Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Short-Handed, Short-Stacked, and Short-Changed

Have a postscript to share regarding yesterday’s discussion of the last part of Day 7 of the World Series of Poker Main Event (and ESPN’s coverage of it). Has to do with the short-handed play and a problem faced by some of the short stacks -- I’ll keep it short.

The episodes this week showed them play down from 15 players to nine, with Daniel Negreanu dramatically lasting as far as 11th place. While watching I was reminded of the significant faux pas made by the WSOP not to go to hand-for-hand play immediately after George McDonald’s knockout in 12th place. This issue wasn’t brought up at all on ESPN. It might have been, because it involved a mistake in judgment that affected who of the final 11 ultimately were able to make it to the final table.

After McDonald’s ouster, there were two short-handed tables, with the feature table being the shorter one with just five players. That’s where leader Joe McKeehen sat with a monstrous stack that dwarfed those of the other four players, including Negreanu.

In fact, for much of the sequence that followed, McKeehen was in first while the others were 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th in the counts. He also was opening practically every hand and keeping the pressure on constantly (as he should have). Too bad for the short stacks, for sure, but that’s the luck of the seat draw and subsequent table-balancing.

What wasn’t fair, though, was the fact that at the five-handed table they were playing nearly twice as fast as at the outer six-handed table. Over the next hour-and-a-half, they played 48 hands at the feature table (with McKeehen winning 26 of them), while they only played 26 hands at the six-handed table.

Not incidentally, when McKeehen had the button, Negreanu was in the big blind, and we saw several hands in the coverage involving those two. Looking back through the live updates again, Negreanu was in the big blind 10 times during the non-H4H portion when there were 11 left. Meanwhile Patrick Chan -- who became the short stack on the outer table after Neil Blumenfield doubled up soon after McDonald’s ouster -- was in the big blind exactly five times during the same hour-and-a-half.

The WSOP finally decided to go to hand-for-hand once they reached the next level break, well after the many criticisms for not doing so had been fired over Twitter and across other social media. It then only took four hands more for Negreanu’s bust to come (in one last button-versus-big blind hand with McKeehen).

There were some strange pay jumps in play here, too, you might recall. Here’s how the top 11 spots of the WSOP Main Event pay:

1st: $7,683,346
2nd: $4,470,896
3rd: $3,398,298
4th: $2,615,361
5th: $1,911,423
6th: $1,426,283
7th: $1,203,293
8th: $1,097,056
9th: $1,001,020
10th: $756,897
11th: $526,778
This payout schedule also represented something that might have been done otherwise, and once it was announced during the early part of the Main Event many suggested problems with it and possible corrections.

Notice how the jumps between 11th and 10th ($230,119) and 10th and 9th ($244,123) are both much greater than the ones between 9th-8th, 8th-7th, and 7th-6th. Not that anyone is going to be less than cautious with 11 players in the WSOP Main Event, but those big jumps could obviously encourage players to play less quickly, especially if they saw short stacks at the other table being threatened by the chip leader.

The fact that the WSOP did finally exercise their judgment and go to hand-for-hand some 90 minutes after they should have shows they could have done it as soon as they got to 11 players. As I wrote about here back in July, the fact that they didn’t represented a serious mistake, one made more conspicuous (if not more significant) by the fact that Negreanu was among the players directly affected.

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