It’s Groundhog Day at the WSOP

by Lou on July 11, 2005

It’s like Groundhog Day. The movie. You know, where Bill Murray’s character faces the same day every morning, over and over again.

It’s like that here, too, with the first day of the World Series of Poker’s main event repeated three times, so that all of the nearly 6,000 entrants can play. Each day begins and ends in the wee hours of the morning the following day, when the starting flite of approximately 2,000 is winnowed down to approximately 650.

That will fill the room once again for day two, which is actually the fourth day of play. With that many players, you’re always going to see some surprises and a number of whales have been beached on the first day of competition. But none of them in a fashion more shocking than Jennifer Harman, who made a full house on the turn, got all her money in with waaaaaay the best of it, only to lose to a straight flush on the river. How’s that for a bad beat?

I won’t be redundant here, since there are numerous other sites providing near real time listings of players out and those still in. More interesting to me than the mob scene that was the first day of competition was the mob scene that was the World Series of Poker Lifestyle Show, which was also held in the Rio’s convention center in a room adjacent to the tournament. Nearly 90 vendors are selling everything from poker books, to cruises, to sunglasses that are canted at an angle so you can stare down at your hole cards without the dark lens impeding your vision but your opponents can’t see your eyes at all. At $40 they are reasonably priced, but are quite eccentric looking – like something you’d want to wear if you were on Startrek and being beamed down to Jupiter.

And speaking of Startrek, I ran into Wil Wheaton who said that “Hold’em Excellence: From Beginner to Winner” was the first poker book he read and he’s happy to meet me. It still amazes me that I’ve become a celeb of sorts, even if it’s limited to the narrow world of poker, and even more amazing is that Wheaton, who is a celeb in a much broader world, is pleased and eager to meet poker folks.

The poker lifestyle show is amazing, and it shows me how wrong I’d been in my assessments of poker’s marketability all these years. I always said that magazines devoted to photography and boating will always thrive because those two activities are gear-intensive. If you are a photographer or a boater, there’s always something you want to buy, and the folks selling those somethings advertise in the magazines. But now you have about four or five new poker magazines hitting the newsstands and everyone from deodorant vendors to coin collectors to cruise companies are tying their product to poker. This show may represent the first wave on the shores of sponsored poker. Ninety vendors are here, and they are all potential sponsors of poker in one way or another. If successful, there’ll be more.

The show is packed, and in the course of walking the showroom floor, I wind up doing four broadcast interviews, one with Rick Charles, the “Voice of Poker;” one with Bruce Martin’s “On the Felt” show; a filmed interview for “Live at the Bike;” and a filmed segment for “Poker Pages” with Amy Calistri.

WSOP BETTING ODDS has released odds on the WSOP winner. Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu were listed as co favorites at 300-to-1 while former champ Russ Hamilton is 2,000-to-1, as are David Williams, Tom McEvoy, Todd Brunson, Cindy Violette, the Boatman Brothers, Billy Baxter, and Vince Burgio. When the favorites are 300-to-1, they figure to win this event once in six lifetimes, assuming a 50-year poker playing career for each of them. At least according to Bet USA’s odds, it’ll be no surprise at all if Negreanu or Ivey don’t win this thing until 2305.

The big news on the first day is not the player standings, but the story circulating that Doyle Brunson launched an unsolicited $700 million cash bid for WPT Enterprises, Inc, which owns the World Poker Tour TV show. Brunson’s bid sent WPT shares surging by 50 percent on Nasdaq.

So what does this mean, other than the fact that a group of investment bankers see this as a moneymaking venture? I’m not sure. The company, with a market capitalization of close to $358 million — of which 70 percent is owned by Lakes Entertainment, Inc and Steve Lipscomb — would have to find additional value to ultimately justify the price paid for it. Perhaps they have ideas for new products to go along with the TV show, or maybe there’s a deal afoot to bring the WPT to a network with bigger ratings. I don’t know; I’m just speculating. But we’ll all learn more as this story develops over the next few weeks and months.

What’s significant to me is that the premium offered over WPT’s Nasdaq price speaks volumes about the optimistic view of poker, and tells me that the arc of interest in all things poker related has not even come close to peaking yet. If you’re a poker player, writer, vendor, or are in any way involved with poker as a business or a game, these are the good old days. They’re happening right before your eyes. Right now.

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