WSOP A look from the inside

During the winter of 2003 there were times when it looked like the WSOP wasn/t even going to happen. The Horseshoe was not keeping its commitments, and then its doors were closed. Negotiations with Harrah/s hit many walls, and even after a deal was done, the landowners pushed back the transition. All the hang-ups left the Harrah/s organization with less than three months to put on what was going to be the biggest event in the history of poker.

How did they fair? Well, as Al Michaels likes to say, “Do you believe in miracles?”

The Harrah/s brass put Howard Greenbaum their front manager and he made the first of many correct decisions in bringing back last year/s team. The two Co-Directors Matt & Jimmy were a few of the names and faces you already knew but, before the tournament began, there were many new spots that needed to be filled. Eldon Brown and I perhaps had the best view of what was happening as we watched from the late shift during the Second Chance events.

Starting with the back office, they hired Susan Albrecht and Ione Conquy– these two ladies went about the painstaking task of lining up the rooms and doing all the paperwork that fills the needs of over 10,000 participants. Not only does that mean arranging reservations (in many languages), it also means handling structure sheets, signage, daily results, accounting, and oh so many entries from the online sights, etc. Most of us take 3-6 months to set up a big party at our house; these ladies helped set up the WSOP in 2 1/2 months.

Meg Patrick was brought on as the Dealer Coordinator. Meg is a perfectionist in both teaching and managing, and is extremely creative when it comes to staffing (as was evidenced by me in St. Maarten last year). Meg used her many relationships, as well as the Internet, to staff the WSOP with the most competent dealers in recent past. Over the past few years, dealers were increasingly of the break-in (new) variety. This year if Meg didn/t know you, you had to audition and then pass her high standards of dealing. From a Tournament Director/s standpoint, I can tell you that I had much fewer decisions to make this year because of dealer error. Meg couldn/t be there 24 hours a day, so she brought on Craig “Guppy”, Lesley Buchanan and Jack Slater to keep the line-ups moving — and move they did.

Since Harrah/s was not really a casino chain with poker, they needed guidance as to how to set up the poker floor with its many facets of revenue. Who better than the co-tournament director, Jim Miller? No one I/ve known in my many years in the industry has a better eye for structuring and staffing a floor plan, then helping to implement the plan with his own bare hands. So, in addition to running all the tournaments, here was Jim also dealing with the many issues of running the entire operation, probably with the least amount of sleep among all of us.

Dave Lamb along with his crack staff of Shelly and Janis ran two Super Satellites a day for the entire event, delivering over 300 seats into the Big One. In order to reach those numbers, Supers got a big push from the $50 qualifiers held downstairs in the sports book, and registration was key as the player numbers grew. Registration got a new system this year and as automated things go, this one started out with many flaws — the software guys were there for the duration, however, and debugged most of the problems. In chats with the developers, it seemed as though they were never more than single-digit percentages away from a equal distribution of players between Days 1 & 2 of the “Big One/
Steve McDonald, tournament coordinator extraordinaire held the whole package together by overseeing every event, and fulfilling every need a customer or an employee had. I think this was the guy with the 2nd least sleep.

Now to the main event!

Until the 3rd week of the series, no one expected 2576 entrants or thought that Harrah/s would be ready for so many players. But get ready they did! Decisions were made and actions were taken to accommodate the overload. Tables were brought in, extra mega supers were scheduled and capacity was expanded. Registration by midnight of the day before the event hit exactly 2000, with more than 500 signing up on Day 1. In they came, receiving either seat assignment or alternate cards. Then in came the Fire Marshals — they were going to shut the Shoe down until Jim went into action and reseated players into 11 handed tables. The levels in Days 1 & 2 were cut to 1 hour / 40 minutes in order to trim the field to a number that the Shoe could physically accommodate on the third day.
Then the chip problem arose. The WSOP was not prepared for so many players and didn/t have enough small chips to accommodate 2576. In Championship events at the end of day 1, you get a new seat draw, a plastic sealable bank bag and a card on which you write your name, city or country and chip count. Once this is verified, you seal the bag and return the next day. That is normal procedure. This year, however, there were two first days and the chips needed to be re-used. So, after 6 levels and 16 hours of work, the staff had to open all the bags and enter the chip counts and redraws into the computer. Then after getting all that done, they needed to set up for the second half of the field and do another 16 hour day. Then things got worse…

At the end of the 2nd Day 1, players/ bags were left full but all of the 1st Day 1 bags had to be re-filled, and a shortage of small-denomination chips had to be dealt with. . Some of those bags that had say 40,000 in varied denominations of chips, had to be refilled with eight 5000 chips to accommodate the total of 25,760,000 in play. I got a first-hand look at this one morning before dawn when exhaustion set in and they called me down to help Mike O/Malley with data entry and table setting. Mike and I worked all through the morning while others took what seemed to be short naps before returning for the third day. Going into Day 3, the decision was made to change the 1st round of play back to 2 hours. This accommodated all the change-making that was occurring and once again the Shoe was on flat ground with a pace that never looked back.

They say that nightmares only happen in dreams but this one formed the Dream Team — this great team in no small part was fueled by the dealers who were worked and re-worked, the floor staff, the brushes and chip runners, all the folks that people rarely recognize. This event could not have gone on without them. Shortly after we started in early April, a new Card Room Manager, Mike Soto, was brought on and he handled this event with an enthusiasm that was felt throughout the building. Poker fans were not the only ones who knew that this was going to be the biggest event in the game/s history. The press was there in force as well, and who better to handle the influx then Nolan Dalla. Nolan not only accommodated the many (which once were only a few) but he provided the context — the history of the WSOP — as only Nolan can do.

Next year, we/ll be at the Rio with all the space we/ll need — sounds like a piece of cake for the right team. Do you believe in miracles, cause I now do!

Come Join Us…

Warren Karp

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