Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WSOP On The Brink...Of A Problem

One of the charms of the World Series of Poker in recent years has been how international the final tables have been. A Dane won the thing last year, a Laotian immigrant won the year before, of the last 18 final tablists, half resided outside the U.S. They included three Canadians (one Vietnamese-born), two Danes, a Russian, a South African and a Brit.

This year, not so much. As I type, the field of 6,494 is now down to 14. Of those, only two are not Americans, James Akenhead of England and Antione Saout of France.

Now, there's nothing anyone can do about how the cards go and there were more than 100 nations represented. That number was down some from last year, but still.

At the same time, an All-American Final Table kind of throws a kink in the plan. Once they get down to nine finalists, they will pause play until November. The idea there is to create buzz for the players, most of them unknown. The real growth markets for the World Series of Poker are outside of the U.S., in places not already saturated by poker rooms and TV poker shows. Last year's Danish winner Peter Eastgate, for instance, set off a new poker frenzy in Denmark.

Personally, I'm rooting right now for the French guy because I've spent all day trying to get editors of newspapers all over the world interested in letting me write about today's action and the 27 folks left when they began at noon. All were assured to win at least $352,000, so it seemed like any of them making it this far should be a local story in their cities. Yet my only nibble is with the French wire service Agence France-Presse, and ONLY if the French guy makes it. Times are tough in the media biz.

Now, all this is moot if pro Phil Ivey can hang on. He's a major poker star and having that kind of star power will help propel interest during the break. Just look at him. He's got the style of Tiger Woods and Barack Obama. He makes it to November and the WSOP folks will be ecstatic.