Monday, June 22, 2015

The U.S. Open, the WSOP, and Player Complaints

The U.S. Open concluded late last night -- late for us on the east coast, I should say, as it was held out in Washington state at the much-talked-about Chambers Bay course in University City -- ending somewhat dramatically with a surprising three-putt by Dustin Johnson on the last hole to give the 21-year-old Jordan Spieth a second straight major title.

It was a stirring finish, but I was fascinated as well by all of the complaints from players (and others) about the Chambers Bay course during the four days of the tournament. If you followed the U.S. Open you likely heard those complaints, too, so I won’t rehearse all of them here. If you haven’t heard about them and are curious, see this story from yesterday on ESPN which collects many of the criticisms, or this one from today in which some of those who played can be found listing all of their issues with the course.

The state of the greens received most of the attention -- that pic of one of the greens was posted to Instagram by the player Ian Poulter (whose frustrations are included in the second article listed above). Comments by other players that it was like putting on broccoli or cauliflower were humorous. And Johnson’s three-putt -- even if not directly consequent to the poor greens -- seemed to put a somehow appropriate punctuation mark on the gripe-filled week.

The complaining reminded me more than once of what has been happening at the WSOP this summer, where a lot of players have been similarly outspoken about various aspects of the series with which they haven’t been satisfied. Such criticisms are not atypical, mind you, but have perhaps been coming with a bit more frequency and volume than has been the case over recent years.

I’m not going to rehearse those complaints, either, which have involved the playing cards, structures, scheduling, communication issues, media coverage, the POY formula, among other issues. Matt Glantz summed up a few of the criticisms in a piece for BLUFF last week the headline for which -- “Matt Glantz Says the World Series of Poker is Losing its Luster” -- indicates the position being advanced.

To explore the comparison a little further, both the U.S. Open and WSOP enjoy a special place in the respective fields for those participating in each. “If this was a regular PGA tour event lots of players would have withdrawn and gone home on Wednesday, but players won't do that for a major,” wrote Poulter of the U.S. Open. That sounds a lot like players complaining about the WSOP, yet still playing because of its “major” status.

Some have responded to players’ complaints about Chambers Bay with the very logical observation that since everyone plays the same course, all are equally subject to the conditions (good or bad) which means the integrity of the competition is not affected. The fact that Spieth -- who just won the last major at the Masters playing on the immaculate Augusta course -- came out on top again would seem to support that position.

That said, when the deficiency of those conditions rises to the level of potentially affecting the integrity of the competition, that’s the point at which the willingness to accept such problems begins to break down. That’s where the piling on tends to start, too, whether justified or not.

From afar, players’ complaints about the new Modiano cards being used this year are the ones that most directly concern the issue of game integrity. Late last week poker pro and bracelet holder David “Bakes” Baker posted a thorough summary of the problems with the cards and how easily they can be marked.

The WSOP announced plans to replace the decks a few days ago, although I think they weren’t introduced until yesterday (for Day 1 of the $50K PPC, but not for other events). Kind of recalls a similar announcement at the beginning of the 2007 WSOP following the fiasco of the “Poker Peek” cards that trucks carrying new decks were on the way.

In any case, I found the whole analogy regarding players’ complaints at the U.S. Open and the WSOP curious to consider, as well as how both examples offer us a lot to think about with regard to the staging of high-level competitions, issues of game integrity, and the way groups tend to respond to undesirable stressors.

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Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

I played four days with the cards. They felt skinnier than cards I was used to. A dealer told us they were supposed to be just a touch longer, too.

6/22/2015 10:51 PM  

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