Paradise Live was full of activity over the weekend, with a half-dozen security guards, a handful of camera operators, a couple of poker dealers, countless TV technical crew, a station of reporters writing for online and updating via social media, local and national poker directors, all focused on the action taking place under a maze of wiring, sound equipment and big white spotlights.
This, for a tournament that drew only six entrants.
But that's OK, folks. It's really all about TV.
Local favorite Noah Schwartz took down $585,000 and the WPT Alpha8 title Sunday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, prevailing over five opponents including Daniel Colman and Jason Mercier, two A-listers in the poker world.
Now, a tournament with only six players in some cases could be cause for panic -- especially if the poker room has put up some kind of guarantee -- but in this case, everything should be all right. That's because, remember, the World Poker Tour is a TV production company first. And a table of recognizable names actually is one of the best things they can hope for. (The show will air on Fox Sports 1 sometime in late summer.)
WPT President Adam Pliska said, sure, he'd love to have numbers similar to the record 55 at the Bellagio in December for this series of $100K buy-in events, but it might not be the disaster you'd expect.
"What we’ve found about Alpha8 is that this is a very finite universe, you'll get these ups and downs," he said by phone on Monday, referencing the Bellagio.
"What we really end up focusing on is a TV show," he said. "At the WPT regular events now, you might recognize one or two at the final table. Here, everyone playing you either know or they're a compelling story because they're in a $100,000 buy-in tournament."
Pliska also says he's surprised the Alpha8 tournaments have so much interaction among the players.
"We thought it’d be very intense at the table, with so much more on the line." he says. "What we’ve found is just the opposite. It’s as if the captains of the industry are getting together and there’s a respect they show for each other."
The Seminole Hard Rock, which took a $2.5 million hit last year when not enough players entered to accrue a $10 million prize money guarantee, also doesn't get beaten up too badly on this one. Card rooms pull a little bit of money from each entry for operational costs and salaries, so they might have come up short there, but Pliska and Hard Rock officials note the event builds a casino's reputation.
"Absolutely, the Seminole Hard Rock is one of the premier stops," Pliska said. "The players love being down there and it’s a place with weather and amenities in our favor. Plus, Florida has been a catalyst for the poker market at a time when it really needed it."
My take is these tournaments can sometimes falter, like this one, because of momentum. A few players reportedly were on the edge of entering, but with a field so small, it made less business sense. If I'm thinking about sitting into a table of six, and two of the players are Colman and Mercier, I'm at the very best the No. 3 guy, going for $585,000. But in a field of 20, I'll have less interaction with the top players and there's a lot more money on the table. The more players that jump in, the more I'd want to.
Schwartz got into the event by playing in the Seminole Hard Rock's Step III satellite on Friday. He paid the $10,300 to walk right into Step III, while others came from as far back as entering and advancing for Step I (only $130). The Friday tournament had 23 players.
Schwartz, wearing a shirt on Sunday that said "May the Schwartz be with you," is the first person to win both an Alpha8 and a regular WPT tournment.
More info at WorldPokerTour.com.