LAS VEGAS (AP) — The World Series of Poker is going back to crowning its main event champion in July.
ESPN is adding live coverage for the entire Texas Hold 'em main event starting with this year's edition, the series said on Monday. That change ends the recent tradition of having a months-long break between the time when the final nine-player table is set in July and when the winner is determined.
"...We look forward to delivering to our faithful audience wall-to-wall action from the outset for the very first time," Ty Stewart, the series' executive director, said in a statement.
For about a decade, the final table of the main event had been delayed to November to allow tape-delayed, reality TV-style coverage of the tournament to run before the competition's finale aired live.
The event draws thousands of poker fans from around the world to Sin City each year to compete for millions of dollars in prize money. This year, the main event kicks off July 8. The final nine players will take a two-day break and return to play July 20.
Under the deal with ESPN, the network will carry an estimated 40 hours of almost-live coverage as regulations require a 30-minute delay. It will also air more than 100 hours of original packaged show every year.
The series also announced that Poker Central has acquired the global television and digital media rights to the annual summer event. Any coverage not aired by ESPN will be streamed exclusively through Poker Central's digital channels.
Seth Palansky, the tournament's spokesman, said the series used to be taped and later aired because it takes about 70 hours to reach a winner and has some moments of dullness. But ESPN's commitment to carry additional coverage led to the change in format.
"We used to cover it like The Bachelor," he said. "They go and do all the dating, weaved in backstories and personalities, and essentially do their grand finale live. But where we are today in the world, it's kind of hard to keep that information from leaking out."
Last year, Qui Nguyen, a Vietnam native who lives in Las Vegas, won the $8 million event prize after he bested more than 6,700 competitors. Nguyen also received a bracelet made from 427 grams of white and yellow gold and more than 2,000 diamonds and rubies totaling more than 44 carats. The centerpiece opens like a locket to house the hole cards from the winning hand.
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