November Nine No More: World Series Of Poker Makes Big Changes

Steve Ruddock May 15, 2017 1825 Reads
WSOP November Nine goodbye

You’ve probably seen the news that the World Series of Poker‘s nine-year experiment known as the November Nine is mercilessly coming to an end, unless this is the first poker-related article you’ve read today.

In a press release, ESPN announced a new four-year partnership with Poker Central will overhaul WSOP coverage. The changes point to a rededication to poker programming by ESPN.

What’s in store for the 2017 WSOP on ESPN

The most notable change is the end of the four-month hiatus between the final table being reached and when it’s played. According to the press release, players will go on a two-day break (July 18 and 19) when they reach the final table. That’s followed by three days of live-streaming on ESPN from July 20-22.

This is big news in and of itself. But because of the change, ESPN is also ending its prohibition of live streaming during the preliminary days of the WSOP Main Event.

Beginning on Day 1a, ESPN will broadcast several hours of live-streaming coverage daily on its networks. Poker Central picks up the slack during non-ESPN hours.

A live stream of the entire Main Event is something poker enthusiasts have been clamoring for. Now, it’s something the WSOP apparently sees as beneficial to its product.

“ESPN has been our home since 2002 and we’re delighted to extend the relationship into the next decade,” Ty Stewart, the executive director of the WSOP said in the press release. “Having every day live coverage of the WSOP Main Event is truly a huge commitment on behalf of ESPN and Poker Central and we look forward to delivering to our faithful audience wall-to-wall action from the outset for the very first time.”

The change is long past due

It’s no secret that I’ve never been a fan of the November Nine concept, and have called for its end for several years.

Still, the November Nine was a solid experiment (it simply lasted too long), created with good intentions.

The break was supposed to accomplish three main things:

  • Allow ESPN and the WSOP to promote the final table. The promotion of the WSOP final table was never realized, even in 2009 when Phil Ivey was a November Niner.
  • Allow ESPN to produce lead-up episodes to the final table with viewers unaware of who won the tournament. But viewers were still aware of who made the final table and every other detail of the tournament. With social media, spoilers continue to be an issue.
  • Turn the WSOP final table into an event, with pageantry and a sizable live audience. With participants flying in their friends and family, this was moderately successful.

Unfortunately, The November Nine format’s negatives far outweighed whatever positive benefits it created.

A poker tournament without continuity

What the November Nine did accomplish was killing any momentum between the first seven days of the WSOP Main Event and the final table. The final table was so detached from the rest of the tournament, it was more like two separate events.

The players had already secured huge paydays with the potential to win even more. As such, most November Niners hired the best coaches money could buy. They studied footage of their opponents.

The end result was extremely high-level poker with very few mistakes or unorthodox play. No one was tired or on tilt. Every participant entered the final table with a clear head.

This was a huge detriment to the better players, especially the ones with lots of TV time their opponents could study. Furthermore, any amateur player making a deep run could quickly close the skill gap during the hiatus and shore up weak points in their games.

Non-stop, high level play might be great for the small percentage of poker purists out there. But most viewers are looking for the Qui Nguyen‘s of the world. Someone who’s overly active, doesn’t have standard bet-sizes, and capable of attempting wild bluffs.

This is far more likely when players are mentally stressed after a whirlwind 10 days of poker to reach the final table and the gravity of the situation (or the money on the line) hasn’t fully sank in.

Final thoughts on the new WSOP

It’s been a shame that the poker community hasn’t been able to properly package its flagship event across all the platforms people want.

The absence of a real-time live stream of the lead-up to the final table was akin to the watching edited-down episodes of the first eight innings of Game 7 of a World Series (of baseball) that occurred months prior, followed by a live finale of the ninth inning.

Good for ESPN, Poker Central and the World Series of Poker for correcting this. The changes made by ESPN and Poker Central will be good for the World Series of Poker and for poker in general.