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Poker legend Mike Sexton calls out the WSOP!

Posted by Mike Sexton & filed under Mike Sexton.

I’m a partypoker and WPT guy and have no grievances against the WSOP. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The opinions expressed in this article are from an old-school poker player who has always had nothing but love and respect for the WSOP.

I seriously doubt that anyone has loved, supported (I’ve been to every WSOP since 1984), wanted to win a bracelet more, or respected the historical aspect of the WSOP and what it has meant to poker than me.

I loved the WSOP when it was at Binion’s and have admired how it has grown since Harrah’s took control in 2004. It has been remarkable to watch the transformation. I’m also ‘wowed’ by the WSOP’s organizational skills, the brilliant job they do operationally and the entirety of the ‘three-ring circus’ that take place at the RIO every year. I still, however, think they could make some changes beneficial to players.

Their effort to try new things, like the November Nine, is admirable but I’m personally against it. I think the negatives outweigh the positives. And here’s what I am not a big fan of:

  • The WSOP keeping players’ money for four months
  • Players having an opportunity to train for an additional four months
  • Those of us that are in-shape are being penalized by allowing others months off to rest, etc. One of these days, someone is going to die in the four months before the final table. I’m guessing they’ll put a little coffin on the table and blind that person off (a sombre victor for the eventual winner).
  • A player from Finland, South Africa, or Australia, one of these days, is going to make it to the final table with 2-3 Big Blinds and have to travel all the way back to Vegas to, most likely, go out in the first couple of hands and receive no additional money.
  • Simply put, the November Nine doesn’t put players first

We all know they move the main event final table from July to November for PR and TV reasons. I wish they would allow players to take two days off – one for rest and the other for player interviews – and play the final table on the third day. This would allow family and friends time to travel to Las Vegas to watch. The RIO showroom would still be jam-packed (and rockin’ & rollin’). And I’m sure the TV ratings would be good. Most importantly, I feel certain the vast majority of players would prefer to play the final table in July.

In addition, I don’t particularly like Australia and Europe being included in the POY award. We all know this is decision strictly based on business factors as it will lure anyone in contention for POY to Australia or Europe, but to me (and I’m guessing at least 80-90% of the players you ask), that award should go to the player who performs best in Las Vegas.

Players shouldn’t get a points’ advantage in the POY race because of going to Australia, nor should others, following the WSOP in Vegas, be able to catch the leaders due to a European excursion.

While I do love the WSOP, my concerns are clear to see. They’re attempting to strengthen their bottom line (which we all understand and appreciate), but in doing so, are diluting their product (i.e., the value of the bracelet).

Winning a WSOP bracelet is the dream of nearly all poker players, marketing of which has played a key role in attracting customers. The staying power, however, will evaporate if more and more bracelets are continually handed out.

In 1970, when the WSOP started, only one bracelet was awarded. Two were awarded in ’72, 12 in 1980 (which included a ladies and mixed doubles events) and 16 in ‘99. This year, I believe, there are 68 bracelet events on tap plus all of the events at WSOPE and WSOP Australia. I understand more players exist today and have no problem with the number of events they hold in Las Vegas, but WSOP bracelets should only be awarded in Las Vegas.

I’m worried, as the number of events continually grow, the value of each bracelet will diminish. My suggestion to the WSOP decision makers is to keep tradition in mind and not let their attempts increase the bottom line destroy bracelet’s value.

Let poker players aspire to obtaining a coveted bracelet and keep their dream alive.

Listen to Mike’s story about his first-ever WSOP and other amazing poker stories in the Mike Sexton Round Table video series.

Do you agree with Mike comments about the WSOP? Would you like to see a reduction in the number of bracelets awarded each year? Let us know in the comments box below.

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  • Ray Saloomey

    Absolutely – well said!

  • YolkyPalky

    I disagree with much of what Mike said. I don’t really care about moving WSOP ME Final Table to November. What I completely disagree with, and I am really surprised MIke didn’t address this issue, is turning the ME Final Table into essentially a “team event” with the 15-minute delay, so that all players can know with perfect knowledge everyone’s folded hole cards. I think this is a travesty for the integrity of the game, and I can’t believe the WSOP thinks it’s ok to have a team of supporters on the rail relaying all hole cards to the players on a 15-minute delay. On Days 1,2,3,4,5, etc you don’t get to see your opponents hole cards unless shown at showdown or purposely shown by the player. Why should that change at the final table where one player can know for certainty if he was bluffed or not on a 15-minute delay, just terrible! My remedy for this, increase the delay to 3 hours. Start the Final Table at noon and the TV broadcast at 3pm. No more 15-minute delay where the Main Event Final Table is a “Team Event”.

    • Ed

      You are so right!

  • http://www.wsop.com Ty Stewart


    Thanks for thinking of us and know we are always listening. Despite this forum being a partypoker blog, we would never question your motivations to want what is best for the industry and the WSOP, as the showcase festival of a game you love.

    So it is with out of respect, that I have my own “Jerry Maguire” moment in playing devil’s advocate and providing some color on our motivations.

    November Nine – I take for granted no one understands the TV business as well as you, and its role in continuing to grow the game and keep prize pools high. In this era of social media and live reporting it was not optimal strategy to put out a documentary of action that happened months earlier. I hope the industry feels proud of a platform which sees every hand of a poker tournament covered on the #1 sports network in the world via a multi-day prime time finale. Extended coverage, cross-promotion on ESPN programming, even the big lead on SportsCenter. From metrics like trends on twitter, measured media, etc. the WSOP Final Table is the biggest window we have to celebrate the game. By the same token, I don’t think anyone (with exception perhaps of another tour) would want to see those weekly prime-time slots on ESPN go away that reach the masses. Definitely not best appropach to market game to put WSOP in a one-week box and complete serialized programming in July. At the same time, we don’t want to mistreat players who have gone on this “good for poker” journey known as the November Nine. I want to point out that 1)we do in fact pay out 9th place money in July – 2)we put the remaning prize pool in an interest baring account and distribute to the players 3)furnish business cass travel and expenses for return trip, etc. While it is not easy on all players, many have spoken of the great opportunity to gain a sponsorship deal in this tough climate, use a heightened profile to their advantage in subsequent tournaments, and experience things through their profession they never thought possible. For instance, I believe it was very exciting for Bruno Politano to receive a good luck message from country icon Neymar last year…something that simply didn’t happen without this format. Having been there in 2006/7 myself when a sparse crowd of mostly sleeping, univested persons witnessed the final table, I am continually floored by the atmosphere of the modern final table, which replete with body painters, country flags and chanting fans, makes poker feel very close to sport. The November Nine has always been about putting players first, albeit more focused on the future players we all so desperately need. We don’t make more money or share in ad revenue from ESPN. We in fact go dark on penn and teller and Caesars/ESPN shell out more money to re-build the TV set and infrastructure a second time. It is absolutely fair to criticize, but this is a noble endeavour to give poker as an industry its due.

    On the Total Bracelet Tally-There is no doubt the modern WSOP “PokerPalooza” is a different vision than it was pre “boom” but we are guided by the principles of having choices/opportunities for all segments of players and giving them the best experience/prize pool/value possible. I think we can all agree the WSOP was once primarily the stomping grounds of professionals/serious poker players. For this highly coveted original group, we try to service your needs with the higher buy-in options and mixed games (a real source of pride given the scarcity of those events in the market) Yet we also want options for the recreational player who desires to experience the game and “the show” without having to break the bank. Given the WPT’s own actions, I think you are familar with the size of this market, particularly given the limited scale of online poker today, inhibiting chance to qualify on the cheap like the good old days. And, then of course, we want mid-stakes tournaments that are consistent with the bank-rolls for the majority of players today. We’re simply not going to let any one special interest group rule the roost. Ultimately, we want to bring together $227 million of prize money under one great circus and let the players decide which track(s) they want to follow on any given day. We are proud to have $1 million events and $1,000 events. This is poker today. I’ll agree to disagree with you that we’re only worried about bottom line. We re-committed to a two-track system for all core disciplines of game, our growth has been quite calculated over the past several years and based upon response leading to all-time records in entrants and prize pool, it seems to be good for players. An outfit only focused on bottom line wouldn’t put on a mixed game bracelet in Australia (much less two) And yet it is still statistically harder to win a bracelet than at any time in the past. Last year, you bested 7600 players to run deep in the Millionaire Maker. Whether your next bracelet is against a huge field like that or the tough but smaller $10k Championship fields, I believe everyone will celebrate it as a worthy accomplishment.

    POY-I am glad you are interested in the race! I hope you put it in your sights for 2015. Stay tuned for more news here. But generally I want to say that it is not simply business interests that guide the POY or the one international festival overall. I have actually been very clear that we don’t make money on those events at all. The international events are not housed in our casinos, and we do not collect the rake. We do not use them as an infomercial for online gaming (as we do not even operate in European markets outside UK) – and with a blend of righteousness and embarassment I can admit the majority of the international events have operated at a loss. You yourself can testify to the very high costs of first-rate TV production, which is not offset by rake of a modest 10 event slate. The international events were another of our convinctions to do what we can to grow the game through power of our platform – with a long term view of the world. We have always believed in the “World” in WSOP and that with a fast growing global game not all events should be on home soil where Americans can save the travel expenses. There have been great moments with players not even eligible for the WSOP Vegas – Like Annette Obrestad and Adrian Mateos jump-starting their careers. We have broken barriers like getting poker on the Olympic TV Channel Eurosport, or the first live poker in Australia. I am quite proud of this and believe it is worth the tradeoff of having 10 events annually outside the Rio. However we take very seriously that the WSOP intl events are not yet fully realized, took the appropriate step in retracting to one event, and are very inspired by what will take place in Germany this October. Why let the WPT have all the fun :)

    In closing, I’d just like to say that we believe we have right to operate a fair business with the WSOP event and brand, we are almost always guided by simple endeavour to do the right things for the right reasons. We want to be a source of pride and unifying platform for you and everyone who loves poker. we want it bigger and better yes. But we are not Dr. Evil plotting to exploit a community (which is too smart for that anyway) on an annual basis. Yes, with miles of truss & lighting/mountains of chips/thousands of staff/hundreds of security cameras we have the highest costs in the industry. But we also don’t have a myopic view of the world. And I can assure you any variance in fees collected from 65 or 68 bracelet events is not going to be highlighted topic in the Caesars Interactive balance sheets. Apologize for the long-winded reply, but your post really struck an emotional chord. We truly are trying to follow an example of ambassadors such as yourself, harness the potential of a great game with great history and propel it to something more. We want to bring together the Poker World..and we want to encourage the World to discover Poker. We believe we can put out a great offering for all the different types of players we observe in this modern era. We believe we have a responsibility to do more than less. Try things vs. standing pat. And we plan to be a stakeholder deeply invested in the success of the game for decades to come. So, please know we’re both listening and taking seriously every action with the sacred WSOP. I hope over time you will observe this and feel very proud the next time you hoist a gold bracelet.

  • peevedinpa

    How about all these flatter payout ruining opportunity for life changing money in many of these tournaments with massive fields??
    There’s a wsopc event coming up in chicago with a 500k guarantee and 365$ buy in…and theyll pay 20% of the field. What will the guy who comes in fifth get, 5 to 1 on his money?? The winner?? Maybe 40k for surviving a field of 2000 players???
    How come everyone in america loves talking about capitalism, but the biggest goal for players and corporations is stringing these players along as possible with all time highs in rake and fees. Plus we’ll have even more players like the kid from maryland who tanked for a minute and a half preflop before looking at his cards.
    How about we start rewarding success in poker, instead of rewarding a bunch of nits looking to hit their 40$ hourly with compete ignorance to the world around them. It’s a shame we’re rewarding the same people who have chased so many recreational players from casino, all in the name of a small hourly profit to avoid any real way of life and or job.
    Let Darwin do his stuff and stop supporting communism.


    I’d be fine with WSOP Vegas having it’s own bracelet style and POY awards.The Nov 9 gives players a chance to get sponsorships so the money may end up better anyway.

    I wonder when the time off will be exploited by criminal elements to force chip dumps or outright murder to eliminate tougher opponents or just to move up pay levels?

    • Greg Hudson

      WSOP at least makes a decent attempt when using the word ‘World’… Unlike the USA only NFL (‘world’ champions) and the ‘World’ series baseball. The problem is, for most Americans, the ‘world’ ends at the border. I congratulate WSOP for being in Australia and Europe making it at least partially worldly. Personally I believe they should include Macau (China) and maybe some other places with lots of players (maybe Russia?) Make it a TRUE world challenge. (my 2 cents worth)

  • Man Of Steel

    I like the ideas Mike puts forward, very thought provoking, Very well thought out.

  • http://www.wsop.com Ty Stewart

    It wasn’t a well-thought out PR ploy to respond to Mike’s blog last week with my own version of War and Peace. It was simply an honest, emotional reaction to seeing one of the Mt. Rushmore of the game question your motivations, albeit something he has earned the right to do. Yes, I wanted reinforce to Mike (and any player) that we are not in some ivory tower counting rake like Uncle Scrooge McDuck, but actively collecting and processing your feedback to try and be something that lifts the industry. But one of the real negative consequences of my public response was to see it play out like Mayweather-Pacquiao. Firstly, there is no fight (Mike is a class act and immediately tweeted similar) and if there were – perhaps Sexton is akin to a legend like Mayweather, but I am a lot more Gerry Cooney.

    So, in this matter, it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But…

    As I monitor the feedback, I’m kicking myself for not addressing what I see as the heart of the matter. And that’s players valid concerns as to whether the “suits” (a role I understand is mine even if I choose to lampoon it) are willing to put business before poker. If the authenticity/integrity of the game is even a consideration in the decisions we make.

    So, I want to make it very clear…we are willing to be progressive and make changes, some which are good for business now, some which we hope are good for business later, but never at the expense of being true to who and what we are. Every cause and effect is scrutinized and no change is made lightly. To wit, I want to present for consideration that the modern WSOP Final Table – aka the November Nine -may be the hardest and truest test of poker in the world today. While I was foriegn to the game arriving from the NFL system a decade ago, I am a willing student. Poker has many definitions, but most accept that it involves the balance of probability, psychology, and game theory. Not so long ago, a player like Peyton Manning may have been labled a cheater for being able to see instant snapshots of the defensive coverages, or counsel with his offensive coordinator on the headset between series. No one denies the WSOP Final Table is quite unique. With the 3.5 month gap to develop (or have other players believe you may develop) variances in your game from what they observed in the early rounds. With, due to the live broadcast, a steady stream of information to be processed, ignored, or even used as a weapon to build table image. With players clear understanding of the media/audience who will scrutinize their decision making, peer pressure of the cheering crowd, even the pride of their countrymen hanging on their every move. It is a brutal pressure cooker. And with ratcheted up stimulus to process in the areas of pyschology and game theory, it seems a highly differentiated but very authentic test of the game. And we’re not sure winning the World Championship of Poker was supposed to be easy.

    Yet without being too defiant, I would also argue that in the 7 years of the November Nine execution, there hasn’t been one clear example that the format has materially affected the outcome. it wasn’t coaching during the break which saw Darvin Moon hit a Q on the flop while Ivey casually chomped his bad-luck apple. Greg Merson didn’t suddenly become a seasoned grinder in the downtime. And jet lag from a 2nd journey to the Rio didn’t seem to slow down Martin Jacobsen. We want the poker to play out as it should. This is why, despite the fact we have perhaps the industry’s only true global broadcast event, we refuse to make sacrifices specifically for television. We have two-hour levels, deep deep structures, and as observed, a willingness to roll the cameras until 7am to properly determine the outcome. We take for granted the poker community understands the marketing benefit of the final table – having one elusive date a year everyone can circle. That an analytically inclined audience can look to the prize pools of the “Majors” like WPT Championship, PCA, Monte Carlo, etc. and compare for themselves the difficulty maintaining high prize pools since 2008. But what I really wanted and needed to say is we absolutely prioritize the integrity of the product.

    We’re ok if the field size of the 7th WSOP Europe looks a lot more like 1976 at Binions vs. Event #7 at the Rio. If Kemath tweets the WSOP APAC mixed game event didn’t reach triple digits. And we’re ok to ask players to make a second trip to Las Vegas for what we hope is the ride of their lives. For all our tweaks in recent years, there is leadership at the WSOP unabashedly old school. We’re honored to steward something I call a public trust and something that has been around since 1970. We know it will continue only if the competition remains as credibible and prioritized as the business pursuits. So that is the heart of the matter. That is what I wanted to relay to Mike. We’re marketers yes. But carpet-baggers no. We too love and prioritize the game. We want to be a group you observe making more good decisions than bad ones, and never with cavalier process. And above all, we are concerned about the satisfaction of our customers. The 2015 WSOP is only 10 weeks away and we can’t wait to continue to face whatever music comes our way. Passion from the community is far better than apathy. In the words of Ryan Riess (sp?) #LFG.

    • GrapheneGrinder


      You are clearly very articulate and well thought out individual, if nothing else Mikes piece clearly inspired you to dig deep and share the passion and emotion you have for the great game of Poker. You and the rest of the WSOP team have an immense responsibility as the host of the greatest spectacle in Poker. With that comes the microscope and critics, maybe that’s a good thing. Offering the opportunity for reflection about the decisions and direction being made for it’s future. Was very happy to participate in the WSOP Poll/Survey earlier this year. Shows not only do you and your team want to hear feedback but you are willing to put it into action very quickly.

      Keep up the great work, looking forward to the 2015 WSOP.

  • Michael Clece

    That’s why he the ambassador of poker. Poker and the players are losing out to the corporations and their profits. Poker is not growing any more, it’s in declension. Its losing popularity because it’s everywhere all the time. Winning a WSOP bracelet today has nowhere near the same meaning that it did when Moneymaker won the Main Event in 2003. Poker is going to go away like boxing if something isn’t done to bring back the purity and exclusivity of the sport.

    • Thomas D. Shuster

      Well said.

  • alan

    I disagree w mike. Winning a bracelet brings such joy to people. Who cares if there are 60 a year? Winning a big tournament is a great accomplishment and the bracelet is an added bonus. Keep giving them out.

  • James Mcgeorge

    What a massive plum, if you want player of the year, you do it over all your events over the year, otherwise call it the player of the Vegas bit.
    His point about the November 9 makes sense, but he forgets those players have time to go off get sponsored build a profile and earn from it too.
    Or does he want to just make it USA players only because that’s what it really sounds like, sour grapes.

  • Daniel Cox

    Maybe we can give a bracelet to everyone that enters an event. That would be the politically correct way to handle it in a society that more and more does not support the concept of actual winners. No one would feel bad about going out in last place, especially if they made everyone part of the pay out. Just think:
    A: “I cashed at the WSOP Main Event.”
    B: “How much did you get for your $10,000.00 buy-in?”
    A: “$3.50, but at least I cashed and got this neat rubber WSOP Bracelet.”

  • ekdikeo


    Please consider another attempt at recording some of the non-holdem events again. Also, might want to take a look at the differences in broadcasts between 2003 all the way through to now. Despite being a huge poker fan, that will be playing in my first WSOP this year, I haven’t actually watched an ESPN event since 2010. I’d have to go back and re-watch to really put my finger on it, but I really think that some of the tech advances and advertising overloads between say 2005 and 2010 made the broadcast quality in 2009, 2010 significantly worse than 2003-2008.

    Then again, as a follower of what’s going on, I’m not even remotely interested in the run up to it — the months of Tuesday night broadcasts are just annoying to watch. Consider what Mr. Sexton said, drop a 2 or 3 day break in so people can rest up, get their supporters in town (ok, maybe drop a week.. ), broadcast the final table live as you have the last several years, broadcast the final table broadcast the next week after editing. Spend the next however long you need to edit the rest of the footage from the Main, as well as any other events, and put it out there.

    In 2003, 2004, there was always NEW poker content on ESPN and ESPN2 filling practically all the slots that they didn’t have anything else to fill. Hardly anyone sat down and watched the series on it’s broadcast schedule. We all watched it when it was run as re-runs to fill in holes. We watched it when there’d suddenly be a 5-hour run of it on ESPN2.

    Take your weeks, months, to edit all that amazing footage, get Lon and Norman’s commentary, and fill ESPN and ESPN2 with it.. but the 4 month wait is just.. obnoxious. Perhaps ask the opinion of the guy who busted out 9th two years in a row? :-)

    We want to see it, but the people who already follow it aren’t going to watch the run up, we’re going to catch the live broadcast, and possibly the edited final table, and that’s about it. It’s the people who DON’T follow it that all the rest of the footage of the main is for.. right?

    (PS, would love to see some coverage of the Dealer’s Choice event)

  • bostonred

    Anyone who played at The Horseshoe will have issue with The Rio. What Mike failed to address was the ever increasing rake. Back at the Horseshoe, Main Event 10000 in 10000 out, NO RAKE. Tip what you want. Other events had small card fees e.g. 5000 7 stud +$50 card fee, where 50 goes to house and every penny of the 5000 goes to players, tip what you want. The dealers were happier as they got tipped more, the players were happier as they did not get screwed over by corporate America. Never mind that no poker player paid a dime for any meal at the Horseshoe. I wish the RIO would give nothing toward meals and revert back to the days of the card fee. Otherwise and what is already happening, the pool of money gets deluded. Hi Mike.

    • Mark Estes

      Could not agree more. The poker community is being raped by the never ending increase in the cost to play. It will destroy poker. Poker is now just another casino game – craps 1.5% – roulette 5.1% – poker 11%.

  • Thomas D. Shuster

    Of course he makes perfect sense. This ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality is what is behind this proliferation of all these bracelets. The next generation of managers will even make it worse than it is today and the direction currently it’s going. Imagine 30 years from now. 1-2-3000 bracelets given out yearly. Don’t laugh. These guys don’t understand the value of tradition and proper limits to a product. You’ll see. Mark my words.

  • http://www.holdem-poker-bot.com/ Holdem Poker Bot

    Mike Sexton is a funny men I like how he plays poker. But anyway I play online with my poker robot: Online Poker

  • CR7

    I agree with everything Mike wrote

  • http://www.pokerbaazi.com pokerbaazi

    it is interesting blog……..

  • Justa Player

    Great truths being told here and I feel the energy of commitment from Mike & TY. My concern however is a lot more serious and I invite your attention to the SECURITY over the RFID technology if that is used here to read the cards instead of the closed circuit cameras of the past. If my impression is on target and this crucial information is now broadcasted all over; it is just a matter of time before hackers will capture the data and send it back to their player at the table via infrared light or something like it which can be detected by a special eyeglass… perhaps something like what the 2015 Millionaire Maker winner, an Electric Engineer used….. very spooky isn’t it? Of course I cannot say this is what happened but I do say the eyeglass he used was strange.
    My questions are: what is being done to keep the player’s hole card info safe? Was this switch to RFID tech really necessary?