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Monday, May 15, 2017

No More November Nine

It's been nine years since the World Series Of Poker introduced a new concept called The November Nine, in which the Main Event stopped play in July when it got down to the final table, then resumed four months later. But as of today, the November Nine is no more.

The WSOP has announced that, this summer, the Main Event will return to starting and ending in July, with a two-day break before the final table plays out over three nights. That means players won't have as much of a chance to line up sponsors and coaches, or to review the earlier hands that their opponents played, pick up tells, and develop strategies to use against them.

My friend Dennis Phillips was one of the original November Niners, and I still remember the excitement of sitting six feet away from the table while he played his way to third place and a $4.5 million prize. By the way, because Peter Eastgate and Igor Demidov, who won first and second place respectively, were European and have largely disappeared from the poker scene, many Americans still greet Dennis as if he'd actually won the Main Event.

Dennis was the first to recognize the marketing opportunity of filling the stands with over a hundred St. Louisans (wearing shirts that matched his) as they cheered him on. Since he was a truck salesman, someone thought to bring along a diesel truck horn attached to a big battery, which was blown whenever Dennis won a hand.

The producers at ESPN were thrilled because poker is not really interesting to watch for several hours if you're not playing, so having great visuals like that was a bonus they hadn't expected. Since then, most players have followed Dennis' lead and brought along friends in similar garb, holding signs, and chanting their support.

That may happen again this summer, but the players' friends won't have nearly as much time to get it organized. They'll have just two days to book last-minute flights and hotel rooms and then organize whatever they can cobble together for their own displays.

Why is the WSOP scrapping the November Nine? I think the answer lies in the immediacy of the internet. During that four month delay, anyone who cared already knew who the final nine players would be, which took an edge off of the weekly two-hour highlight shows ESPN edited together from the earlier days of the Main Event. While the network tried to present profiles of some of the more interesting and colorful poker players, the ratings had dropped while airing in the sports-intensive fall season when football, baseball, hockey, and basketball all needed more attention. But in July, the Main Event, which will now get same-day coverage, will only be up against baseball, and may draw more viewers.