Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are WSOPE Bracelets “Real”?

Are WSOPE Bracelets “Real”?The World Series of Poker Europe Main Event concluded yesterday, with James Bord of England besting an especially tough field of 346. Thus ends the five-event series, at which five WSOP gold bracelets were awarded.

Not coincidentally, there has been a lot of discussion of late over whether or not WSOPE bracelets are “real” World Series bracelets and/or should be counted in that “most bracelets, all-time” list currently led by Phil Hellmuth (with 11) and Doyle Brunson (10) and Johnny Chan (10).

The Entities over at Wicked Chops helped stir things up regarding this topic yesterday by drawing attention to a comment made by WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage last week on their excellent weekly show, This Week in Poker (the 9/21/10 episode). (If you’re not familiar with TWiP, click here for a quick overview.)

The question to Savage -- sent in by Jay “whojedi” Newnum -- was “How do you feel about bracelets being awarded outside of Vegas?” Savage answered without hesitation. “I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s like a real bracelet.”

Savage then alluded to how the WSOP could very well start applying its brand elsewhere (“they could have WSOP Asia, WSOP Latin America,” etc.), the implication being that doing so would further devalue the bracelets’ significance. “I mean, the WSOP was founded in Las Vegas,” added Savage. “That’s kind of what it’s about, so I don’t think those bracelets [i.e., the ones awarded in London at the WSOPE] are as valuable.”

The post over at Wicked Chops yesterday quickly drew a comment from Harrah’s/WSOP Vice President Ty Stewart, who strongly disagreed with Savage’s position while also foregrounding the competition that exists between the WPT and WSOP, especially in Europe. “It doesn’t take an investigative journalist to understand Mr. Savage’s parent company is motivated to be antagonistic to other activities in the European marketplace,” writes Stewart.

What Stewart suggests, of course, is that Savage’s devaluing of non-Vegas WSOP bracelets is connected to the WPT’s efforts to compete with the WSOP in places like London, and may or may not represent a sincere view to which Savage personally subscribes.

While I’m well aware that there indeed exists genuine competition between the WSOP and WPT -- being fought on several fronts at once -- I still think Savage’s comment was sincere and represents his personal opinion on the subject. And the fact is, there are many other folks (including players, media, and fans) who aren’t tied to the WPT or groups in competition with the WSOP who share Savage’s view that indeed the WSOPE bracelets aren’t as “real” or prestigious as the ones won in Vegas.

The Hardcore Poker ShowAnother person who doesn’t believe the WSOPE bracelets are equal to the ones won in Vegas is the fellow with the most bracelets of all, Phil Hellmuth. The Poker Brat was a guest on the most recent Hardcore Poker Show podcast (the 9/27/10 episode) where he was asked the same question Savage was about the relative significance of winning a WSOPE bracelet.

“Honestly, it’s not the same thing,” Hellmuth began. “I have a feeling that if I had won a bracelet over there [at WSOP Europe], there would have been a lot of people stepping up saying ‘It’s not the same thing,’ and it would’ve been hard for me to argue against that.”

The conversation continued for a few more minutes, with Hellmuth elaborating on some of the reasons why he believes the WSOPE bracelets can't really be considered on the same level as those won at the World Series in Vegas.

Hellmuth made some good points, actually -- kind of surprising how uncharacteristically balanced and aware he sounds here, really -- including drawing attention to the fact that when it comes to his race with the current leaders in all-time bracelets, neither Brunson nor Chan even made the trip to the WSOPE this year.

“Everybody knows that it’s not really a bracelet,” Hellmuth concludes, adding that when it comes to record-keeping, the WSOP should establish different categories for bracelets won outside of Vegas, thereby referring to someone as having one a certain number of each rather than compiling all together.

Click here to listen to the interview, if you’re curious. Hellmuth comes on about 17 minutes into the show, and the conversation about bracelets begins a little after the 23-minute mark.

As the comments on the Wicked Chops post further show, opinions over this issue are divided. Questions about the “legitimacy” or relative significance of the WSOPE bracelets have been asked since before the first WSOPE in 2007. I recounted some of that debate in a Betfair piece a couple of weeks ago which talks a little about the short history of the WSOPE, “London Calling: 2010 WSOP Europe Coming Soon.”

In that column I alluded to some of the early questioning, then added the comment that “by now that debate has subsided somewhat, thanks in large part to the high quality of player fields the WSOPE has attracted during its first three years.” (Perhaps I spoke to soon!)

So do I think WSOPE bracelets are “real”? Well, sure.

I think it is fine -- and perhaps inevitable -- for us all to debate whether, say, Gus Hansen’s victory in WSOPE Event No. 4, the £10,350 no-limit hold’em heads-up event, is as great an achievement as Ayaz Mahmood’s in WSOP Event No. 35, the $10,000 NLHE heads-up event in Vegas. The tourneys were the same in some ways, but different in many, many more.

Indeed, I think if one were to try to compare any two WSOP tournaments, the list of relevant factors making the two events different would be so long it would rapidly become evident that it is a little silly to try to claim any two tourneys are the “same thing.” In fact, one could argue differences between the 2010 WSOPE events and those played in Vegas at the 2010 WSOP are much less significant than the differences between the 2010 WSOP events and those played in the 1970s and 1980s at the WSOP.

So, yeah, I think WSOPE bracelets are “real” bracelets. I also think that for a variety of reasons they continue to carry less prestige, ultimately, than do the ones won in Vegas. But that’s true of bracelets won in Vegas, too, with some being more esteemed than others.

That said, I acknowledge that others can decide for themselves what is “real” and what isn’t. I am an existentialist, after all.

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