Monday, May 15, 2017

Nine Years Enough for November Nine

I never liked the November Nine. I got used to it, like everyone else. But I never liked the idea.

The World Series of Poker first introduced the “delayed final table” format for the Main Event in 2008, stopping the tournament at nine players in July and restarting it in November. That was also the first summer I went out to help cover the WSOP.

The announcement came at the beginning of May that year, a couple of weeks after I’d already signed on to go out for PokerNews. I remember being disappointed to learn at that late date that I wouldn’t be seeing the Main Event play to a conclusion. I thought the idea to pause a poker tournament for four months was absurd, wildly distorting whatever “standard” might have been established for tournament poker since its rise in popularity.

It’s a little silly, I know, to speak of poker tournaments as a format unable to withstand too much variation. That’s the beauty of poker, of course -- namely, the way the game can accommodate all sorts of imaginative twists and alterations. And in fact, over the last decade we’ve seen an incredible number of different kinds of poker tournaments developed, both live and online, to challenge all sorts of “traditional” ideas of what a poker tournament is or should be.

Tournaments are like novels in that way -- an incredibly elastic “genre” under which heading a seemingly endless array of different kinds of “narratives” can qualify.

But the idea of playing for a week-and-a-half, then waiting four months, then playing another day or two or three was just too much. Even the most experimental novelist would have difficulty selling the idea of presenting 90 percent of the book all at once, then withholding the last couple of chapters until everyone has forgotten the story and characters.

The WSOP and ESPN did what they could with the idea, and by the last couple of years managed to build it into something that was genuinely interesting to follow. Even so, the disconnect between what happened in the Main Event during the summer and how it ended always made it seem more like two, separate “events” than not.

Today -- at an even later date than in 2008 -- we learned the November Nine is finally being scrapped this year. And that there will be a lot of televised coverage in July on both ESPN and PokerCentral, starting with the Day 1 flights and lasting all of the way through to the end. All welcome news, as far as I’m concerned.

Sure, there will be no more coaching and simulations filling those four months in between to challenge ideas of “integrity” and further shape the Main Event into something barely resembling other poker tournaments. Most importantly, though, the story’s momentum won’t be interrupted, which means the building drama over the first seven days of poker will get to continue into the last three days of the final table.

There is still a delay before the final table, but one lasting just two days. Plenty of time, I think, to get to know the players and build some interest and excitement heading into the finale -- like that extra week before the Super Bowl.

After being away a few summers, I’m also plotting a return to the WSOP this time, meaning if all goes as intended I’ll be there to watch this Main Event play out -- all the way out, that is.

I’ll even get to lend a hand when it comes to telling the story of how the sucker ends, too. Finally. Nine years later.

Talk about a final table delay.

Image: PokerNews.

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