H.O.R.S.E. Returns

After a lot of discussion and debate -- about two days' worth, by my count -- Harrah's has decided to run satellites at the Rio All-Suite Hotel for the just-announced $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event at the 2006 World Series of Poker.

The move, confirmed by Jeffrey Pollack, Harrah's VP of sports and entertainment marketing, came down to how exclusive Harrah's wanted to keep the mega-buy-in tournament vs. having a reasonable field compete for the new bracelet.

Initially, Harrah's embraced the concept of a straight buy-in for the big-money event that many believe measures the best all-around poker player because the field would be heavy on big names.

However, guessing the size of that field -- what if Harrah's had just 35 players show up? -- became an issue, and besides, Harrah's knows that online sites will set up satellites for the event.

The complete plan for the satellites -- and presumably, supersatellites -- has not been decided, Pollack said.

The cost of those play-in tournaments, however, could be as daunting as the buy-in itself. I mean, you're talking $5,000 for a one-table satellite buy-in, which is already half the buy-in of the main event, and only one person wins a seat. Even a supersatellite of, say, 50 players, would still cost $1,000, which is the cost of a one-table satellite for the main event, but here it would be multi-table, and only one person at the five tables would get in.

Remote patrol: The $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event appears to be a good news/bad news situation for ESPN and its coverage of the World Series. Good, because big money attracts big names, and that's a sure-fire combination for attracting viewers. Bad, though, because it's a heavy limit poker tournament in a no-limit broadcast world.

"We haven't decided yet,'' ESPN spokeswoman Keri Potts said. "We'll likely have a crew to cover it, but that doesn't mean it will be an episode.''

ESPN's overall plans for showing the 2006 WSOP have not been determined yet. But one thing that apparently has been decided is that ESPN will show fewer poker episodes, even as the WSOP grows.

Last year, the cable channel ran 18 weeks' worth of telecasts, 32 episodes in all, from mid-July through Nov. 15, from WSOP Circuit events to the final hand of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em championship event. Of the 32 shows, 12 were from the main event, which was two episodes more than in 2004 and five more than 2003.

"The main event is really the crown jewel in the series, so it will likely mean less circuit and/or satellite coverage,'' Potts said. "We'll be closer to a 20-plus episode total. Honestly, with ratings, we feel through the whole ebb and flow of its phenomenon, poker is a really solid ratings performer for us. Thirty-two episodes was a long time and it ran into programming like Major League Baseball playoffs, giving some viewers a tough choice. Nothing unusual. We review and revise accordingly.''

This year, ESPN faces a main event that could attract 8,000-plus players. Harrah's has scheduled four Day 1s -- one more than last year -- and two Day 2s, stretching the championship event to two full weeks.

"Episode allotment has not been determined yet,'' Potts said. "While we will likely have a more condensed poker presentation overall, we can't say how many will be from the main event. It also depends on what happens with play.''

Big-game hunting: The following might look like one of my mailbag columns, but it isn't. Not exactly.

I get so many questions about the "big game'' at the Bellagio -- the one with Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, Chau Giang, Jennifer Harman and others -- that I thought it would be beneficial to take three e-mails on the topic and send them to Greenstein. And naturally, Greenstein, author of "Ace on the River,'' a terrific book born out of playing in these types of games, supplied answers and insight.

From Tony in California: "I always hear references to the 'big game' played at the Bellagio in private. It is allegedly the largest-stakes game in the world. People always say that the limits are $4,000-$8,000. Does this mean that the game is no-limit with $4,000-$8,000 blinds, or is it a limit game where you can only bet or raise in increments of $4,000 or $8,000? The games are mixed, but who decides what the game is and how long they will play that particular game? Could you give us a glimpse into this high-stakes game?''

Barry Greenstein: "The blinds in the no-limit and pot-limit games are $1,000 and $2,000. The usual list is at the bottom of the first page of my Web site. We sometimes change the mix to accommodate desirable opponents. Otherwise, we try to play all of the games in the mix.''

Here is the list from barrygreenstein.com:

No-limit and pot-limit with $100,000 cap (the cap is the maximum amount any player can lose on each hand):

No-limit deuce-to-seven single draw
No-limit hold'em
Pot-limit Omaha
No-limit ace-to-five single draw

$4,000-$8,000 limit games:

Omaha eight-or-better
Seven stud high
Seven stud eight-or-better
Deuce-to-seven triple draw
Limit hold'em
and occasionally Razz

From Lance Leesman: "After reading your interview with Phil Ivey, I became curious of this 'biggest cash game.' With blinds so high, you would have to have several hundred-thousand dollars to even buy in. My question is, how do they get that money in the casino? I know you can play out of the cage. What happens if you lose? I doubt many casinos will accept a personal check for a million dollars. Also, many of these players do not look like 'fighters,' so I find it hard to believe they would feel comfortable carrying all that cash on them.''

Barry Greenstein: "Players keep money, in the form of chips, in their safety deposit boxes at the Bellagio. When a player has been doing well, he may have over $5 million in his box. When a player is on a bad streak, he might empty out his box and have to borrow. Loans are sometimes paid back by check or carried for a while if it is by a player with a good track record and known assets. When we travel, some of the players get credit or check-cashing privileges at the other casino, and may lend out to reliable players, with pay expected when we get back to Vegas. Unreliable players usually carry Bellagio chips with them on the road.''

From Brad in Virginia: "Can you shed some light on the economics of the 'big game'? How can a zero-sum game sustain itself with the same players over time? Are casinos pumping money into the game to get them to play, or are there rich bankers that are willing to drop a couple million to play with the best? Over time there must be some 'losers' in the game, so how do they keep playing?''

Barry Greenstein: "Players make money in smaller-stakes games or tournaments or in business ventures and bring it to the 'big game.' The public and the media often are misguided about who makes money actually playing in the big game.

"I often hear about players who supposedly make their living in the high-limit cash games. How can anyone be so opinionated, especially if they don't play in the games on a regular basis? Often I read names of people who aren't big cash winners or who don't even play in the game. Also, I have often read that we waste a lot of time sitting with each other where the edge is too small to be worth it. Rarely is this the case in any poker game. There are invariably going to be some players who have a worthwhile advantage against their opponents and others who don't. In our game it is often the person who manages himself better than the others, as I detail in my book.

"Obviously, I would claim that I am one of the few who makes his living off the big game, but I also have made bad management decisions and at times played selections of games that left me without a significant edge over a particular set of opponents.

"Also, the rake is small relative to the stakes, so it is as close to zero-sum as any casino-held poker game can be.''

Steve Rosenbloom's book "The Best Hand I Ever Played" is available at bookstores everywhere. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, he is also author of a syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune. To leave Steve some feedback or ask him a question for his column, check out his mailbag.