Effel adds flair to flourishing tournament

1 February 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The World Series of Poker has allowed Jack Effel to live out a lifelong ambition.

Growing up in Dallas, Effel wanted to become an announcer or broadcaster. As a teenager, he would carry around a tape recorder, play his favorite songs and add commentary.

"I always said I was going get into radio or television," Effel said.

Instead, Effel got into poker.

As tournament director of the World Series of Poker, it's Effel's responsibility to give the audience and players running commentary as to what's happening at an event's final table. At the Main Event, that audience is more than 1,200 poker fans jammed into the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater with players competing for millions of dollars.

Oftentimes, like at last year's final table, Effel is behind the microphone for almost 14 hours.

"The final table is the culmination, the world championship," Effel said. "I want to communicate that experience to viewers in the way portrayed when it is broadcast on ESPN."

As tournament director, Effel's duties reach far beyond just calling play-by-play.

The year-round job covers setting the schedule for the 57-event, seven-week tournament at the Rio. Effel also oversees format structure for each event, setting up satellite games or qualifiers, timing for competition, blinds structure, and rules. He is also involved with hiring some 1,100 employees, including dealers and game supervisors, who help stage the tournament.

Effel, 34, has played poker since he was a teenager. When he turned 21, he moved to Bossier City, La., to work in the poker room at the Horseshoe casino. He transferred to the Horseshoe casino in Tunica, Miss., for a similar position, but graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2004 with the idea of going into real estate and business.

But at the same time, Harrah's Entertainment acquired both the Horseshoe Casinos and World Series of Poker in separate deals. Effel was given the opportunity to increase his role as the tournament's circuit event director.

He became the World Series of Poker's tournament director in 2007 and the role is expected to increase this year following the departure of commissioner Jeffrey Pollack in November.

Effel has also undertaken the task of expanding the World Series of Poker's brand overseas beyond the 2-year-old World Series of Poker Europe.

How will the tournament change without a commissioner?

Jeffrey was a great liaison between the players and the business. He was great at being able to take ideas and criticism and feedback and make improvements in the tournament. I'll continue to run the tournaments like I've always done, but you will see me have more involvement with the players.

What will be different at this year's World Series of Poker?

I definitely see us getting bigger. There hasn't been a substantial increase in the number of events offered, but we continue to increase the number of players every year. The goal is to provide an experience for the players and to create a schedule that has something for everybody. We will have six $1,000 buy-in bracelet events. We have a nice offering of no-limit events.

Are there any new championship events?

We're opening with the $50,000 buy-in Player's Championship, which is an eight-game format. This is being done at various tournaments around the country and it determines who is the best all-around player. The event is really an art form in itself.

Do you have a philosophy or format in announcing the final tables?

It started out as just letting people know what's going on. I started watching guys like Mike Sexton (color commentator on the World Poker Tour broadcasts), who is as good as it gets announcing a poker hand. I started to play around with it and make it something my own.

When it comes to the World Series of Poker's Main Event final table, I want to keep the audience engaged and involved and make it an experience. We have four months' buildup to that final table so I get to know the nine players and their personalities.

A lot of what I do is call the hand and set up the action for Lon (McEachern) and (Norm) Chad (ESPN's tournament announcers).

How challenging is it with a different group of nine Main Event final table players every year?

I always do some research to get to know the nine players, a little bit of their history, their bios and how they got there. You have new personalities every year. It's a continuation of the World Series of Poker story.

Have you ever been star-struck by the celebrities that play in World Series of Poker?

I've gotten used to the celebrities. It's pretty cool to see people like Jason Alexander and Shannon Elizabeth come in and play poker. They just want to be like everyone else. Where else can you compete against a professional poker player, an average Joe and a world-class celebrity at the same time and the same table?

Do you play poker?

I don't really play much poker anymore just because I don't have the time. Every poker player out there will tell you that if you want to be good, you have to put in the hours.


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