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The Need for Brilliant Poker Champions

By Jake Earl © Copyright 2006

Imagine a TV sport where somebody new wins every week.  What would be the point?  You wouldn’t have a “favorite” because the guy you liked will probably never return to the finals. 

 That’s exactly what is happening in The World Series of Poker  Main Event finals.  Everybody is a new face.  A no-name.   And while these newbie player-winners are a happy lot, the producers of such events find it increasingly difficult to promote events without so-called “great players.”   In order to get famous-player-face-time, the TV cameras have to delve into the preliminary matches to find a famous player left alive.  Otherwise, Phil Hellmuth, Jr., Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson (just to name just a few) would all be fighting it out every year at the final table. Binion's means poker and excitement.

Now, I’m not taking anything away from Johnny Chan.  He is about as brilliant a player as you will ever find in professional poker.  But The World Series of Poker is about open participation.  And when he won his back-to-back titles, Poker was a backwater ESPN event that got virtually no air-time, and more importantly, very little participation.  Now, Poker is BIG, and so is the sheer number of participants.  The pros win huge money these days, but mostly through invitational events, where their name recognition helps promote the event. 

Instead of a rather small group of enthusiasts fighting it out at the Horseshoe, TV crews are all over the place.  They film the early rounds of the Main Event (No Limit Texas Hold Em) at the Rio, and they film other kinds of poker games, too.  There are satellite rounds in Atlantic City and in casinos all over the country.  Online casinos sport contests to get a seat at the Main Event.  The WSOP is now a worldwide event.  Players come from England, France and many, many other countries.  In addition to the bracelet, the grand prize winner was awarded twelve million dollars this year.  (In 1971, Johnny Moss won $30,000.)  To give you an idea just how intense the competition really is, Jamie Gold had to beat 8,773 players to win his crown in 2006. 

But poker still has us watching.  In addition to the Pro circuit, there are celebrity matches, and heads-up competition, too.  They play in Monaco and London and The Bahamas.  There are pay-per-view instructionals, interviews, books, DVDs, and enough poker websites to break the biggest network servers. 

Just don’t look for your favorite player to win the WSOP Main Even final table anytime soon.  The winner will most likely be an unknown accountant from Kansas City.

Jake Earl is a staff writer for TrueCasinoStories.com