An orbit around the poker table with WSOP Tourament Director Jack Effel

6 November 2008

Jack Effel is a veteran of the World Series of Poker and the poker scene in general. The 32-year-old Texas native broke into the business in 1997 as a dealer and since that time has risen to become the tournament director of the WSOP.

But like everyone else involved with the WSOP, this year's Main Event has been different. In conjunction with Harrah's, the WSOP made the decision earlier this year to delay the playing of the 2008 final table nearly four months. So when the final table was decided on July 15, everybody went home. This Sunday, everybody will return to Las Vegas and after 117 days the final table action will resume.

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WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel shares a laugh during the Main Event in July. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City)

The thinking was that by pausing the tournament, ESPN could build up its coverage this fall with viewers not knowing the eventual winner. In addition, the hope was that the final nine players – who have been dubbed the November Nine – would gain more exposure, more endorsements and, thus, the Main Event itself would receive more attention in the mainstream media.

Has the plan worked? Well, that's one of the questions Casino City asked Effel when he took time to step away from all the preparations and speak with us last week.

Casino City: What have the preparations been like for you and your staff the last three-plus months?

Jack Effel: It's been pretty crazy around here but that's OK. I always tell people that if we were just running a poker tournament, it'd be no problem, because the tournament part is the easy part. It's everything else around it that makes it so much work. It's building the event, working with our corporate colleagues, working with ESPN. It's trying to get all of the departments on the same page. It's making arrangements for all of the players and their family and friends. This thing is going to be a spectacle. And that's what we want. It's going to be great.

Casino City: What went into the decision to use the Penn & Teller Theater as the venue for the final table?

Jack Effel: It was actually the idea of Gerry Tuthill, the VP of Operations and Casino Manager of the Rio. There were a couple of locations considered. It came down to the Penn & Teller, the Chippendales Theater and the Masquerade Showroom. We just felt that the Penn & Teller was the best fit for accommodating as many spectators as we could, having a stage large enough for the final table, the media and all of that. It just made sense. Once they made the decision, we started our preparations and it just all came together. It was like "Wow!" I was standing up on the stage the other day when we were doing a walk-through and I was in awe. It's a great stage for a poker tournament. It felt like Madison Square Garden out there; except just a little bit smaller. (Laughs).

Casino City: What's the set up going to be like inside the theater?

Jack Effel: Here's the way it's going to work. We're going to have the stage set up with the ESPN Final Table. We'll have an area for the players' friends and families. We're going to have the No Limit Lounge, just like you've seen in the past. We're going to have a section for the VIP and celebrity poker players to hang out. Guys like Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth will be there hanging out, eating, drinking and having a good time watching the final table. And then out in the audience we'll have a section for VIP casino guests from Harrah's. And then we'll have a section called Kings Row and that will be all of the media lined up. And then we'll have open seating in the bottom floor and on the mezzanine level for the spectators. We'll have those large plasma screens that you'd see at a rock concert up there and audio piped to people out in the audience. It's general admission, it's open to the public and we're expecting a full house, no pun intended. I wouldn't surprised if we see 2,000 or 3,000 spectators show up for this thing.

Casino City: In your mind, has the decision to delay the final table accomplished everything that the WSOP and Harrah's had hoped it would?

Jack Effel: I don't see every side of it. I'm the guy that runs the tournament. I don't know what's happened on the publicity side. But I do know that some of the final nine guys have gotten some exposure and notoriety. People are familiar with them and they know who they are and I definitely think there's been an emotional connection with the players.

Casino City: But do you think the delay has given the final table more exposure?

Jack Effel: I know in the poker community that everyone is pretty up on what's going on. Everybody wants to know what's going to happen with Dennis Phillips. Is Kelly Kim going to come back from the short stack? Is Chino Rheem the California pro going to take all the chips? Is Ivan Demidov going to use that momentum from his final table appearance at WSOP Europe and be the terminator? There are plenty of story lines and we hear about them a lot. Now, you've got to remember. I'm around poker every day, so I'm obviously going to hear more about that than people not involved with poker. But I do know the TV ratings are up and the people are watching, so that's a good thing.

I tell you what: I wish I was one of those guys. These guys are going to go down as some of the most famous poker players in history and not one of them have the accomplishments of other guys, but this one accomplishment is going to make them well known. They're all great poker players in their own right. They may not be great poker players to the general world, but in their own right and own circles they are great players so they should be very proud of their accomplishments.

Casino City: Where will you watch the final table coverage on Tuesday night?

Jack Effel: That's a good question. I'm thinking that by then I'm going to be pretty tired so I'm looking forward to sitting down and watching it with my wife and my daughter.


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