The World Poker Tour – a phoenix from the ashes [Monday Editorial]

The World Poker Tour – a phoenix from the ashes [Monday Editorial]

Monday, 21 March 2011

I don’t know about you guys, but I remember when the World Poker Tour on its last legs. It was maybe two or three years ago. Prior to that, the WPT was a staple of televised poker – even as much as the WSOP Main Event.

The duo of Vince Van Patten and Mike Sexton were as recognisable to the average poker fan as Chris Ferguson or Phil Ivey; the 6-max final tables drew huge audiences and the WPT programming itself is credited, alongside the Moneymaker Effect, as sparking the entire poker boom.

However, a couple of years after that some players got antsy with the WPT over image likeness and advertising complaints; the final table coverage was shuttled around from channel to channel until no US television watcher knew where on earth the next WPT show was going to be and the company was frankly haemorrhaging money by all accounts. In November 2009 the WPT was acquired by PartyGaming; since then it seems to be flying high again.

In the past year the World Poker Tour has seen resurgence in popularity with more and more players filling up the fields to create bigger prize pools. Usually, as we’ve seen in the World Series of Poker, this has something of a negative effect on TV ratings but not in the World Poker Tour. Justin Smith, Phil Ivey and Rob Akery were three of six finalists at WPT Vegas in July 2010; Mark Flowers beat out Noah Schwarz and WPT champion Andy Frankenberger; Dwyte Pilgrim is pure TV poker gold and the most recent WPT final in LA was ridiculous with Carlos Mortensen, Gregory Brooks, Vivek Rajkumar and Steve Gross all present.

Why in these huge fields can the cream of tournament poker rise to the top over and over again? Why, thanks to Mr. Matt Savage of course. The World Poker Tour’s most recent tournament director is cited again and again as one of the key factors in the renewal of the WPT and resurgence in its popularity. PokerStars Pros Daniel Negreanu and Shane “shaniac” Schleger have both replied to questions of WPT or Commerce tournament structures with: “It’s Matt Savage. The structure is perfect.”

So, people called Matt = awesome dudes. We get that, it’s easy to understand. What I don’t understand so much is the balance of tournament structure – I don’t get how on earth you make the necessary adjustments and calculations to ensure both a steady rate of play and deep stacks. People need to bust out quickly but if stacks are too deep then they won’t but if they don’t then stacks won’t get deep and all the while the blinds are climbing and I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.

Fortunately my Savage namesake is far better at it than I am and far from the often-criticized WPT final table crapshoots of early seasons, we’re seeing average stacks of over a hundred big blinds at the start of a six-handed final table (Bay 101 case in point) despite a field of hundreds being narrowed to six over just three days.

Now that the World Poker Tour is big, bad and better than ever in its return it will be interesting to see what effect this has on the casual poker audience. Of course, the majority of the WPT demographic is in the US so we won’t see much chatter here. Now it has a permanent place on Fox Sports Net as opposed to GSN or the Travel Channel (tenuous) and a new format, though, there is always a chance that it could spark the next poker boom and all our computers would become a licence to print money so long as you could value bet.

Oh, wait, no... Matt Savage has ensured that no amateur will ever win a tournament again. Let’s get him to bring back 20BB crapshoots.

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