The 7,221 player field was the third largest in WSOP history, bested only by the 8,773 entrants in 2006, and the 7,319 players that registered to play in the 2010 Main Event.
But one man became the biggest story of the series, an Englishman named John Hesp. The fun-loving Hesp managed to highjack the hearts and minds of the entire poker world for the better part of a week as he navigated his way to an improbable fourth place finish in the Main Event.
Those were the big stories, but there’s a lot of other stuff to unpack now that the 48th WSOP has come to a close, and below you’ll find some thoughts on three of those things in a “good, bad, and ugly” format.
- The end of the November Nine;
- The early color-up of small denomination chips; and
- The Monday Morning Quarterbacking the poker community engaged in during the final table.
The Good: Good riddance to the November Nine
The November Nine era thankfully came to an end this year and based on the feedback on social media, the concept had run out of gas several years ago. People much preferred the continuity of the two-day break that we saw this year.
Dropping the November Nine diminished the quality of play… which is a good thing.
Poker is most interesting when players are willing to clash and employ different styles of play. Watching a table adjust in real-time to a maniac or a calling station is fascinating. Some people are really good at this, others not so much, but when even one person is doing something out of the ordinary it affects the entire table.
The November Nine turned everyone (or mostly everyone) into the same type of player.
Instead of clashing styles, we watched really high-level poker with very few mistakes. That’s great for poker purists, but not so much for the casual fan of the game. Much like a defense-dominated football game that ends in a 6-3 score, it’s just not fun to watch unless you’re a super fan.
By scrapping the November Nine, the final nine players had to compete for the WSOP bracelet armed only with the skills they had when they registered for the tournament a couple weeks prior (and whatever coaching they could squeeze in over a two-day period).
Instead of finely tuned machines with big name coaches in their corner, what we got were players with some noticeable warts.
There was some head scratching plays. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t, which is something I think the casual viewer wants to see.
Casual viewers want the “amateurs” to make the same mistakes they make when they play with their friends. They also want the pros to be professional gamblers, not professional poker players. Meaning, they’re willing to take risks and go with their gut with no regrets.
The Bad: Even the chip-leader had a small stack
The WSOP has oversized 500,000 and 1,000,000 tournament chips they like to trot out as they head into the final table, but as many people noted on Twitter, the constant color-ups (and earlier than usual appearance of the yellow 1,000,000 chips) made the players’ stacks seem… well, lacking.
For a comparison, consider these two images of the 2016 and 2017 final nine and their chip stacks.
If you really want to feel inadequate about the current stacks, do a quick Google image search for Jamie+Gold+Chip+Stack.
From a visual perspective, the mountains of chips look impressive and provide the context for just how much money is on the line.
Of course, it also slows down play and makes counts far more difficult. But, there’s probably a nice middle ground somewhere, and I sort of like this idea:
Monday Morning Quarterbacks
As is their MO, the poker community took over social media during the final table, and let’s just say, they apparently never heard the old adage of, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, you really should say nothing.”
The Twitter commentary aimed at the final table was beyond belief and makes little sense in. The critics were essentially trying to undo all the progress on making poker fun again that had been done by John Hesp and others, like Barstool Sports.
With the 2017 final table lineup, poker received a gift horse… and the community immediately decided they needed to open its mouth and start inspecting its teeth.
The liveliest group of players in recent memory, led by Hesp, wasn’t just criticized and debated (which is expected and should be encouraged), they were ridiculed and demeaned.
That type of attitude makes it difficult for someone to fantasize about living out their poker dream.
The social media treatment is akin to saying, “if you make the final table, your play is going to get picked apart. Poker is my thing and I’m really good at it, and lesser players like you don’t deserve to be showcased. In fact, I’m going to ridicule you and make you look as bad possible if you dare get lucky and make the final table.”
Frankly, this attitude loses sight of the forest for the trees. It shows an utter lack of understanding as to why so many amateur players plunk down $10,000 to play in the Main Event every year, even though they have little chance of cashing, let alone making the final table.
“I play poker recreationally, and I will continue to play poker recreationally.
“I want to stay an amateur; …to stay having fun, and enjoy the tournaments and competitions. If I get invited to a few tournaments – three, four, five times a year – I’d be very happy to do that.”
“Before I came here, I wasn’t a multi-millionaire in any way shape or form, but you don’t have to have lots of money to be rich in life. I was rich in life before I came here, and I’m even richer now without the money.”