaks in big events to help deal with this problem.

Hallway gauntlet. This problem is much better this year. Last year, vendors who rented hall space to hawk their wares acted exactly like the spice vendors in the bazaar in Marrakech. It was bad enough that I took my complaints up the ladder at the WSOP - vendors were actually interfering with players' ability to get back to their tables. Someone clearly laid down some rules, which I acknowledge and applaud.

So what new things has Caesars done for which they deserve criticism?

I was only at the WSOP for 6 days (returning in 2 weeks), but there are two glaring things that Caesars urgently needs to address:

Registration. As they have in prior years, Caesars allows players to register in advance and then wire funds. However, players who have pre-registered still need to stand in line to pick up seat assignments, and in many cases the lines still took upwards of an hour. I can think of at least one way to handle this that's much better: let players print their own tickets. I don't think the Bravo system allows for this, but it's not rocket science. This problem will only get worse.

Payouts. Each payout takes about 12 minutes, according to the payout supervisor I spoke with this morning. That's an appalling number. I made my third trip to the payout line today to attempt to collect my winnings from the Colossus, and even though there were only about 150 people in line, WSOP staff warned us that it would still be at least a two hour wait. This is entirely unacceptable. I have no idea what to suggest here, but they need to both streamline the process and add staff.

One last rant: there has been an ongoing controversy since payouts were announced for the Colossus. In case you have been under a rock, here's the short version: the prize pool for Colossus was about $11 million, and players just assumed that first place would be in the $1-1.5 million range. Two things went wrong here: (1) first place was, in fact, $630,000, and (2) the prize distribution was announced, literally, 15 minutes before we reached the money.

As soon as players started complaining on Twitter, both Seth Palansky (VP of Corporate Communications) and Ty Stewart (Executive Director of the WSOP) responded with stunningly defensive and tone-deaf tweets. The most appalling of those came from Palansky, who said, 
"Anyone who doesn't want to accept 1,130 times their investment, I guess they can go put their money in an interest bearing CD and good luck."
And this wasn't the only incomprehensible comment from Palansky, who is well-known for using the WSOP Twitter account to express controversial and less-than-professional opinions.

The bottom-line issue regarding payouts for Colossus is that the WSOP didn't bother telling anyone in advance that this was their plan. I don't love that they chose to pay 5.6% for first place, but I can live with it. Their thinking is that they wanted to spread the money out to make more players happy and recirculate more money back into the WSOP economy, which is a noble goal. But they needed to tell us a long time ago. In one of his many ham-fisted comments on Twitter, Palansky somewhat snidely declared that the payouts have been on the WSOP site for months. If they're there, I couldn't find them, and as far as I know, no one else can either.

There is no major tournament in history that has paid less than 10% for first place. If they wanted to spread the wealth, they needed to let players know so they could make informed decisions. Instead, they brought a massive controversy on themselves, and then handled it as badly as they possibly could.

My guess is that Caesars will gross somewhere in the $50-60 million range for the WSOP this year, including everything (rake, entry fees, broadcast rights, food, swag, etc.). They clearly realize that they have a monopoly, and don't appear to be making any great strides to satisfy their customers. As I said last year:
"We have a right to demand a high level of service, and Caesars has had more than enough time to get this right."
Caesars, please let us know that you remember the lessons of AOL and Paradise Poker. Your customers aren't going to let you push us around forever.


  1. Bananas are $1.50 at either the concession stand just inside the main WSOP entrance doors or at the small gifts/flowers shop a bit down the hall towards the casino.

  2. Oh, and bananas are $2.00 each in the Poker Kitchen.