Nine Takeaways From The November Nine And The 2015 WSOP Main Event

November 16, 2015
Nine Takeaways From The November Nine And The 2015 WSOP Main Event

The 2015 World Series of Poker has come to a close, and even though some, in true Bill Belichick fashion, “are on to 2016,” I’ve decided to offer up some final thoughts on the 2015 WSOP Main Event.

Sunday and Monday WSOP broadcasts were night and day

In addition to Zvi Stern picking up the pace and interacting with the rest of the table, Joe McKeehen started talking a lot, and he and Neil Blumenfield’s exchanges had a real home game, friendly vibe to them.

Basically, I couldn’t wait for the broadcast to be over on Sunday; I didn’t want it to end on Monday.

My hope is most people were watching the rivalry game between the Cowboys and Eagles on Sunday and missed the WSOP telecast altogether. The WSOP really lucked out with a pathetic Chargers vs. Bears matchup on Monday night that may have sent sports fans scrambling for something else to watch… and hopefully landing on the far more exciting proceedings when the final six players played down to the final three.

Tanking is a real problem

One of the biggest discussions the WSOP Main Event final table produced revolved around tanking, and whether poker needed to institute some sort of shot clock. This has become a very hot topic of debate.

The muted rails were a pleasant surprise

This may be my inner fuddy-duddy talking, but the more intimate setting (maybe I’m mistaken, but the arena seemed far smaller this year), and the quieter, less obnoxious rails kept the final table from turning into the circus it has been in recent years. I don’t need the chants and flag waiving, or the random yells coming from off the table.

Run of 20-something wizards continues

While it’s hard not to like Joe McKeehen — he’s talkative, he’s a skilled player, and he seems like an all around nice guy — he wouldn’t have been my first choice to win. In fact, as you’ll see in the next header, he wouldn’t have even made my Top 5, as I’m sort of done with the 20-something players winning this thing every year, just like I was done with completely unknown amateurs winning the Main Event from 2002-2007.

Run of amateurs

  • 2002: Robert Varkonyi
  • 2003: Chris Moneymaker
  • 2004: Greg Raymer
  • 2005: Joe Hachem (went on to become a solid pro)
  • 2006: Jamie Gold
  • 2007: Jerry Yang

Run of pros

  • 2008: Peter Eastgate
  • 2009: Joe Cada
  • 2010: Jonathan Duhamel
  • 2011: Pius Heinz
  • 2012: Greg Merson
  • 2013: Ryan Riess
  • 2014: Martin Jacobson
  • 2015: Joe McKeehen

Who would have been good for poker?

So who would have been the best ambassador for poker? The best story would have been Neil Blumenfield by a country mile. Blumenfield was an amateur player, he was happy, upbeat, likeable, and he was a bit quirky — basically he would have made for a great mainstream media interview.

After Blumenfield I think Pierre Neuville’s age would have also brought some added exposure to the WSOP Main Event, and Zvi Stern’s amateur status would have created a slightly different angle for reporters to capture — although his Day 1 tanking made him less endearing to viewers.

Apart from those three, five of the other six players were essentially the same; all young, very likable poker players.

The exception was the impeccably dressed and coifed Max Steinberg, who may have been able to separate himself from the “20-something poker pro” pack. Steinberg also had the added backstory of winning his way into the Main Event via a $27 satellite on DraftKings.

Here’s how I would rank the November Nine based solely on how their winning would have impacted poker:

Strongest impact

  • Neil Blumenfield
  • Pierre Neuville

Moderate impact

  • Max Steinberg

Little to no impact

  • Tommy Cannuli
  • Ofer Zvi Stern
  • Federico Butteroni
  • Joshua Beckley
  • Joe McKeehen
  • Patrick Chan

The segments with Hellmuth and Negreanu offer no value to the broadcast

I’m not sure if it’s ESPN simply misusing these two, or if they simply aren’t the right fit for a rehearsed segment, but when they throw it to Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, the commentary comes off as forced and unimaginative. I’d much rather see a segment where a couple up-and-coming tournament pros dissect a single hand or something to that effect, rather than these generalized views on the play at the table.

Bust-out interviews are awkward

Another extremely awkward segment I could do without is the bust-out interview. There’s a reason the losing players from Super Bowl teams tend to not be available to the media after the game, and the WSOP is showing us why. This has nothing to do with Kara Scott (nor does the previous critique of the Phil and Daniel segment she hosts) as it’s simply an impossible situation for any sideline reporter.

Since most of these players are staked or have family in the crowd, I think these would make for far better interviews rather than the players themselves.

The Lon, Norman and Antonio mix is perfect

Once again, the trio of Norman Chad, Lon McEachern, and Antonio Esfandiari showed a lot of chemistry, and were able to keep the commentary light (mainly due to Chad’s and Esfandiari’s constant needling of one another) and fill a lot of dead air when not much was happening at the table.

I also like the way they plug poker books and websites, and discuss some of the issues of the day. Good for poker.

888 hit a homerun with sponsored players

Of their three sponsored players, 888 had the winner, Joe McKeehen, and the highly likeable third-place finisher, Neil Blumenfield. There was also little to no competition as no other online poker room had a patch, and DraftKings pulled all their ads in the lead up to the final table due to the current kerfuffle the DFS industry is dealing with.  

Essentially, it was as if 888 was the only advertiser.

Furthermore, during his acceptance speech bust-out interview, Blumenfield not only thanked 888 Poker, but also advocated for the return of online poker to the United States.

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