Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Ty Stewart noticed something bizarre as he paced the floor of the Amazon Room at the Rio during one of the final days of the World Series of Poker Main Event last summer.
Despite hundreds of players who were assured of making money and still alive to win poker’s world championship, the place was completely silent.
“A poker room is not a church,” said Stewart, vice president of the WSOP. “You can talk in a poker room. We just think we need to set the tone to bring some of the fun back to tournament poker.”
Officials have decided to repeal two rules that were responsible for the toned-down mood heading into this summer’s series, which gets under way with the first of 61 bracelet events May 27 at the Rio.
Tournament directors will now permit players to discuss their cards, a no-no for the past five years, as long as they hold the final action in a hand. Players are also free to celebrate a hand — reasonably, at the discretion of directors — without the risk of a penalty.
Stewart said it was a reaction to the WSOP “taking it too far” in the past.
“We tightened poker up so much at the table that players were afraid to use verbal strategy to out-maneuver their opponents,” said Tournament Director Jack Effel, “which has always been an integral part of poker in every single poker game dating back to the Wild West. I think it takes poker back to its fundamental place and intent when it comes to strategy.”
The new guidelines were two of many changes the WSOP announced on its annual tournament preview conference call Tuesday morning. The WSOP enters its 43rd year this summer, but each series feels different from the last because of the staff’s constant tweaks.
Among the most significant changes this summer is an expanded tournament area to accommodate more players. Combined with the Rio’s poker room, the WSOP will have nearly 500 tables at its disposal for tournament play.
As with every year, the WSOP will also unveil a handful of new tournaments. Stewart said the WSOP works with the Players Advisory Council to explore new tournament poker variations every year.
“We call it a Jenga puzzle putting together that schedule,” Stewart said, “but hopefully it gets better each year.”
Although the $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop has understandably garnered the most attention, the WSOP has announced several other more affordable new events.
It will hold an ante-only no-limit hold’em tournament for the first time ever on June 27. The buy-in is $1,500 for the event, which features no blinds. The WSOP first experimented with the idea at one of its circuit events.
A $2,500 buy-in four-handed no-limit hold’em tournament is on the docket for June 14. The action-inducing game became popular online, inspiring the WSOP to incorporate it into the schedule.
Also, the WSOP will debut what it calls a “mix-max” no-limit hold’em tournament for a $5,000 buy-in May 31. The tournament features nine players per table the first day, six players per table the second day and goes down to a bracket-style heads-up format when only 32 remain.
The WSOP held a mix-max event at its European series last year and Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi walked away with $448,861 as champion.
“I was trying to be very creative,” Mizrachi told ESPN.com after winning the event. “I did some things that people usually don’t see, including some really crazy stuff.”
That’s the appeal of introducing new tournaments. With no established approach, players are forced to use more imagination.
The demand is always high for new variations, according to Effel, who says the challenge comes in determining what’s feasible.
“It’s basically talking to the players, looking at what others are doing and listening to what the players want,” Effel said.
Talking and listening look like major themes at the 2012 WSOP. A handful of notable professionals lobbied the WSOP to become more lenient with table talk over the past few years.
They were happy to hear the news Tuesday.
“Nice to see that when the masses speak, the people at the WSOP listen,” tweeted Daniel Negreanu, a four-time WSOP bracelet winner.
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.