So Let’s Talk Poker TV

by , Nov 12, 2008 | 12:36 pm

I’m curious what y’all thought about the big-hype show last night. I enjoyed the hands we did see — because really, this final table probably featured some of the best pure poker of any main event sit-n-go I’ve seen since I started following poker five years ago. Not sure how well that came across.

The Craig Marquis bustout hand really was incredible … that woulda been a good time for ESPN to show the audience, not just the players … because really, the whole audience was on pins-and-needles. Even we cynical media types temporarily forgot about our jobs and became true fanboys, just waiting for that devestating river card. (To some extent, poker fans are a little bit like NASCAR viewers, not wanting to see but kinda sorta waiting for an amazing crash.)

Overall, I thought ESPN did a better job covering the whole of the World Series better than any year prior. But the final table was a little disappointing … I give it a B-. But hey, I’m always very forgiving the first go-round … you learn so much from doing something once. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next year.

A few more random thoughts about the whole experience:

  • Penn & Teller Theater was an awesome venue. Woulda been a better experience, however, had the whole set-up been rotated 90 degrees, so the MBL Lounge wasn’t blocking so much of the view.
  • ESPN seemed to have difficult lighting the crowd for such shots. I will give them my secret for free: set your cameras to “Auto”.
  • Two hours was not long enough for the show. Had they made it three or four hours — or fuck, the whole shebang on pay-per-view — it woulda been more interesting and more of an event. The promotion woulda been easier, too, because it woulda stood out as something different … but two hours? That’s just an NBA game. What’s special about that?
  • The heads-up was way over-edited. ESPN reduced it pretty much to the key hands, but these hands lost all their context because you didn’t see at least a few folds on bets after the flop (or even more importantly, on the turn) that gave the final heads-up some ebb and flow. For example, it really looked for a while like Ivan Demidov was shifting the momentum … but little did we know that Peter Eastgate was still in control.
  • Where were the telling, colorful back stories? Not only had Demidov and Eastgate become friends during the main event … they also played a lot together on the EPT in the interim, and from what I understand really got to know each other’s play. This shoulda been a two or three-minute side story, as opposed to a two sentence explanation from Norman Chad.
  • A reality-show lead-up might have worked nicely — akin to that Ultimate Fighter show that always culminates in a real match-up.
  • The structure for the Obama infomercial also could really work well for poker … with some pre-recorded profile stuff of WSOPeople, flash to some recording of the action in the Amazon room, and then close with something very close to live. Naturally a slight delay to prevent cheating is more acceptable in poker than it is in politics.
  • Another possible improvement would be to flip-flop the delay … what I mean is had the final table been delayed just two weeks, as opposed to four months … and the winner was crowned/shown then … well that might serve as good promotion for the season, as people tune in to see how these guys actually got there. Using one episode to promote 20 would probably work better than using 20 episodes to promote one.
  • I really liked the new percentages they added — showing what percent of all the chips in play each player had. Really made Dennis Phillips’ falter and short stack more visible for what it really was.

The question I walk away from all this with really is: How many more years til we see truly live (with a slight delay, of course) tournament action? Golf manages to take a four-day event with almost no actual action — lots of walking and staring — and turn it into coverage that people tune into week after week. Though the logistics aren’t yet in place, there’s theoretically not much reason this shouldn’t be something worth working towards in the medium future.

25 Comments to “So Let’s Talk Poker TV”

  1. California Jen

    I was very disappointed that they didn’t even give Kelly Kim the courtesy of showing his bust-out hand. He survived to finish in 8th place, and I thought he deserved a few more minutes, especially to show that hand that knocked him out.

    And I was stunned at the audience shots, too. So blurry… With all of that ESPN equipment, they couldn’t do better?

    I also agree that the heads-up match deserved much more attention – at least 1/2 hour. They could’ve easily made this into a 3-hour program to give proper perspective on the longest WSOP main event final table in its history.

  2. Kevin Mathers

    Because with golf, you have a reasonable explanation as to when a tournament ends. For poker to have a live final table, the only reasonable way to do it is like they used to on FSN (4 hour coverage, crapshoot structure, etc). Do you want the WSOP ME for $9m+ determined that way? Also, the two-hour block means you can run this as many times as you need. Poker on ESPN has always been great filler programming. I’m surprised that they didn’t show the first hand of heads-up play with the full house on the board (Ivan mentioned that he had the case K on 2+2). The forums are also abuzz on the wanting of a PPV like there was in previous years. ESPN showed 24 hands of the 274 that made up the final table this year. I may eventually post something about the various suggestions if I get around to it, but live poker will never be on ESPN or its networks in the format we see it today.

  3. Kevin Mathers

    Imagine when ESPN shows the WSOPE main event (19 hours of play, over 8 of it headsup). I’d assume the fuzziness wasn’t helped because of the rapid editing process needed. Why would you waste time on KK’s last hand. He had over 50% of his chips in the BB and it’s basically checked down. Why would we see that, when they’ve shown numerous players leaving the table right after coming back from a break? At least he got two hands, and a shot of his girlfriend, the crowd cheering him on, and the fans in attendance.

  4. DanM

    I think 4 hours of coverage would be the way to go. Granted, money really determines that … but it’s not like we won’t see continued convergence between the internet and TV. And golf coverage is usually 4 hours … even though the play they are covering happens over something closer to 12 hours.

    You bring up some good obstacles, Kevin … but that doesn’t mean they can’t be dealt with.

  5. DanM

    ***Why would you waste time on KK’s last hand. He had over 50% of his chips in the BB and it’s basically checked down.***

    Because THAT’s poker!!! Because seeing a guy who barely made it to the final table, with tons of fans in the audience waiting for a “double-up or go home” sitch, successfully double up but not quite able to overcome the escalating blind structure …?

    That’s a storyline based on a real person. (A person they’ve been trying to get us to highlight for four months mind you.) In highlighting that hand, they give a respectful exit to a great player … they get to talk about what it means to be a pro that you don’t usually see on TV … and they could talk about the pace of escalating blinds, and how that affects play.

    Shit, mix in a third analyst with a higher level of skill talk, and you could even bring up the concept of M, which would better explain why people are pushing later in the tourney with weaker holdings … and what a bind it can put them in. (Thinking of Dennis Phillips’ raise with A-8, only to have to fold to Demidov’s all-in with A-4.)

    Regardless, by showing that one hand in 30 seconds to a minute, they’d be able to address three or four concepts and give a richer understanding of things that would follow.

    It’s the same reason why showing the occasional foldy hand is good — and something ESPN did quite well with the rest of their WSOP coverage this year.

    Frankly, i wouldn’t be surprised if this was just a goof based on a missed hand because of tape transfers, which the ESPN camera people were doing fast and furiously.

  6. Kevin Mathers

    Show me an instance where a 3-way hand that’s checked down and a player was eliminated. If KK won the hand, maybe you’d see that. They did show the other two hands Kelly Kim was involved in, and he was also portrayed way better than Darus Suharto. All you saw of him was him repeatedly donking off his chips. One thing I’ve seen repeatedly from Norman was his repeated mention on how many BB’s a player has, and actually discussing some sort of strategy.

    Also in a non-major golf tournament, you’re only seeing those on the leaderboard in the last half of their resepective round.

  7. Ed

    Have yet to see it. Not sure there is much need after reading all the posts and comments on here. 🙂

  8. DanM

    Darus Suharto was clearly the worst player at the table, the most unprepared, and the most uneasy going in. He probably woulda benefited from some of that coaching I poo-pooed a month or two ago.

    I’m not faulting Norman Chad at all — I think he does a great job. But having a third in there to discuss occasionally some higher-level strategy (in a way that doesn’t lose the casual viewer) would do well. Seeing them check down a hand would also provide an opportunity to explain why people would check down (surely someone had a raising hand, right?) … because by working collectively, they all guarantee themselves a $300k jump in the money. Stuff like that.

  9. DanM

    PS Kevin, I’m not at all contending that I have all the answers for how to properly broadcast poker … I’m just looking at what I witnessed live and on TV, trying to factor in some real ratings and logistical issues, in a discussion that perhaps might stumble on some very doable improvements from v 1.0 to v 2.0 of the final-final table.

    But to get there, you (read: the WSOP and ESPN) should probably have a vision of what you think you might be doing for v 8.0.

  10. Kevin Mathers

    Darus mentioned he had coaching from Eric Lynch Poker XFactor. I believe the Roy Winston (?) & company coaching appeared to hurt him early on. At least he was able to buckle down after dropping to ~5m to get back into contention and get a top 3 finish.

    I don’t have all the answers either, and yes it would’ve been nice to see KK’s elimination hand. Maybe if ESPN didn’t appear to talk down to the casual TV poker fan you’d see some of these things. But in the grand scheme of things poker is such small potatoes to them, and they’ve got a great formula working for them right now.

  11. TR

    I was very disappointed with the coverage. When nearly every hand shown is someone’s final hand, there isn’t much suspense as you know someone is going to get knocked out or crippled. It felt to me like a WPT style telecast with more flair than poker.

    I would have much rather have it broken in 3 or 4 1 hour episodes because it clearly needed at least 3 hours and probably 4 hours to show any real poker and do it justice.

    For me the gold standard is still the WSOP 06 Pay Per View event where it took forever and no hold cards where shown but they showed every hand. If they are going to just broadcast the highlights, they really need to bring back the entire broadcast either online or payperview.

    Who is the best player from the final table? I don’t feel like I saw enough hands to have any idea and all I do know is Eastgate was running really really well.

  12. Kevin Mathers

    You were able to listen to the entire final table this year.

  13. DanM

    Yeah, I totally enjoyed the coverage I heard — Nick Geber, Daniel Negreanu, and Lacey Jones. Great mix of voices, personality, and insight.

    I listened for about an hour or two during the heads-up. Robert Williamson and others sat in with Nick for the broadcast the day before, I believe.

    (It now occurs to me that listening via laptop in the Penn & Teller Theater makes me like one of those old men you used to see at baseball and football games, watching the game right in front of them on TV, and drowning out the raw, vibrant sounds with ones run through earphones. Yikes.)

    However, I turned it off at one point when it seemed to be on repeat. At first they seemed to be just a few minutes behind the action, and then it seemed like 20 or 30 minutes behind it, and before long I realized I was listening to the same words I had just heard.

    Technical glitch, maybe?

  14. ben matlock

    Eastgate was running extremely well. He had some monster hands. AA, KK, 55 and catching a set, 33 and flopping a set, A5 for the wheel.

    I was extremely disappointed in the ESPN coverage. I actually listened to a majority of the audio from both of the tables on the site you linked.. Bluff’s site. Craig Marquis, Daniel Negreanu, and Barry Greenstein did an awesome job commentating.

    I understand that ESPN can’t show every hand, but after watching their coverage, you had ZERO context for what was going on. You didn’t see the big up and down swings between the 2 heads up. You had no clue how long it lasted and how good the poker playing was. If you listened to the audio broadcast, it seemed that every 3rd or 4th hand was getting raised and reraised. It was phenomenal. The end looked so boring to me. I’d love to see it on a pay per view live next time.

    I guess it’s like trying to compare a book to the movie. The book is always better because it goes into so much more detail. There just isn’t enough time in a movie.

  15. Kevin Mathers

    I recall a couple of people mentioning that problem.

    The commentary would have been better if certain people weren’t on it, and will try to leave it at that.

  16. DanM

    Hmm. OK, I’m just gonna guess here. (I don’t even know who they had in the streaming broadcast stable.)

    Phil Hellmuth?
    Tiffany Michelle?
    Russ Hamilton?

  17. Kevin Mathers

    I’ll narrow it down, it wasn’t the established pros with proven tournament success.

  18. Jimmy

    The heads up match was one of the best matches at the WSOPME in a long time, but all we saw were the knock out blows by Eastgate. I followed the coverage online and really wanted to know what happened over the course of the 100+ hands that were played. Who was out flopping who? Who was making great laydowns and great reads and value bets? All we saw was Demidov kinda donk off his stack with 2 pair twice, when in reality he had a really close match that ended as a result of a couple of big overaggressive plays. What were those plays?

  19. Marvin C

    I don’t see what was gained by waiting until November to show the finals. We all knew what happened before it aired. And, they should have shown KK final hand.

    They said it would be “Live.” They should have shown at least 4 hours.

    I said before that we should wait and see how it plays out. I was wrong. It didn’t play out very well.

    This was not a good week for ABC/ESPN. First they have a Heidi NASCAR race, then a much too short WSOP. I think they forgot how to cover sports or competitions that aren’t football, baseball, or basketball.

  20. Ed

    Ok I “watched” it tonight. Glad it was TIVOed and not “live” because most of it bored me. Nothing like seeing crap through most of the 2 hours and then like 5 min of heads up when we know it was much longer than that. Oh well…they tried. I think I laughed when they kept going on about the packed theater. How many were there? 1000 or so? a little less than 1/3 belonged to Dennis. easy to pack a place if the 9 players can get a lot of people to show up.

    Oh and Dan, I blame the black light for the bad views of the audience. That shit gave me a headache everytime they showed them.

    This years ESPN main event coverage 7 out of 10. Pretty much where I put the past 2 years.


  21. smokkee

    IMO KK got more than enuf TV time being the shorty going in. the HU match got short-changed. they should run the ppv for degens like me and a 2-hr version of the whole thing for nOObs. ESPN/Harrahs did a poor job of pimping the entire thing. where was the superbowl hype everyone was expecting? hmm well i guess that would cut into their already blimped out profits.


  22. DanM

    ***their already blimped out profits***

    That’s simply not true, dude. My bad for not getting more articles up about this, but Harrah’s is hurting. All of Vegas is. (Heck, all of America is.)

    Blimped out profits definitely don’t exist in anything involving the casino biz these days.

  23. DanM

    ***Nothing like seeing crap through most of the 2 hours and then like 5 min of heads up when we know it was much longer than that.***

    Yeah, I think that’s what one of my problems with it was … the way it was cut together, it really wasn’t very different from any other episode. I woulda been just as fine watching this thing two weeks or two months after the fact as I was watching it one day after. It was too much like all the other episodes.

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  25. Harris

    Just a quick comment about harrah’s blimped profits. I overheard a sports book supervisor today say that month to date they are down over 450k from last year. Specifically from 600k to under 150k, that’s just the sports book mind you, doesn’t include the rest of the casino.