WSOP $50,000 HORSE
© 2006, Jason Kirk  

There was something of an uproar among high-level professional poker players back when Harrah's initially announced the schedule for the 2006 World Series of Poker. With only a handful of non-hold'em tournaments on the schedule, players worried that the world's largest gaming company was going to kill public interest in poker by only turning its back on the tradition of having tournaments in a wide variety of games. There were few signs that the schedule would be altered at all, but a recent announcement from Harrah's has changed the situation.

A $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. tournament was recently added to the WSOP schedule, with a date yet to be announced. In some ways this brings to fruition the wishes of poker pros like Lou Krieger who wish that poker's world champion were crowned in a mixed games tournament due to the high skill factor involved. This marks the first time in the history of the WSOP that an event has been on the schedule with a buy-in larger than the $10,000 Main Event. Times have changed at the WSOP, thanks to the widespread availability of online satellite tournaments, and the new H.O.R.S.E. event is a reflection of that reality.

In addition to adding H.O.R.S.E. to the schedule, Harrah's also announced the creation of a 6-player advisory panel to help Harrah's improve the experience of the WSOP for its players. The board's first members will be Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, and Robert Williamson III. These players accepted one-year posts to work with Harrah's in improving the WSOP. An article on the announcement at Card Player quoted Jeffrey Pollack, WSOP commissioner and vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for Harrah’s, as saying that the panel was created to give players a clear communications process for a wide range of issues. The face of the WSOP will continue to change over the next few years, and players now have an outlet to make sure they can influence the direction the biggest tournament in poker travels.

The two announcements from Harrah's seem to indicate that the company isn't keen on alienating the players. Sometime in the last few months the approach of working with players to improve the WSOP gained hold within Harrah's, resulting in a much more positive direction than some people saw the WSOP going before the announcements were made. While Harrah's schedule is still dominated by hold'em in all its forms, an olive branch has been offered in the form of the new H.O.R.S.E. event. The high buy-in of this event shouldn't be overlooked either - it's aimed squarely at the world's best all-around high stakes poker players, the sector from which many of the 2006 WSOP schedule's biggest detractors came.

Also worth noting on the Harrah's-players relations front is the schedule of the Jack Binion WSOP Circuit currently underway at Grand Casino Tunica. If the new H.O.R.S.E. event at the WSOP is a step in the right direction, the Circuit schedule from Tunica might be a glimpse into the future of poker's biggest tournament. Of all the hold'em tournaments being held, 6 of them aren't standard no-limit tournaments - that includes no-limit shootouts, shorthanded no-limit, limit hold'em, and pot-limit hold'em. And of the 22 events being held in Tunica, seven are of varieties other than hold'em. Among the more exotic events being held are a $2,000+80 Lowball Triple Draw tournament and a $3,000+100 H.O.R.S.E. tournament. It's hard to imagine that the new player advisory council wouldn't look at such a schedule as a good balance between Harrah's desire to satisfy the bottom line and the players' wish to keep interest in all forms of poker alive.

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