Let’s get serious; Interest in poker is leveling off, if not dwindling. It seems like poker circuits, like the WPT, are desperately trying to bring people back to poker by dumbing it down. They think if they make it more appealing to the masses, by those who don’t know poker or lost interest years ago, they will get excited about poker. It seems like a logical move. But the consequence of this is that real poker fans, like me or other on the tournament circuit, people who live and breath poker, who play and think about poker every god damned day, don’t watch televised poker. It simply is not interesting to anyone who actually likes to play, and that is sad. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the producers of shows like the WPT started to gear their shows to the real fans, the ones who actually play and think about poker, the WPT would garner enough interest to make money and keep poker alive and kicking.
I placed 2nd in a WPT event last year, an event that later would be shown on TV. Because of this, for the first time in several years, I watched a WPT event in its entirety. This was 3 separate one hour episodes of coverage for a final table that lasted about 8 hours. The WPT had an opportunity to cover many hands, which would allow them to give in-depth commentary on the entire final table. I remembered–from watching the WPT years before–that the commentary had been more of the classic, “HE’S ALL IN” shtick that helped make poker exciting and popular in the mid 2000s. But, I suspected that it probably had evolved.
What I found out was it did evolve. The WPT telecasts have evolved to pure garbage poker. Instead of making the commentary smarter, appealing to a shrinking but passionate fanbase, they have dumbed down the show significantly; filling spots that could be used for analysis with vain shots of a few hot girls doing stupid shit. Good segments like the Raw Deal, featuring a great player in Tony Dunst talking in depth about interesting hands, are drowned out by a broadcast that makes no effort to actually talk about poker at more than a surface level. Two minutes of something genuinely intriguing doesn’t make up for the 2 hours and 58 minutes of the unintelligent poker banter and segments that are totally meaningless. Not only is it boring poker, it’s just boring tv as a whole.
I think there are several ways to change poker telecasts as a whole that would be much more enjoyable to poker fans. One thing that is usually done, from the WPT to the WSOP, is showing big hands without any context. Big hands would be much more interesting if the broadcast illustrated some of the game flow leading up to the hand. If someone makes a big call down on his opponent, the hand becomes much more intriguing if we’re shown that his opponent had been cbetting or double barreling several hands prior. This seems intuitive but it just isn’t done.
Some people will argue that small situations aren’t exciting. This is true with the way the shows are structured now, but it doesn’t have to be true. In order to make small situations more exciting, we must have better commentary. Although I just heavily criticized the WPT, I’m cautiously excited over their recently announced Alpha 8, a series of televised 100k buy in events which will have Olivier Busquet as the color commentator. I really like this addition. Olivier is one of the best holdem players in the world and has publicly stated that he has no qualms about giving quality advice on air. That being said, I’m still worried about the producers pressuring Busquet to dumb down his commentary or not show some hands that may appear to be mundane but are actually interesting to good players. I’m hoping that they’ll allow Olivier to have some control over what hands are shown and how to show them, so he can give interesting perspectives throughout the show instead of being forced to comment on big hands that we’re actually trivial.
But I also don’t think one color commentator is enough. Poker is not a black and white game and with two color commentators in the booth, it opens up a chance for some healthy debate over whether a hand was good or bad and which players are playing the best. It’s also time to show other games, like PLO and mixed games. Get specialists in the booth and let them teach us about some of the different games. It may be confusing to someone who only knows how to play holdem, but people who play poker will catch on and may really enjoy it. I bet there’s some people who don’t play poker anymore but would if they were introduced to other games.
Lastly, I think if they showed more hands and less fluff, let the play create the story line, and don’t worry about being making the commentary too complex, it would be beneficial for poker on tv as a whole.
For the WSOP Main Event, it may be smarter to have commentary that appeals to the masses because of the nature of the event. It’s the biggest event in poker and it can legitimately draw a crowd. But when it’s not the most prominent event in poker, we need to start rethinking how to get people excited about televised poker again. Poker is a complicated game, so let’s appreciate that. It would be nice if millions of people were watching the WPT like in 2006, but they aren’t, and let’s not deceive ourselves into believing manufacturing false excitement and a few pairs of big tits are going to bring them back.
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If you would like to know some explanation of the controversial hands I played on ESPN, you can listen to this great interview on the Strategy with Kristy podcast found here: http://www.pokernews.com/strategy/strategy-with-kristy-max-steinberg-talks-about-getting-three-16041.htm and here: http://www.pokernews.com/strategy/strategy-with-kristy-max-steinberg-talks-about-busting-phil-16077.htm. I go pretty in-depth and admit some mistakes as well as explain how I decide whether I’m happy with a possibly bad play.
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Just wanted to let my followers know that I’ll be on ESPN tonight at 9ET/6PT. In the telecast I get into a big hand with Michael Mizrachi and knockout Phil Ivey! Make sure to tune in.
Also some exciting news, I’m going back to Canada, this time Vancouver, to grind some online poker for a while before the WSOPE. I’ll be grinding some mid-high stakes and I’m excited to really grind HUSNGs heavily. I’ll be posting some hhs on this blog and write about my progress. Wish me luck!
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