Matt Savage

Matt Savage and the “Social Experiment” Tourney a Qualified Success

One of the more interesting and entertaining spectacles in recent tournament poker annals played out this past weekend at L.A.’s Commerce Casino.  As a scheduled event in the ongoing California State Poker Championship, famed tournament director Matt Savage and tournament coordinator Justin Hammer put on their special “Social Experiment” tourney.  The catch?  The event banned several popular accoutrements of the poker-tourney scene — sunglasses, hoodies, headphones, and most importantly, the use of smartphones and other electronic devices in the tournament area.

By most accounts the weekend tourney was a hit with its participants, who were forced to interact with each other instead of retreating into insular bubbles.  No one truly knew how well received the concept tourney would be, particularly after Savage deflected a thin but steady stream of player inquiries in the weeks preceding the event, each seemingly trying to carve exceptions into the event’s blanket ban on those comfort aids.

Modern society’s addiction to smartphones, as one would expect, turned out to be the crucial element.  Plus, no one really knew if the “experiment” would be successful in the financial success, meaning that it would exceed its pre-tourney guarantee.

Not to worry.  The players were fine with the format and the special rules, the tourney’s guarantee was easily topped, and virtually all involved, said Savage, seemed to have a great time.

Flushdraw checked in with Savage earlier today to get his personal take on the “Social Experiment.”  Early on, Savage tweeted that only two penalties had been issued in the event’s first four hours, and as the tourney wrapped up, a total of eight penalties for infractions of the special rules — all being smartphone-use violations, it seems — occurred.  Savage indicated that one of the two early infractions was by a “rebel,” and the other was accidental, forgetful use.

Were players overly rebellious?  According to Savage, no.  According to Savage, he said about the early rebel, “I think he just wanted to go outside and smoke.”  The others?  All forgetfulness.  “Seven of them were just people forgetting or putting their phone on the table,” he noted.

When asked whether the eight penalties asssssed was more or fewer, Savage replied, “I’d say it was fewer, but the players were definitely trying to keep within the spirit of the rule, too, which was nice.”

As for the success or failure of the event, it has to be measured in both social and financial terms.  The event was an easy social winner due to the attention it drew, and though early entries were slow, the tourney easily topped its guarantee.  The break-even point for Event #2 of the CSPC was 334 entrants, and the total entries climbed much higher… to 511.

“511 entries was outstanding!” noted Savage. “My goal was to just cover the guarantee which we did very easily.”  That speaks well for the experiment’s future prospects, which we’ll return to in a bit.  But how was the atmosphere of the event, for the players?

“It was great to hear people talking and the laughter of the players,” noted Savage.  The event produced its unexpected momemts of comedy, too.  As Savage noted, “The funniest thing was Thomas Zanot pulling his phone out right in front of the floorman because he just forgot. He graciously accepted the penalty.”  The players were forced into some alternative behaviors as well.  “It was also funny to see players reading newspapers and books,” Savage added.

Matt Savage

The event’s warm reception and relatively incident-free play bodes well for the “Social Experiment”‘s return.  When asked, Savage noted, “We will definitely run another one, maybe in November, but likely during the LAPC. Our tournament coordinator [Justin Hammer] wants me to play in it because he doesn’t think I can do it,” referring to the enforced weaning from the Internet and social media.  That’ll be a test indeed for the extroverted Savage, who did acknowledge foregoing his smartphone himself for strecthes of the weekend event

So call it a success, despite the pre-tourney complaints and sour projections that the “Social Experiment” wouldn’t even meet its guarantee.  Matt Savage has long been one of poker’s innovative forces, even in this case the innovation just happened to be a return to the day’s simpler days.

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