Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nine Players In Search of a Final Table

'Patience,' sez the WSOPYou must’ve heard by now. ESPN and Harrah’s has confirmed that the final table of the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event will be delayed 117 days in order to have sufficient time to package the sucker into a big ol’ crazy Spectacle of Unprecented Magnitude in the History of Mankind or At Least That Part of History That Involves Mankind Playing Cards.

Some, like Daniel Negreanu, believe this move represents a “huge step forward for poker.” Others are decidedly less enthused.

Was reading poker pro Terrence Chan discussing the change over on his blog earlier today. More than anything, he expresses amazement that such a huge decision could have been made for such a big event without any sort of prior attempt to test out the logistics of it all.

“Consider this,” writes Chan, “they’re running an experiment on the biggest prize in the game with something like a combined $20-25 million in player money at stake! It’s ludicrous. You don’t just dramatically change the format of the biggest tournament in the world with absolutely no precedent or trial run. To my knowledge, not once in the entire history of poker has a final table run four months after they break for it. And they decide the best time to try it for the first time is the main event of the World Series?”

That frankly astounds me, also. That officials not only would wait until the beginning of May to make the decision, but that they are willing to experiment with the idea at such high stakes.

I realize that on some level there’s no way to “test” out anything with a trial run when it comes to the World Series of Poker Main Event. Nothing else compares to it, so there’s no way (not really) to take a tournament of similar scale and see what sort of consequences might arise after delaying a final table several months and then airing it (sort of) live.

Then again, the idea could have been attempted with, say, a WSOP Circuit event. The creation of a “live”-ish, televised final table for one of those would’ve certainly reignited flagging interest in that tour again, as doing so would likely have attracted big name pros to play who otherwise wouldn’t have.

Too late for all that now, though.

'Six Characters in Search of an Author' by Luigi PirandelloThe whole idea of having these nine players sit around waiting four months to find out how their stories are going to end reminds me a bit of another experiment -- a literary one -- Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 play Six Characters in Search of an Author.

As you might imagine from the title, Pirandello’s play is one of those headachy, self-reflexive, “idea”-type works of literature that probably appeal much more to academics than actual audiences. Indeed, when it was first performed at the Valle di Roma in 1921, the play apparently enraged enough patrons that the search for an author became somewhat literal (and aggressive), with Pirandello ultimately being chased from the theater.

The play nevertheless stands as an important example of existentialist storytelling, thoughtfully addressing the idea that (as one of the characters says) “each one of us has within him a whole world of things, each man of us has his own special world.”

Six Characters begins with a group of actors and the Manager rehearsing another of Pirandello’s plays. They are interrupted when the “characters” enter and explain that Pirandello had sketched them for some other fictional work, but never completed it. Thus they are searching for an “author” or someone to help them act out their “drama,” thus (one supposes) making them more fully realized as characters.

The rest of the play shows the “characters” and the actors and Manager unsuccessfully try to negotiate the staging of their story, with lots of discursive digressions along the way regarding the nature of art and literature, ideas about identity, and other existentialist themes.

World Poker Tour final tables sort of work this way, one could argue. Before the final table is filmed, the last six players are all taken aside for interviews, then the proceedings are shot, edited, and repackaged -- in other words, “authored” -- so as to create a “drama” of sorts that otherwise might not have been as readily apparent to those outside the ropes.

Of course, in the case of WPT final tables, the delay prior to the staging of that final table is negligible. While the producers of the television show do get to shape the “characters” somewhat, the players all still remain pretty much themselves, relatively speaking.

With the four-month-long delay prior to the WSOP ME final table, that can’t happen. As I quoted Greg Raymer saying in the previous post, “this long gap allows the players to become completely different people between the time they make the final table.” I think that is probably what bothers me the most about the idea -- the fact that the nine players will necessarily be “different people” by the time we get to November.

They’ll resemble what they were back in July, but they’ll be different, for sure, each representing a host of different interests, backers, coaches, theories, and others’ conceptions of who they were before. As Negreanu points out, we are going to see a “different dynamic” at the final table than we would have otherwise.

He likes it, of course. “You’re going to see some really kind of more sophisticated play,” says Negreanu. Breathlessly. He might be right. He might be wrong. Whatever happens, though, it will be different than what it would have been.

A bit like in Six Characters, actually, when the actors try to act out the characters’ lives for them. As one of the characters points out, “It will be difficult to act me as I really am.” And so the actors fail. Miserably.

I don’t like the fact that the players will have changed -- will have become “authored” so heavily into someone else’s story.

I mean damn, it’s poker. One player to hand, already.

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Blogger Julius_Goat said...

See, now THIS is why I read Shamus.

References to "Six Characters in Search of an Author?"


5/02/2008 9:05 AM  
Blogger OhCaptain said...

Goat's got it. Nice job Shamus!

5/04/2008 10:20 AM  

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