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Shuffled Up and Dealt

World Series of Poker kicks off in Las Vegas

The biggest poker tournament of the year got under way in May at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and already the event is setting records.

Any lingering thoughts that the current online gaming restrictions in the U.S. would have a negative impact on the World Series of Poker were certainly done away with early on in the 39th incarnation of the event.

It took just a few days for records to fall, with the second event, the $1,500 buy-in, no-limit hold ?em tournament attracting 3,929 entrants. The number shattered the previous high attendance mark for a non-Main Event tournament of 3,151 set last year at the $1,500 buy-in no-limit hold ?em event held during the final week of the 2007 WSOP. With nearly 4,000 players, the second event is the fourth-largest poker tournament of all-time.

?This is a great start,? said Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner of the WSOP. ?The sound of chips chirping throughout the Rio is a welcome return for all of us who love poker.?

Through the middle of June, the 2008 WSOP had attracted 24,642 players, with an average of 821 per event. A total of $59,117,189 in prize money has been paid out, with nearly $2 million being awarded in each event.

But the biggest news coming out of this year?s event is a major change to the structure for the final table of the Main Event.

Unlike years past where the Main Event winner was determined in consecutive days in July, this year a winner won?t be determined until November. The Main Event will start on July 3 and continue until there are nine players left on July 14. At that time, the players will get 117 days off until final table play resumes November 9.

Tournament officials say the delay gives them time to adequately market and promote the television coverage of the final table. The final table coverage on ESPN will begin November 10.

?In the past, we had one day to learn who these nine individuals were, what was special about them, and then be able to communicate that to create a connection with the general public,? said Ty Stewart, director of marketing and licensing for the WSOP. ?Now, through other mediums beyond television, we can tell the great stories of these individuals, why people should care about them, and have months to use our machines and ESPN?s machine to get these players publicized in all kinds of media.?

Such a significant change hasn?t gone unnoticed by the poker world. Some have complained that the delay changes the essential nature of the Main Event, which is as much about endurance as it is survival. Others say the nearly four-month break increases the possibility of collusion, or that players will cut deals before final table play even begins.

Stewart doesn?t agree. He says it should lead to better play, because the November Nine will have time to scout their opponents and hone their skills. The players will also benefit because they will have time to land sponsorship deals in advance of their prime-time television appearance.

?I understand that we are changing the game,? Stewart said. ?I would argue that we?re changing the game for the better.

?Yes, you can scout players like you?ve never been able to and that levels the playing field. I understand that people will have the opportunity to be coached. I understand the whole thing about running well will be changed.

?The ultimate end result is that there?s more of an emphasis on skill. Increasing the skill involved in the $10,000 Main Event can only be a good thing.?

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