The World Series of Poker just started its 42nd Main Event tournament today, and I’m going to give you a good reason why you should care. First off, most people get the Main Event and the WSOP confused, but the $10,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em event is only one of 58 tournaments played at the World Series at the Rio Las Vegas in June and July. I was there last year, and the Main Event is a crazy mix of legitimate competition, awesome people-watching, and genuine suspense. Many people will use the tournament’s number of participants as a shorthand barometer for the overall health of poker in general, which has taken a beating at the hands of the UIGEA and subsequent “Black Friday” seizures of major online poker sites (and millions of dollars’ worth of online poker players’ money).
The one positive working in poker’s favor right now is the game’s expanded coverage on ESPN, who is actually adding more coverage of the WSOP, 158 hours in all. Some of that coverage will be as close to live poker as we could expect to actually watch. From the WSOP Media Guide (pdf):
ESPN will air the 2011 WSOP Main Event with hole cards on a 30-minute delay from July 14-19 on
ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3. There are several nuances to the coverage to ensure the integrity of play,
but the viewing audience will indeed get to see high stakes poker in near real-time.
This isn’t exactly unprecedented; The 2005 Main Event final table was live on pay-per-view, but the real-time broadcast didn’t feature hole cards and was discontinued the following year. But it will be the first time that we could hear about Johnny Chan’s Day 3 and then watch him play that same day, instead of 6 weeks later. That’s usually a good window between a great performance with a prostitute and watching the video afterward, but not so much with watching a poker tournament.