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November 21, 2017

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The wait is over: After 10 years, the WSOP scraps the November Nine

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Steve Marcus

Members of the November Nine begin play during the final table of the World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in, no-limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament at the Rio on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. The Nine are competing for a share of $26,662,046 in prize money.

MAIN EVENT SCHEDULE

• July 17: Play down to the final table of nine (live ESPN coverage from 4-6 p.m.)

• July 18-19: Two-day break

• July 20: Play down from nine to six (ESPN airs all play starting at 5:30 p.m.)

• July 21: Play down from six to three (ESPN airs all play starting at 5:30 p.m.)

• July 22: Play down to winner (ESPN airs all play starting at 5:30 p.m.)

Nine November Nine Champions

• Qui Nguyen, 2016: $8 million

• Joe McKeehen, 2015: $7.7 million

• Martin Jacobson, 2014: 10 million

• Ryan Riess, 2013: $8.4 million

• Greg Merson, 2012: $8.5 million

• Pius Heinz, 2011: $8.7 million

• Jonathan Duhamel, 2010: $8.9 million

• Joe Cada, 2009: $8.6 million

• Peter Eastgate, 2008: $9.2 million

For the past nine years, several poker players have annually cut into the celebration of a career highlight with a complaint.

A player or two every year hasn’t been able to fully appreciate reaching the World Series of Poker Main Event final table in mid-July — and the accompanying payout of about $1 million — without bemoaning the wait until November to play it out. Those gripes will cease when this year’s $10,000 buy-in Main Event gets down to its final nine players from a starting field of 7,221 late Monday night or early Tuesday morning at the Rio.

For the first time in a decade, the world championship of poker is reverting to its traditional format this year. The near four-month delay, instituted to allow ESPN to familiarize viewers with the players, is scrapped.

The winner of $8.15 million and the WSOP’s gold bracelet will be determined Saturday night, in the same week the final table is set.

“Our goal is always really, ‘How do we raise the experience and make poker bigger, put it on the biggest stage possible?’” said Seth Palansky, Caesars Interactive Entertainment and World Series of Poker vice president. “It’s reinvigorating when you change something like this.”

The poker community responded with exuberance. Most players reluctantly accepted the “November Nine” format in its first few years, but grew tired and criticized it recently as new viewing platforms such as internet streaming took off.

WSOP officials always felt caught in between. They understood the need for live coverage of their signature event but weren’t sure how to pull it off while fulfilling their television contract.

A seven-year deal between the WSOP and ESPN concluded last year, and early in renegotiations, the sports network pitched an increased live presence that included moving the final three days back to July.

“We were giddy when they said to us, ‘When do you start? Let’s try to get you coverage every day,’ ” Palansky said.

ESPN will air a portion of the action in eight of the Main Event’s first 10 days before televising the three-day final table in its entirety. In addition, Poker Go, a new streaming subscription service, will carry separate coverage of each of the first 10 days.

This will be how the WSOP is presented on television for the foreseeable future, as the three entities agreed to a four-year deal.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement to continue to carry the sport’s most prominent event and modernize our coverage with the same-day live coverage throughout July each year,” ESPN’s Director of Programming Dan Ochs said in announcing the agreement.

There are a few downsides. The quick turnaround means the Penn & Teller Theater, where all the November Nine final tables were staged, will be unavailable.

The action will instead take place in the convention center’s Brasilia Ballroom, where capacity is much more limited. Players also won’t be able to fly in as many friends and family on two days’ notice, and aside from the winner, won’t draw as much attention.

“I believe the November Nine created nine stars of poker each year, so there’s almost 90 guys out there now you know as a November Niner,” Palansky said. “When you win right away, people kind of forget of everyone but the winner.”

But those are minor, and navigable, sacrifices to make in an effort to push poker forward. An expanded media presence for the game’s premier event is overdue.

“The reality is, the world is different today in 2017 than it was with the deal we originally signed,” Palansky said. “We’ll have a two-day pause instead of a 100-day pause, and the players definitely like that. And I think the players and viewers will like the payoff and the immediacy of this format.”

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