Does It Matter Who Makes the November Nine?
As I write this, twenty-some-odd poker players are battling it out at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas to make the final table of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event. Every year, without fail, the discussions start up about the desired composition of the November Nine and whether or not so-and-so would be “good for poker” if he won. So, let’s join the crowd: do we care who makes the final table?
For me, the short answer is no, not really, but I suppose that if push came to shove, there would be certain types of players I would prefer to see. While I wouldn’t want a table full of “big names,” – I already had my fill of poker television shows during the poker boom that featured only poker celebrities – I would like at least one or two recognizable faces on ESPN in November. As such, I am fully rooting for Daniel Negreanu to advance past today’s action. He is a Poker Hall of Famer, hands-down one of the best players of the past two decades; I want to watch him put his skills on display. And while we sometimes “loldonkaments,” Negreanu’s presence would at least offer some support for the “poker is a game of skill” argument.
Negreanu could also do a lot to draw the attention of the casual poker fan. Hard-core players, fans, and those with financial interests in the industry always want the poker market to grow, they want to find that magic bean that can grow recreational players. Negreanu could help in this regard. The most casual of casual poker fans, those who have maybe just seen poker once or twice on ESPN and kind of liked it, know Daniel Negreanu’s name. Hearing he is at the final table, or perhaps seeing him when they flip to ESPN in November not expecting to see hours of poker, could potentially spark some interest. So hell yes, I am all for Negreanu making the final table.
Along the same “casual fan” lines, the players who bring along with them an interesting story are more likely to create stronger poker fans. Frankly, I am not all that interested in the now-common story of a young guy who started playing poker on the internet in college and now plays for a living. It’s cool and all, but it is nothing new at this point. Casual fans just can’t relate. Hell, while I’m excruciatingly boring myself, at least viewers could relate to a married family man with two kids trying to win once-in-a-lifetime money.
I don’t know most of the back stories on the possible November Niners, but one pair of players that I would be extremely intrigued to see at the final table is the duo of Chad Power and Christoph Brand. These two guys are roommates in Maryland and for the last few years have flown out to Vegas, rented a house with some buddies, and played in the cash games at the WSOP. They only played in two or three tourneys until the Main Event, yet now these two good friends could potentially face off in November for the coveted bracelet and $7.7 million. I would most definitely tune in to watch that.
I would have loved to see a woman at the final table, as no female has made the Main Event final table since Barbara Enright did in 1995, but that is not going to happen this year. Kelly Minkin came close, but she bowed out in 29th place. I don’t know if a female member of the November Nine would necessarily move the television ratings needle, but I just think it would be great for the game. Poker has historically been a good old boys club and I am all for any chance to break that up.
And on a more generic level, “good for the game” players would be people who are simply entertaining to watch. Negreanu is one of those. I am not familiar enough with the players who are left to know who would be a good TV personality, but I might be willing to slip a few counterfeit chips to someone who can actually make the never-ending ESPN broadcast more than just a bunch of guys sitting in silence. I suspect we would need at least two of this type of player, as if eight of the nine players are either sticks in the mud or too nervous to speak, it might just turn into one guy just looking like a clown.
Speaking of clowns, no assholes, please. One of these guys is going to be the newest poker celebrity. We don’t need people looking at him and wanting to stay far away from the game.
But none of what I have talked about is likely to matter. One reason the Main Event final table was moved to November was to give the WSOP and ESPN time to market the players and the tournament. When the November Nine was first announced, the prospect of ratcheting up the hype excited me – I envisioned the ESPN cameras visiting each member of the November Nine at home as we got to know them through human interest pieces. WSOP specials running throughout the fall on the history of the game. Get us interested! But none of that has happened. On the days the WSOP episodes air, the various shows on the network read a quick promo coming out of a commercial, but that’s it.
So really, it won’t matter if we have the most entertaining final table of all time because the only people who are going to watch it are people who will watch it regardless.