Friday, November 13, 2015

Reflection and Rejections: Thoughts on the WSOP and Poker

I realize I’m late to the party, as most everyone else has already weighed in on this year’s Final Table of the WSOP’s Main Event.  I figured if I don’t post this now I might as well wait until next summer…and by then most of the good ideas will be talked about and forgotten and not acted upon, so, without further ado…some random thoughts:

The Final Table went just about as one might expect – the guy with the most chips going into the November Nine won it all (congrats to Joe McKeehen), so there was not a lot of drama.  And the TV broadcast could have used it.  In spades.  Yes, it was interesting to see Aces cracked and hooray for Neil Blumenfield proving that we old guys have what it takes, but otherwise…the show was somewhere between “meh” and “yawn.”  (more on Neil below in the postscript).

Others have suggested that changes are needed to make this a more viewable event, and I concur.  However, I think the days of “network coverage” are numbered, and not just because ESPN has shown little interest in hyping the event.  In the last decade the entire media stream (no pun) has been upended, so it only makes some sense that poker drift from network coverage (where it shines brighter when it can be condensed into bite-size pieces) to poker-specific venues (Poker Channel, Twitch, etc.).

If ESPN or some other network entity is to continue to show poker “live” may I humbly suggest some changes:
  • Shot clock.  Steve Ruddock has suggested a variety of options for this, and y’all can take your pick, but TRY ONE, PLEASE, just to see its effect.
  • Three nights for coverage was way too many.  Last year (and every year prior) you got it done in two.  Hell, shoot for one if play moves faster.  See above.
  • The 3+ month delay from the end of the tournament to the November finale has run its course.  Nothing is to be gained by waiting, so ditch this…you COULD wait a week or so, and THEN do the final table…seems like there might be enough to do in Las Vegas to hold folks there for an extra week or so.
  • Finally, how about making the event coverage live?  Really live.  Like, ditch the hole card camera and show us the event LIVE, without a delay.

This last one might be more controversial, but hear me out:  I had friends at the Penn & Teller Theatre to watch the Final Table, where they (obviously) could not see the hole cards, and they didn’t seem to mind – they loved the excitement of being there and watching the event as it unfolded (all three nights, too).  I followed along at the website, where (obviously) I didn’t know what the hole cards were, and I did not mind.  I think that we’ve progressed enough in professional commentary (even Norman Chad) to a point where the audience can ascertain enough about the play to not need to see the hole cards.  And when ESPN shows Days 1-7, much of the action recapped doesn’t involve the camera. 

I know the lipstick cam was a stunning invention and it most likely did wonders for the uninitiated in the audience, but…that’s not who is watching poker on TV.  I don’t think we need it any longer.  Am I right?

For poker to continue to flourish, a strong media presence can’t hurt, and the Final Table has always been a great showcase for poker.  Changes are needed to continue to make it so.

Oh, and of course, another way poker can flourish is to allow all Americans to play online, but you knew that.

Postscript:  Much has been made about the ages of those making the Final Table over the last few years – all “young guns” and few older players.  I was pleased to see fellow sexagenarian Neil Blumenfield make a great run, but really…no one should be surprised at this.  Next time you get a chance, stop by your local retirement village or senior center, and watch the bridge/canasta/mahjongg game.  Them oldies play on and on and on and on and on.  Of COURSE they have the stamina for the grind.

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