By Justin Hammer
I recently attended the three WPT Final Table tapings in Las Vegas, and had a somewhat unique perspective. I spent two of them on stage doing the announcing for both the audience and the production crew, and one in the audience as a fan/spectator. I had been very cautious in answering what I thought about the new delayed final table procedure when asked about it during the LAPC, but after witnessing it up close for three straight days, I’m comfortable sharing my views and experiences.
Full disclosure: I was very skeptical that this would work. My reasons weren’t the same as many of the views expressed by players on social media. For instance, the structure for these events is fantastic, even in the “made for TV” version (which isn’t really a thing as far as I could tell).
My issues were more operational. For example, changing jurisdictions seemed potentially dangerous. Also, paying out players the biggest prizes of the event in another state or venue felt like it could be costly for both the casino and staff. Finally, from a purely selfish perspective, I didn’t like the idea of giving up control of my tournament.
The LAPC lasts for 50 straight days and has 69 different events that our staff starts and finishes with great pride and effort. Sending players to another state just felt like sending my kids off to college while they were still in middle school. I simply wasn’t ready for it. But now that I’ve gone through it all, I feel ready. I also think that the poker world is ready for what is to come from these delayed final tables.
The biggest benefit to the delayed tables is the ability to plan. The LAPC had the shortest turnaround time of the three events with only four days between the last day at Commerce and the taping in Vegas. I didn’t realize it at the time because of how big the rails were, but the Commerce final table actually ended up being the tamest audience of the three. That may surprise anybody that sees David Baker’s rail do their version of Naughty by Nature as they chanted, “You down with ODB? Yeah, you know me!”
Even with only four days to plan, the crowd was the biggest I’ve ever seen. There were also custom shirts, signs, pictures of players faces, and plenty of family. I hope it comes through on the episodes and livestream, but the energy in that room was infectious, and I have no doubt that David’s rail played a key role in his win.
The second and third taping, both of which had over a month to plan, had even bigger rails and somehow even more energy. Frank Stepuchin was undoubtedly able to pull off more antics because of the delay. He seemingly had the whole night planned as he drank and chicken winged his way to a WPT Title. His extremely loud rail was there with their custom shirts to cheer with him every time he won a pot or took a drink. It was quite a spectacle.
There was a similar experience the next night with Viny Lima’s crowd. The rails were enthusiastic all the way through the end of the heads up battle.
There is no doubt in my mind that the size and quality of the audience was a direct result of the amount of prep time they had leading into the final tables. I also believe that greater audience presence and participation is going to result in better final tables both for the players on stage, and for the audience at home. The huge rails make for better TV, and although I understand why some players aren’t concerned about creating quality programming when they’re playing for big money, a good show benefits everybody. It makes potential players want to learn more about how they can be a part of what they’re watching.
I went from skeptic to believer. All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. As news spreads about these final tables, players that make them are going to start one-upping the others. We’ll see bigger crowds and more shenanigans and that’s going to create new fans. As for my original concerns, the staff at HyperX Esports Arena was great and the set up was done so well that it felt the same as when we filmed at Commerce. And although I wasn’t allowed to make any rulings, I was kept fully in the loop which was more than enough for me.
I truly believe that next round of final tables is only going to be bigger and better, and now that I’ve been in the studio to see them, I plan on being there for the rest of them. And so should you.
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