The 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event final table (seen virtually live on ESPN and ESPN 2) was an absolute clinic. Viewers from around the globe were able to tune in (or in many cases, tune-in and tune-out at their leisure) and watch experts practice their craft.
The 2014 WSOP Main Event final table was poker at its highest level.
One of the key elements of the final table had a lot to do with the tournament structure (so hat tip to the WSOP) as it was played with fairly deep stacks, allowing for “poker” to be played, and not simply a push/fold contest.
Truth be told, the final table had a bit of everything: Emotional ups and downs, bluffs, and of course a sick beat here and there. But the one constant throughout was the near flawless poker that was played.
The live feed
Before I get into the actual play, let me first touch upon another terrific decision by the WSOP and ESPN: The decision to use a live stream for the final table instead of the edited down content viewers may have come to expect over the years – the live stream was first used at the Main Event final table last year.
Yes, the live stream can be incredibly boring for casual fans of the game, and extremely long, but then again so is watching a golf tournament (even with all the cutaways to other groups still on the course) and golf is pretty highly rated. The reason for this, and the reason I feel a 6+ hour live stream of a poker tournament could work, is it allows people to come and go at their leisure without fear of missing too much.
It allows people to watch a few hands and then go prepare dinner, or run to the store. Yes, you might miss an elimination, but chances are you’ll only miss a few relatively inconsequential hands if you leave for twenty to thirty minutes.
The live stream is the future of poker broadcasting, but to really reach its potential we may need to see a dedicated poker channel created (sort of like the Golf Channel), where the first several hours could be shown before the final 2-4 hours air on a major network.
Mark Newhouse’s inevitable 9th place exit
When you tweet at the start of a 6,800 player that the only position you don’t want to finish in is 9th, and then manage to make the final nine, you have pretty much locked up a 9th place finish for yourself, and this is precisely what Mark Newhouse did.
In 2013, Newhouse made the November Nine and finished in 9th place. In 2014, he once again made the November Nine (this time in a better chip position and seemingly poised for a deep run) and once again finished in 9th place after an ill-timed bluff.
Newhouse’s back-to-back final tables were the stuff of legend, but when he flamed out in 9th place for the second straight year it was one of those moments where even the most causal viewer was thinking, “What are the odds of that happening?”
As heartbreaking as it was for Newhouse and his supporters, it created a mainstream, “Buzzfeedish” headline, which is great for poker.
A strong, talented lineup
In past years the final nine of the WSOP Main Event generally included at least one amateur whose presence is, shall we say, owed in great part to luck (I won’t name names). Or, we have witnessed a strong player who is caught up in the moment (for whatever reason) and doesn’t make the decisions we expect – either playing scared or going bananas and donking off all their chips.
In 2014 we had none of that.
The final nine balanced aggression with caution (Newhouse was as cautious as Newhouse gets), and except for one or two instances, rarely made a consensus “bad” play or bad decision.
The level of play was a testament to the nine players at the final table, but also to the skill level of the greater poker world, where the ceiling for great play has risen, but even more so, so has the floor.
During the early years of the Poker Boom it was possible for a semi-casual player to make some noise, or even win the WSOP Main Event. The reason for this was the best of the best the game had to offer played good but not perfect poker. Nowadays the best of the best (which is a far larger base than in years past as well) is near-unexploitable, and capable of decimating lesser players.
A donk never had a chance to win the WSOP, but up until recently a random break-even player in $10 Sit & Go’s could. This is no longer the case.
The chances of a player of the caliber of Robert Varkonyi or a Jerry Yang winning the WSOP Main Event are now nonexistent in my opinion, and the chances they can even survive to the final table are incredibly slim.
This is good for the quality of play, but perhaps bad for poker, as it dissuades casual viewers from thinking they have a chance of being the next WSOP Champion.
Martin Jacobson: Most skilled WSOP Champion
As skillful as the game is, it’s a very rare occurrence that the World Series of Poker Main Event is won by one of the most talented players in the game. The days of the WSOP Main Event crowning the “World Champeen” are long gone, but this is precisely what happened in 2014.
From short-stack, to chip-leader, to champion, Jacobson was able to demonstrate all of the skills of a professional tournament player. Whether it was picking the right spots to shove and steal the blinds while waiting for a double-up, or his ability to switch gears and start punishing his opponents when he amassed chips, Jacobson played about as flawless as you can in a 15-hour poker session.
His navigation of the final table was amazing to watch for poker purists, and even the ultracompetitive world of high stakes poker players (who can seemingly find fault in anyone and anything related to poker) had to, in some cases begrudgingly, pay their respects to Jacobson’s victory.
Martin Jacobson is truly one of the game’s most skilled No limit Holdem tournament practitioners.