Posts Tagged ‘ESPN

20
Aug
10

Televised poker: light entertainment or overblown reality show?

This week saw the second week of World Series of Poker Main Event coverage on ESPN.

The broadcaster had altered their coverage for the earlier events, adding a breakdown of position for each hand, and this was met with a mixed reception. Much of the criticism initially concerned the confusion which might arise in describing the blinds as “late position”, perhaps a mistaken attempt to simplify the concept of position for newcomers to the game.

While a small percentage of ESPN’s audience may be watching the World Series in an attempt to improve their game, they are almost certainly in the minority. A larger proportion of the viewership will be comprised either of those who already have a firm grasp of the game, or those who watch it purely for entertainment purposes.

WSOP presenters Norman Chad (l) and Lon McEachern

Those in the former category will be eager to point out the flaws in the approach – notably the fact that position is fluid and changes after the flop (an issue belatedly addressed after being ignored in the Players’ Championship coverage). The latter group, meanwhile, may be confused to the point they stop watching, reluctant to leave their comfort zone of watching the big pots and remarkable stories develop. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, the detailed positional analysis was gone by the time the main event shows came around, a simple ‘UTG+1’ in-hand graphic a tiny reminder of what we were missing.

This makes some sense, as it is no secret that footage of the World Series of Poker has in recent times begun to cater to a more mainstream audience. Hand analysis has taken something of a backseat as the programme becomes a platform for Norman Chad’s schtick, book-ended by fairytales and sob-stories which would make Simon Cowell blush. Detailed hand analysis has become the domain of podcasts and instructional videos, only occasionally creeping into even the more serious shows.

Indeed the mainstream appeal of World Series coverage is demonstrated by the fact that the programme goes out at prime-time in America. This is in stark contrast to British shows: in particular, the enduringly-popular Late Night Poker has remained late-night, failing to extend its appeal beyond the poker enthusiasts drawn to the show when it first came out.

Jesse May, the voice of UK poker

Even newer shows seem confined to the graveyard slot of midnight-1am, and broadcasters in this country seem more content with sticking to a moderately successful format than they do gambling on a style with a proven track record abroad. Something of a middle-ground has been established in some cases, with the enigmatic Jesse May recruited in an effort to provide larger-than-life American ‘excitement’ in the form of a raised voice and confused cries of ‘Holy Toledo’, but by-and-large the more subtle, low-key approach has been retained.

It is tough to gauge where we can go next in terms of televised poker, particularly with no noticeable intentions to replicate the grandiosity of the successful American format. Perhaps this goes hand-in-hand with the way poker is received in the UK, where there are few ‘celebrities’ in the game to draw an audience in the same way as Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu have done across the pond. Or maybe there is a fear that elevating poker beyond a diversion restricted to aspirational Euro-casinos or seedy backrooms may threaten the enviable tax-free status of the game.

Either way, for the time being we can be grateful for the choice we are afforded, allowing us to watch one of many British poker shows one week, and US-produced World Series or WPT broadcasts the next. Just think: it could be far worse.

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20
Jul
10

World Series of Twitter?

A few eyebrows were raised when ESPN chose not to provide a live stream of this year’s World Series of Poker main event. After all, they had done so for some of the earlier events, and it goes without saying that the demand for the main event would have been far greater.

But maybe they knew something the fans didn’t. This year news of every bet, every knockout and every chip-count was available quicker than ever, and I’m not just talking about the oft-inaccurate Pokernews updates.

No, I’m talking about Twitter, which has grown in scope over the last twelve-to-eighteen months to the extent that if there is a major event in sport, politics, entertainment or pretty much anything else, there will be a way of following it on the social networking site.

Twitter was integral to media coverage of the 2009 Iranian elections

In the same way the recent general election in the UK was dubbed “The Twitter Election”, it is reasonable to describe this year’s World Series as the event which finally brought top-level poker in line with the twitterverse.

There were a handful of updates last year from the official World Series of Poker Twitter account, and its involvement in proceedings had grown incrementally by the time the World Series of Poker Europe came about, but the idea of bringing the competitors’ own accounts to the fore only really took off this year.

Pokernews has arguably had a significant role in this, tracking the tweets of various top pros regardless of whether a major tournament is taking place. Of course, not everyone will be interested to hear about Evelyn Ng’s love of Glenfiddich or Daniel Negreanu’s opinions on The Real World, but even in circumstances like this there are some fans who are happy to find a personal connection with people whose careers they have followed on television for years.

But the role of Twitter is not limited to Pokernews, especially during the final stages of the World Series. Every morning, anyone following @WSOP could get a rundown of the Twitter accounts of those players remaining in the tournament. This has been beneficial in two ways.

Firstly, it has brought a number of poker’s lesser lights to the public’s attention. Only a handful of big-name professionals (i.e. those who fans have regularly seen on television) made it to the final three tables: Michael Mizrachi, Hasan Habib and Phil Hellmuth’s former nemesis Adam Levy to name but three.

Yet what of the lesser-known players with a role to play? Players like internet pros Matt Affleck, Joe Cheong and Jason Senti, who are relative unknowns unless you happen to play regularly at their stakes online.

Thanks to this easy access to their feeds, poker fans worldwide could choose a player to root for without simply picking a name out of a hat. They could sweat every hand and feel every bad beat, feeling a genuine sense of sympathy for someone they wouldn’t recognise one week or even one day ago. And for the more fickle among us, the nature of Twitter allows you to follow someone for the duration of the event and then – when they are knocked out – unfollow them and find a different horse to back within seconds.

Matt "mcmatto" Affleck was tweeting regularly throughout the main event

The second way in which Twitter played a huge part concerns the speed of updates. Instead of constantly refreshing Pokernews or WSOP.com, going several minutes with no news and then being greeted with five or six updates simultaneously, you can ensure every available update comes your way as soon as is humanly possible.

With a number of players making use of phones or iPads at the table, some were tweeting the hands almost instantly. One player to make use of this tactics was Jean-Robert Bellande, with some speculating that his desire to update fans on his progress minute-by-minute affected his concentration as the sixth day drew to a close.

And indeed the impact of Twitter does not end there. In the months leading up to the final table, we will come to find out a little more about the November Nine. Profiles, articles and human interest features will flood the internet, and now – thanks to Twitter – it will be easier for us to find the articles we want to read.

As well as continuing to follow @WSOP for retweets from poker journalists, the hashtag #WSOP will lead tweeters to more information on the November Nine than they could possibly need, all available at their fingertips. In fact, were it not for Twitter I may have never discovered this brilliant article from Howard Swains.

With all this information available to poker fans, there is no excuse not to follow developments in the World Series. I wait with baited breath to find out how all this has progressed by the time we reach November, let alone the 2011 series.




Hi I’m Tom. I’m a freelance journalist, and I recently completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism at Cardiff University. In my spare time I like to play, watch and talk about poker. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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