Monday, October 10, 2011

I think I Cannes: Why the WSOPE is better off on the French Riviera

As I've written in this space previously, I've been excited for the WSOP in Cannes for a while now. The WSOP management team further increased my expectations about a month ago when I received an e-mail out of the blue from Ty Stewart representing the rest of the WSOPE team. It was sent to me "as one of the world’s prominent players" (not sure what qualified me for that distinction) with some additional info and an invitation to e-mail him or the others directly with my WSOPE concerns, and later on even offered shuttle service from Nice to Cannes.

For the most part, they were fairly responsive, but there were a couple snags and a few seemingly missed or ignored e-mails. My biggest complaint was that they didn't confirm either of my e-mails with my arrival flight info, so I had no idea whether or not I should expect pickup upon arrival in Nice. Nice has two arrival terminals and even though I sent an e-mail saying I'd be at Terminal 1, I was later told by Mike Watson that the driver who picked him up was waiting for me at Terminal 2. So the end result was me wandering around Terminal 1 for about 45 minutes before giving up and fading the 90 taxi to Cannes. Now they didn't have to offer shuttle service in the first place, but it turns out I'd have been better off if they didn't; if I hadn't been expecting it at least I could have been prepared and made some kind of arrangement for it. By failing to confirm the e-mail, I missed the shuttle and the people getting picked up at the other terminal had to wait around for someone who never showed up. It's all about managing expectations and I think there was some ball-dropping on this one.

One area in which they were pretty solid was pre-registration. Registering for poker tournaments in European casinos is often a lengthy, highly-tilting process. But wiring and pre-registering for the events I'm playing went pretty smoothly; in fact, it was probably better managed than my annual wire to the WSOP in Las Vegas, and I don't have to carry cash/chips all over town. So props to them on that.

And then there is the move to Cannes itself, which seems to be the topic of much discussion. I count myself in the camp that's solidly in favour. Aside from a day in Nice prior to EPT San Remo, it's my first time in the Cote d'Azur, and I like it here. I'm not really the biggest fan of London either, which I've always found expensive, lacking in quality mid-range priced food, and not terribly interesting. And anyone who had played the WSOPE in the past realized how poorly designed the London casinos are for holding big poker tournaments.

So I was pretty surprised by the tone of this article which came across my Twitter feed and was highly critical of the move to Cannes. Among the reasons cited by the author:

"For Europeans, getting to Cannes and finding somewhere to rest your head is far from easy...For Americans, flying direct from Vegas to Cannes is a non-starter, so the big hitters from America will have to find an alternative route."
I'm not European so perhaps I'm missing something, but I had absolutely no trouble finding accommodation. I sent out 6 e-mails on a furnished apartment rental website and got 6 responses. I'm renting a very nice furnished 2-bedroom apartment just a few minutes from the water for just over €100/night. I'm not sure you can get a cardboard box near the Thames River for that. Instead, I'm writing this post while looking at this view:

And yes, I did complain about spending €90 to get from the airport. But the cabs I've taken from Heathrow to anywhere in London were pretty much the same. In fact, I'm a little scared to know what my cab fare in London would have been had I arrived at 5 PM on Friday night like I did in Nice.

"Secondly, poker in France is now regulated and therefore taxed. That means that 4% of every price pool will go straight to the French Government and in all the players will be losing eight to 10% of the prize pool in deductions, and that’s before you’ve tipped anyone."
The 4% surtax is certainly a very legitimate complaint, so I'll concede that point. However...

The WSOPE was such a special event because of the concentration of superstars, now this move will dilate that two-fold, with more locals and less big names making the journey across the pond.
This one makes me shake my head, especially because I looked up the author and found that he's an accomplished player with a long history of tournament results. I expect these words from some media or a fanboy, but not a poker pro. Presumably someone who has been around the block a few times realizes that when we're talking about southern France and the Mediterranean, "more locals and less [sic] big names" is a good thing?! If my starting table in the €1000 NL was any indication, I think the change in the quality of opposition is well worth fading the extra 4%.

"For the past couple of years London has been the centre of the poker world for a month every Autumn, making it worthwhile for players to travel and play a European series of events like we travel to the WSOP."
This just generally reeks of "I used to have majors just come to my doorstep and now I don't" whining, plain and simple, and if you read the whole article that attitude permeates it. Of course if you're a UK-based player you're going to lament the loss of the largest event on this side of the Atlantic, but unfortunately for you guys, the world doesn't revolve around London. So sad.

"Making the World Series of Europe as special as the actual World Series, and the bracelets as special as those dished out in Vegas, has been the biggest problem for the powers that be since the WSOPE’s inception. Just as it was becoming part of the poker establishment Harrah’s have made this move to France."

I'm sorry, but really, this was "the biggest problem"? Other than media people looking for storylines, and a few prop bettors, I don't really think the majority of poker players care very much about how "special" WSOPE bracelets are. I'm sure that tournament organizers love to have big names, but only inasmuch as big names draw attention and casual players and increase their bottom line. I wonder how they've done? Through two comparable events:

2010 in London:

Event 1: £2,650 Six Handed No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 244, Total Prize Pool: £610,000
Event 3: £1,075 No Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 582, Total Prize Pool: £582,000
2011 in Cannes:

Event 1: €2,680 Six Handed No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 360, Total Prize Pool: €753,600
Event 2: €1,090 No-Limit Hold'em
Entrants: 771, Total Prize Pool: €740,160

Registration for Event 3, the €5,000 PLO, is still open as of this writing. The equivalent event drew 120 players for a £600,000 prize pool last year in London. According to PokerNews, there are currently 164 registered with two hours left in late registration.

And now remember that these results are occurring in what is considered by pretty much everyone to be a disastrous year for the poker economy and it seems like a slam dunk. While I admit to some personal bias against London, the numbers make it pretty clear that Ty Stewart and the WSOPE gang have done the right thing in moving here. Cannes is less expensive (though still plenty expensive), prettier, boasts a superior climate, has great food for all budgets, and there's way more value in the tournament itself. Easy win, n'est-ce pas?


  1. To follow up on your comment of "unfortunately for you guys, the world doesn't revolve around London. So sad", check out what Michael Davis wrote at

    He writes:
    "Americans will never completely understand how crap it is, most of the time, to be English. We might have cute accents and be good at cocktail parties. But we are mostly losers."

  2. Not sure how to edit my post, but it's Michael Davies, not Davis.

  3. If Helmuth wins in the WSOPE it truly will be "Canned Ham".

    Aside from the orgy of puns poker writers will be dealing with the site change, better weather, better food (by FAR ...), more players, bigger prize funds, easy accommodation (at this time of the year ...), more space to play, serious backing from a casino group (as opposed to the typical London casino "tolerance of the poker tournament infestation" ...), and easier site access ... Cannes is a winner concept.

    Sure London "lost the WSOPE" ... see the above comment re "typical London Casino tolerance of the poker tournament infestation" ...

    Cannes should rock.

  4. Yo Terrence--There's a 15-euro shuttle to Cannes at the Nice airport. Or you can walk 100 yards out of Terminal 1 to the Promenade des Anglais and take a 1-euro bus. Just in case you score a bagel at the series and are feeling frugal on your way back to the airport!

  5. I can't argue with anything in the post above except for your opinion that London is relatively uninteresting. London is many things, but boring is not one of them. Of course, arguing about opinions is usually a pointless exercise, so I should stop right here.