Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Shulman’s Spite

On Shulman's SpiteA week ago today the media corps had taken up various locations around the last three tables of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, the usual poker people who’d been there since late May having been joined by a number of other outlets who had arrived to follow the final days of play this summer. For my role as one of those helping cover the proceedings for PokerNews, I was stationed near the secondary feature table where I pretty much stayed put for the entire day and evening, reporting action from that table until the tourney played down to ten players, at which point all who were left then reassembled around the main feature table. (Along with a few hundred others.)

Well before that wild finish to the night, it was mid-afternoon when we first got wind of the story about Jeff Shulman, publisher, president, and COO of Card Player magazine, and what sounded like some sort of junior-high-schoolish “I’ll Show Them!” kind of revenge he was plotting should he manage to win the Main Event.

“He says if he wins he’s gonna throw the bracelet in the garbage,” one heard being repeated up and down media row. “He what?” was the usual response.

As readers of this blog are probably already aware, the story first broke over on Wicked Chops that afternoon. Following up on a rumor, the Entities asked Shulman at the first break (a little after 2 p.m.) if what they were hearing were true, namely, that if he won the Main Event “he’d renounce the bracelet as he believes that Harrah’s has treated his magazine unfairly.” Shulman’s response was “if by renounce it you mean throw it in the garbage, then yes.”

November Nine, 2009 editionAfter talking to Wicked Chops, Shulman then returned to his seat there at the secondary feature table where he spent most of Day 8. So, as we were covering his play, we were also reading the story and passing back and forth various responses to it. I recall posting one small item in the live blog mentioning which of the remaining players had WSOP bracelets (just Phil Ivey and Jordan Smith, at that point), and consciously avoiding saying anything in the post like “this is what they are all playing for,” since apparently one player wasn’t so enthralled by the prospect of eventually owning that bit of jewelry. (Note Flipchip’s pic, by the way, in which Shulman -- on the far left -- is the only one not reaching for the bracelet.)

In the Wicked Chops article, the Entities connect Shulman’s dissatisfaction with Harrah’s to the “exclusive” media deals which impose certain limits on how Card Player and other outlets can cover the WSOP. As some may recall, Card Player was the “exclusive content provider” for the WSOP in 2005 and 2006; then in 2007 Bluff Magazine took over that role which it has occupied for the last three years. (Full disclosure: Bluff has contracted out live updates to PokerNews, for whom I’ve worked the last two summers.)

In fact, Shulman’s gripe with Harrah’s apparently is not primarily connected to the issue of access, at least according to Shulman’s own statement on the matter that appeared on the Card Player website late last week. “Some people are reporting that I’m upset because the World Series canceled a media deal with Card Player,” says Shulman. “My comments have nothing to do with that, and everything to do with my disappointment in how the World Series is run.”

The article goes on to list a number of complaints from Shulman, some very specific (e.g., the problems surrounding players getting shut out of the Main Event this year, the juice Harrah’s charges players entering the events), others less so (the “bad attitudes” and “inaccurate decisions” of those running the show). And, in fact, Shulman does go back to that issue of the WSOP having an “exclusive content provider,” something he sounds as though he objects to on principle even though Card Player has precisely that sort of deal with the World Poker Tour at present. (EDIT [added 4:15 p.m.]: Or did until recently. See B.J. Nemeth's comment below.)

Interestingly, if you look back a couple of issues and read Card Player’s cover story on the history of the WSOP (the June 23, 2009 issue, Vol. 22, No. 12), you can see how the article (as well as the two sidebar pieces that accompany it) place an emphasis on the Binions and the pre-Harrah’s part of the story. The fact is, even many of those who think Harrah’s has done well by the WSOP over the last few years feel nostalgia for the old days, when the Series was decidedly more “family” than “corporate.”

PokeratiThe post on Pokerati about Shulman includes some interesting responses in the comments. The discussion there lingers over the “exclusive content provider” issue a bit -- interesting in and of itself, but kind of tangential to the Shulman story -- but those who do comment specifically on Shulman’s “throw it in the garbage” plan appear mostly critical of it as demonstrating varying degrees of hypocrisy, pettiness, or short-sightedness.

Probably the most salient of these comments comes from Tom Schneider (towards the end of the thread), who says the whole thing reminds him of someone entering a beauty pageant in order to win and then renounce the contest in order to make a political statement. Schneider also points out how it wouldn’t really serve Card Player’s interests to have its president/publisher/COO “throw away the most coveted prize in the sport his magazine is founded upon.”

What do I think? Well, I have a couple of reactions.

One is simply to view Shulman’s “revenge” plan as not having been thought through very well, and thus a bit too confusing to have much effect other than to draw attention to Shulman himself attempting to be some sort of iconoclast. There may well be a kernel of well-founded, sincere desire to help poker in there somewhere, actually. I was writing yesterday about having a love for the game, and Shulman himself says (in the Card Player article) that “I love poker and entered with the hopes of winning.... But, more importantly, I support making the industry stronger and better for the players.”

I don’t doubt Shulman does love poker and has genuine motives to make the industry stronger. But I also think it isn’t clear how this weird act of defiance would work as either an expression of that love or a way of helping the industry he supports.

My other reaction is even less judgmental. As silly as Shulman’s idea seems to be, it does make things interesting, doesn’t it? I’m not going to cast Shulman as the “villain” to Ivey’s “hero” just yet -- in fact, I think some of these other guys are going to make for pretty damned interesting cast members, too, in this little drama. But still, we’re gonna be watching Shulman extra closely, ain’t we? (He's got chips, too.) So part of me -- the poker fan part who especially enjoys the many intriguing storylines and characters poker can create -- is reaching for the popcorn and anxious to see how it all plays out.

Last year I’ll admit that after being initially disappointed that the Main Event final table was going to be delayed -- meaning I was going to have to miss the big finish -- when I got back home in July I was basically ambivalent about not being there for the November Nine. Didn’t really have much interest or investment in any of the players, when it came down to it.

But I’d love to be back in Vegas to see this final table. Doubtful that’s gonna be possible, I’m afraid, given that other life I have. But I’ll be watching intently, for sure. As will many.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous BJ Nemeth said...

Two quick corrections --

First, in 2005 Card Player didn't have any "exclusive" rights. They were the "official" source for live online updates, but received very little preferential treatment that year. One of the perks they received was that I got first pick of my seat in media row at the final tables, and when access was restricted deep in the Main Event, they got one -- yes one -- media badge for CP's personal use. Other than that, they had to share the media pool badges along with *everyone* else in the media.

I later negotiated a separate pass with ESPN, which was actually given to Jen Creason of PokerWire, so she could provide accurate chip counts for everyone (including ESPN). But Card Player didn't receive much privilege that year.

In 2005, everyone was allowed to do chip counts, and everyone was allowed to do video in the tournament room. It was 2006 that changed the media landscape, when Card Player signed the first "exclusive" deal. (And I was no longer with the company.)

The second correction is that Card Player's exclusive deal with the World Poker Tour only lasted for one season, Season VI (2007-2008). Last year, access was still somewhat restricted for non-WPT media outlets, and that included Card Player. It's still early in Season VIII, but it looks like the WPT might have pretty open media access this year.

Anyone hoping to cover the WPT this season should still contact them through the usual channels, of course.

7/22/2009 3:45 PM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks for those clarifications, B.J.

I had thought the situation wasn't quite the same in 2006 as it was in 2005 re: Card Player & the WSOP, but wasn't sure about the specifics. (Indeed, in his statement Shulman refers in a general way to CP having "had a media deal in 2005 and 2006" with the WSOP -- as I say, I'd thought there had been some change made there for '06.)

Also glad for the clarification regarding the current situation for media access to the WPT.

7/22/2009 3:55 PM  
Blogger PokerShrink said...

Nice summary of the current state of the potential Shulman Bracelet. I particular like the Abbey Roadesque photo with Jeff not reaching for the most fabulous object in the world.

7/22/2009 5:52 PM  

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