World Series of Poker stretches out Main Event

You’ve just made the final table in July in the Main Event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. You’re one of nine players with a shot at millions. You’re hot.

Now you have to wait until Nov. 9 for the next hand to be dealt.

No problem, says two-time Main Event champion Johnny Chan, who welcomes the WSOP‘s move to delay the final table to facilitate a Nov. 11 ESPN telecast within hours of the tournament’s finish.

„Poker is a game of skill. The hands are random. … It’s how you play your hand. I don’t believe in hot streaks,“ Chan says.

Past final tables have been played in July, with ESPN airing its taped show in November.

Chan says the new format will allow players to connect with sponsors who „come to them and say, ‚Hey, wear this patch or wear this logo. We’ll give you X amount of dollars.‘ „

While poker pro Daniel Negreanu also applauds the timetable, he says it will make for a „different dynamic“ at the final table. „You’re going to see some really kind of more sophisticated play,“ he says.

The WSOP is a 55-event series of tournaments that begins May 30. ESPN will begin airing taped broadcasts of various events July 22. Negreanu expects players at the final table to monitor those.

„They’re going to watch the ESPN broadcasts and go, ‚Oh, did you notice that? When he does this, he’s bluffing,‘ “ Negreanu says.

He says players also can get coaching. He likens it to Super Bowl coaches getting two weeks to make a game plan: „Great players and amateurs alike will have an opportunity to really devise schemes and plans for how they’re going to play.“

In a news release issued by PokerStars, an online poker site, 2004 Main Event champion Greg Raymer says he is torn about the new format because of the potential for coaching.

„It might be huge for the continued growth of poker; however, the down side is this long gap allows the players to become completely different people between the time they make the final table and when they play it,“ says Raymer, a member of Team PokerStars.

For ESPN, there also will be a change in the dynamic. The title figures to be won in the early hours of Nov. 11, with the two-hour telecast of the final table set for 9 p.m. ET. „The champion will be crowned on the day of air. We’re very excited about this change,“ ESPN senior producer Jamie Horowitz says.

ESPN will air a special Nov. 4 showing what the players have done between the July determination of the final nine and the final table.

„We want to detail that journey,“ Horowitz says.

What if something happens that precludes a player from playing at the final table? The WSOP has accounted for that. A player who does not appear will have his chips „blinded off,“ which means they will be paid into mandatory bets for each hand. When a competitor’s last chip is played, he will be paid for where he finishes.

Two-time Main Event champion Doyle Brunson would prefer each player to be allowed an alternate, „somebody that’s not considered to be a player with abilities above their own.“ Though Brunson, 74, has reservations about the delay being „overkill,“ he’d have no qualms about having to deal with it.

„No, I’ll try to hang on another four months,“ he said, laughing.