A Report Card for the WSOP (So Far)

9 min read

I’ve been critical of the World Series of Poker over the years, as has pretty much anyone who’s played there more than once. But I’m also aware that it’s a very tough thing to organize and that pleasing 10s-of-thousands of poker players is impossible. With so many unique challenges this year, I’ve been paying close attention to how they’re doing this first week. 

WSOP Welcome Sign 2021
Why thank you, how courteous. It’s like a giant welcome mat. (Image: Chris Wallace)

Registration, lines, and vax certifications (B-)

While this is definitely a new challenge, and there may be very good reasons they couldn’t do this any better, a B- is really the best I could give them on this one. The lines have been long. Sometimes the lines haven’t been so bad, but even in those cases, the registration process can be painfully slow. And the vaccine certification line can be incredibly slow. 

If you have the clear app ready to go when you register, then you don’t need to worry about the vax line, but visitors from overseas are seeing waits of multiple hours just to get certified before having to wait in another line to register for their event.

The $500 Reunion event, with its $5-million guarantee, was destined to be a mess. Every year, the first event with a big field is a semi-disaster and this year kept the tradition going with some players waiting for hours to register. I know multiple people who chose not to play after standing in line for a while and getting nowhere. 

My last event, the $1,500 Dealer’s Choice, started an hour late because they had to find tables for it when day 1C of the Reunion drew a huge number of entries. Given that the guarantee works on an assumption of at least 10,000 players, you would think they would have been prepared for, you know, at least 10,000 players. 

I know that one of the biggest challenges for the staff this year has been guessing at how many players will be in any given event, so it could have been much worse. 

lines at the wsop
Maybe they should sell a FastPass like Disney? (Image: Chris Wallace)

 Dealers (A-)

Getting dealers was a big concern for the series this year. Closing the Bally’s and Flamingo card rooms was a drop in the bucket compared to the number of dealers they need for the WSOP. But they seem to have enough dealers for now and, so far, they’ve all been competent. In fact, many of them are brand new, which is better than you might think. 

Our first dealer at my Dealer’s Choice table was brand new, fresh out of dealer school, and excited to deal mixed games. A brand new dealer can actually be much better than a crusty old dealer with a ton of bad habits who hasn’t dealt mixed games in 10 years, and she did very well. All the dealers in the $25,000 HORSE event were solid, with no glaring bad spots and some who were excellent. 

poker dealers wsop
A horde of dealers waiting for players so they can start busting them out and cackling as they walk away heartbroken. Image: Chris Wallace)

Food (D)

The food situation at the series isn’t good at all. All American Dave’s is now mostly off property, though still delivering meals in a reasonable amount of time. Pokermeals.com has also become a favorite of many of the high stakes players, but they only deliver at specific times throughout the day. Both options are much better than any of the food at the Poker Café or the hot dog cart. 

The poker café gets more overpriced every year and the food seems to get worse. Hot dogs, premade and sitting in a foil package on a hot rack, are $12. No, that is not a typo. $12 per hot dog. Burgers are $14, and a WSOP burger that has been sitting in a hot rack for two hours isn’t a bargain at any price. 

I had the barbecue chicken in the café yesterday to see what it was like. I paid $17 for a meal that would be disappointing for $3.50 in a hospital cafeteria. Imagine the frustration for the people who run the poker side of the WSOP, and probably have nothing to do with the food, knowing that their players are constantly leaving the building to eat elsewhere instead of grabbing a quick bite in the café. This costs the series a ton of cash-game action and a few tournament entries too.

I’ve heard a number of conversations at the tables about how insulting it is to charge these prices for such meager offerings. Players aren’t impressed. I’ve wondered for years now if All American Dave bribes someone to get them to offer such terrible food choices in the café and send all the business to him. The only other explanation I can come up with is that the food and beverage department doesn’t like poker players and wants them to be sad. 

And don’t forget to take your bottle of water with you when you go on dinner break or you’ll be paying real money for something to drink with your meal because water isn’t free unless you’re seated in a game or tournament. 

wsop poker cafe
Beware all who enter here. None who walk through these doors shall leave unchanged. (Image: Chris Wallace)

Floor Personnel (A+)

This is an initial grade that could change at any time, but so far, the floor staff has been great. I’ve yet to run into the grumpy floor guy who’s tired of dealing with questions, gives snappy answers as if customers are bothering him, or makes a bad decision and walks off without discussion or justification. 

I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky or if the changes have done some real good, but all of the usual floor people I like are still here and the bad ones seem to be gone, which is a good sign. Staff everywhere, from dealers to floors to cashiers, have been friendly and competent. 

matt glantz wsop 2021
Here we see a helpful floor person and two dealers advising Matt Glantz on how to play his two pair in Stud Hi-Low (Image: Chris Wallace)

Hallway Vendors (A-) 

There are fewer vendors than in previous years, but the annoyances are completely gone. No one is selling magic bracelets that help your balance and cure everything. It was painful to walk by this obvious con going on all day, every day, in previous years. And the junk electronics vendors with models trying to grab your arm and sell you a $12 phone charger for $65 are also gone, replaced by a T-Mobile booth with quality products. And the T-Mobile folks aren’t shouting “Phone charger!” at me every time I walk by. 

The GG poker folks have a booth and the staff are quite nice. The same is true for the sports card vendor, and even Velo, the nicotine pouch company that’s a big sponsor this year. While I’m not crazy about Velo as a sponsor, they aren’t intrusive, aren’t giving away products in the hallways, and haven’t been any bother. Copag cards has a booth as well, and the usual table from my pals at Kondler and Associates is one of the first you see when you walk in from the back lot. 

I do miss seeing my pals from Blue Shark Optics, and don’t see any podcast or news organizations in the hallways, but a quiet hallway is a good hallway when you are in a hurry to get to your event or just busted out and don’t want to be hassled. 

Belz Sports Card Booth at the World Series of Poker
Running bad at poker? Buy a pack of Topps and try to score a rare rookie card. (Image: Chris Wallace)

Giving Josh Arieh The Nuts When I Have The Second Nuts (F-)

This is really an unacceptable failure on the part of the WSOP. How am I supposed to guess that a strong aggressive player has called my bet on the turn with a gut-shot and rivered the nuts when I have the second nuts? This is the kind of thing that can really ruin an otherwise fun tournament. I’ve tried to talk to floor people about this kind of thing in the past and they seem unwilling to help in any way. This grade could improve quickly if I start getting some better hands. 

husky dog wsop 2021
No one else would listen to my bad beat story, so I told it to this sympathetic husky. (Image: Chris Wallace)

The Weather (A+)

It’s really nice that I can park outside and my car won’t be 170 degrees when I walk out to the parking lot, no matter what time of day it is. I would love for the WSOP to stay in October, but there’s no chance of that happening. And the weather seems to have everyone in good spirits. It’s a fun and friendly feel once you arrive at your table, which helps with the tilt from standing in line for hours. Kudos to whoever at the WSOP ordered these beautiful days. 

strip view from the rio
Another beautiful evening in Vegas. (Image: Chris Wallace)

Looking Forward

I expect that once most of the players who are here for the whole summer have their vaccination status cleared and the cashiers are a little more comfortable with the process, we’ll see shorter wait times. So remember to pack a lunch and show up early, and you should have a good time at the series. Unless you pay off Josh Arieh when he has the nuts. Don’t do that if you can avoid it. 

In summation, cheaper and better food, shorter lines, and less giving Josh Arieh the nuts when I have the second nuts, would earn the WSOP an A grade this year. Let’s hope they’re reading this article and are willing to make those changes. Especially the one about Josh. That one should definitely be the highest priority. 

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