Mike Sexton

Mike Sexton Swipes at WSOP, Ty Stewart Fires Back

This week’s chuckleheaded sidelight from the world of poker features prominent representatives of the United States’ two largest and longest-running poker series squaring off in a brief exchange of words.  On Thursday, Mike Sexton, the long-time frontman of the World Poker Tour and the online world’s former #1 poker site, PartyPoker, took to his bwin.party sponsored blog at PartyPoker to lob a few criticisms at the WPT’s long-time rival, the World Series of Poker.

Mike Sexton in 2006. (Source: Wikipedia)

Mike Sexton in 2006. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ty Stewart, the WSOP’s Executive Director, quickly took to the comments area of Mike’s blog to respond directly to some of the points Sexton made.  In effect, and done with reasonable civility, Stewart told Sexton to mind his own business.  In a comment that could be dually interpreted as a deep token of respect or a quick jab to the solar plexus, Stewart wrote, in part, “I take for granted no one understands the TV business as well as you, and its role in continuing to grow the game and keep prize pools high.”

While Sexton’s criticisms of the WSOP are the equivalent of a PepsiCo exec taking a few swipes at Coca-Cola, it’s worth taking a look at a few of Sexton’s comments to see just how much water they hold.

Sexton, who used to be a regular at WSOP events himself, and still tries to squeeze one or two appearances into his annual schedule, made most of his complaints about the annual “November Nine” conclusion to the WSOP’s Main Event and to the significant expansion in the number of event bracelets being awarded each year by the WSOP.

Sexton wrote that “the negatives outweigh the positives,” and detailed his complaints in several areas.  According to the Ambassador of Poker, the WSOP is being naughty, thusly:

  • The WSOP keeping players’ money for four months.

  • Players having an opportunity to train for an additional four months.

  • Those of us that are in-shape are being penalized by allowing others months off to rest, etc. One of these days, someone is going to die in the four months before the final table. I’m guessing they’ll put a little coffin on the table and blind that person off (a sombre victor for the eventual winner).

  • A player from Finland, South Africa, or Australia, one of these days, is going to make it to the final table with 2-3 Big Blinds and have to travel all the way back to Vegas to, most likely, go out in the first couple of hands and receive no additional money.

  • Simply put, the November Nine doesn’t put players first.

Well, bully.  The November Nine, as it’s generally understood in the poker industry, came about at the insistence of ESPN, the very powerful broadcasting entity that pays the WSOP a healthy amount to broadcast essentially what it wants to each year from the Amazon Room.

That said, there really isn’t a replacement out there if ESPN takes its cameras and goes home, so ESPN gets to dictate what it wants to the WSOP and parent company Caesars.  That in turn means not only such things as the “November Nine,” but also includes other things that poker traditionalists would have considered farces as well, such as making the final table of the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event no-limit hold’em, even though that variation wasn’t even part of the H.O.R.S.E. rotation that built the final table in question.  H.O.R.S.E.N., maybe?

Yes, some year one of these November Nine finalists might up and croak in the four months between the end of preliminary play and the resumption of the final table in early November.  There’s not much to be done for it, and yes, that player would be blinded off.  That’s part of what each player assumes and agrees to by signing up and entering.  Same as players must agree to allow their likenesses be used by both the WSOP and the WPT without other compensation, merely to participate in the events, and that arguable unjust, one-sided arrangement once led to several prominent players filing a usage lawsuit against the WPT.

Sexton’s also flat-out wrong about the WSOP “keeping players’ money for four months.”  The WSOP not only pays out ninth-place money to all the finalists when the November Nine is set in July, it also makes a nominal interest payment on the remaining difference in prize money that will eventually be paid out tothe final eight in November.  Granted that the interest is usual laughable at today’s interest rates — it’s been under $100 on occasion — but Sexton’s claim about money being held is technically wrong.  Under Nevada gaming law, it really couldn’t be done any other way.

Not sure exactly what the “those of us that are in-shape” (sic) comment is supposed to be about, though yes, Mike keeps himself reasonably fit.  Again, out-of-shape players would already have suffered more than fit ones through the grueling seven-day run-up in the WSOP ME to the establishment of the November Nine.  And again, the rules are stated in advance.  So exactly what the hell is Sexton’s point?  The November Nine is unfair to fit people??

This is the same guy who once chastized the poker world and many of its prominent pros for dressing like slobs at final tables, including the WPT.  However, these players are footing the bill for the event; the WPT is the freeloader in the situation.  Until the World Poker Tour drops its entry juice and adds money itself to the prize fund, Mike Sexton’s attitude i these areas is simply out of line.

Sexton’s one arguable good point is about the predominance at recent November Nines of ad-hoc coaches doing near live-time coaching from the rail after reviewing recent hands as they appear on ESPN’s minutes-delayed feed.  That’s a problem with the current format, and it serves as a disincentive of sorts to casual players who might see that going on and think that even if they entered and made the November Nine, they’d be up against a form of team play.

Sexton also complains about the WSOP doing a significant expansion over the years in the number of bracelets it awards.  That also includes the WSOP’s recent move to awarding bracelets at international WSOP events.

At best, this is a split argument.  Yes, the value of any individual WSOP bracelet is diluted by the mere existence of so many of them.  However, players want that bauble, and thus the WSOP is catering to general player demand by providing them.

It’s also true that the WPT has done its own expansion, going from 11 or 12 events in its early years to 19 or so of late, as in the current 2014-15 season.  That’s done over the course of little more than a decade, too, and Sexton ignores utterly that the WPT’s success was piggy-backed on the earlier success and entrenchment of other growing events such as the WSOP.

The 2014-15 WPT schedule also includes such stops as the Merit Classic North Cyprus, the bestbet Bounty Scramble, the Emperors Palace Poker Classic (in South Africa, of all places) and the WPT500 at Dusk Till Dawn (one of two events at the same London casino).  Pardon my American provinciality, but how are these any better than what the WSOP offers, even in a preliminary tourney?

Similarly, much of the rest of Sexton’s rambling complaint is misplaced.  Sexton at one point claims the WSOP doesn’t putting players first — as if the WPT had a significantly better track record — then uses that as a lead-in toward a beef about the WSOP’s modern Player of the Year (POY) award system, without mentioning that the current incarnation of the award came about in part because of an organized player protest a half decade ago.  The WSOP’s POY award has long been bastardized, anyway, to the point that it’s just going to go to one of the game’s “name” players.  The rank and file poker pro should have long written that award off.

If anything, Stewart should be congratulated for his restrained response to Sexton’s nonsense.  The WSOP has every bit as much right as the WPT does to maximize its marketing and earnings potential in the manner it sees fit, and in accordance with the opportunities that are available to it at any given time.  Sexton has shown again that like that imaginary Pepsi exec, he has no problem being a homer when the whim occurs… even if he might like a secret sip of Coke on the side.

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