WSOP 2011: The baby elephant walk

wsop2011-thumb-blog.pngAny of us who have been in this business for a while--especially those with a vested interested in seeing the game succeed--are tempted to break out the pompoms when writing about poker's big events. We want everyone to love this game, this experience, and this atmosphere as much as we do. There is such a great lure toward cheerleader-ism that it's almost unavoidable. It happens to the degree that the elephants in the room are so often ignored that they seek therapy.

But, let's be honest. This year is not like past years at the WSOP.

As late as last year, trying to navigate through the Amazon Room was a task meant for a linebacker. Day 1 starts were circuses of railbirds, new players, marketers, and hooligans of all sorts. This year, something feels different. It's not a huge stretch to say you could probably walk an elephant through the room without disturbing too many people.

In 2010, more than 7,300 people played the Main Event. At this hour, according to tournament director Jack Effel, some 1,000 people have signed up for Day 1A of 2011. The registration queue has more stanchions than people. that It doesn't take a math wizard to figure out that reaching last year's numbers seems like a pretty slim possibility.

This is, we should point out, no fault of the people behind the WSOP. If we were to pick up pompoms, they would be among the first we would cheer. Nevertheless, no matter how strong their efforts are, recent changes in the poker landscape mean that the elephant in the room is getting pretty noisy. That screech you hear is a pretty clear indication that the elephant won't be ignored anymore.

The 2011 WSOP was successful by all accounts. Event numbers were up almost across the board. Prize pools were huge. Big name pros picked up bracelets or got very close. All of it was good news in a year full of bad.

Now, however, the Main Event is here, and the desire to build a pyramid of optimism and root-root-root won't go away. That is to say maybe we shouldn't focus on the numbers so much as how the WSOP survives and even thrives in the face of an 800-pound bad news gorilla. Maybe, we think, the Main Event still has the capacity to surprise. Maybe this elephant in the room is something more of the Henry Mancini variety, one we can walk around the room and show off to our friends, one that's embraceable but ultimately sorta cute.

It's just Day 1A, after all. If we've learned anything here at the World Series, it's that we should stop trying to predict and analyze everything. No matter how much therapy the elephants have, they're immune to any reasonable sort of analysis, anyway


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That belonging to Mitch Schock, worthy and likeable winner (the first bracelet winner from North Dakota no less) of Event 39, who wears it today, two seats down from Peter Hedlund, whose presentation we'd pay to watch were he ever to win a WSOP title.

"God Hates Us."

Number of people on the rail wearing skin tight trousers: 2

Number of people on the rail wearing skin tight trousers and making it work: 1

@RaSZi (Lex Veldhuis): 31.5k in first break. Lost a bunch at the start so happy with it. Also Sammy Farha sat down two to my right.

Number of people in the bleachers watching Doyle Brunson play at the feature table: 36.

Jerry Yang, 2007 WSOP champion, is out.