Posts Tagged ‘Scotty Nguyen


Filippo Candio v Joseph Cheong – Capturing the Moment

Recently I wrote a piece about the balance between entertainment and information in televised poker, but now I feel it is time to look into another facet of broadcasting the game – the ability for television to completely alter our reaction to certain events.

Cast your mind back to July. The World Series of Poker was in full swing and likeable Californian Joseph Cheong was in cruise control at the head of the field. Then came a hand with the unknown young Italian Filippo Candio: Cheong set Candio all-in with aces on a flop of 5-6-6, and the 5-7 of the man from Cagliari made a straight on the river.

The vast majority of commentators were observing from behind computer screens, unable to make it to Las Vegas to give the action any sense of perspective. Their attitude towards Candio was far from complimentary.

While not going quite as far as basing their entire criticism on the player’s nationality, a subliminal xenophobia was present as criticism after criticism was levelled at the ‘Italodonk’. How could an intruder into the American-dominated World Series get away with such an inexcusable play and damage the hopes of one of America’s own?

Filippo Candio

This attitude was preserved – albeit less vocally – throughout ESPN’s World Series coverage. Judgement of Candio’s earlier televised plays was clouded by the one hand to follow, and moves which might otherwise be considered brave were deemed a sign of poor play by those keen to vindicate the opinions they had developed with minimal evidence.

Then, this week, the 5-7 hand was shown, in the full context of the day’s play. A clearly tired Candio had – a few minutes earlier – played a hand against Cheong where an innocent mistake cost him 1 million in chips on the turn and the ensuing tilt a further 2 million on the river.

The Sardinian was noticeably shaken by the incident, with the frustration arguably multiplied by his limited grasp of the English language and a related inability to fully express his concerns. Parallels might be drawn with Nikolay Losev, the Russian pro who suffered a meltdown after a run-in with Brandon Cantu in the 2008 Main Event.

Scotty Nguyen

Plenty of players – many far more experienced than Candio – have suffered blow-ups deep into the main event: Scotty Nguyen in 2007 and William Thorson the year before to name but two. To expect faultless play for eight straight days from a 26-year-old in his first ever World Series is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Even if ESPN had wanted to present Candio as a villain, they would not have been able to. No amount of editing could have disguised the moment his heart sank as Cheong turned over his aces. Seconds later and the unmitigated joy he felt when the four of clubs hit the river is surely what televised poker was made for.

The romance of sharing in the happiness and good fortune of an individual to whom we had no prior emotional attachment captures the essence of televised sport in all its glory, be it a World Cup Final, tennis Grand Slam, Super Bowl or World Series of Poker. The difference in this case? Candio wasn’t even celebrating a victory, the river merely kept him alive in the tournament.

Imagine the reaction if he wins the whole thing.


A matter of life and death

The reputation of poker has always been on somewhat shaky ground. Its association with the crime-ridden saloons of the Old Wild West marks a precedent which some outsiders are still reluctant to look beyond.

This state of affairs is hardly helped by some of the players who fans take to their hearts as role models or ambassadors of the game. The “Prince of Poker” Scotty Nguyen displayed deplorable behaviour in winning the prestigious $50,000 H.O.R.S.E event at the 2008 World Series of Poker. The hero-worshipped Stu Ungar spent much of his adult life dealing with a crippling cocaine addiction and died ignominiously at the age of 45. French businessman Cyril Mouly – a wanted man in two countries – regularly plays in the highest-stakes poker games at the Bellagio and has a Facebook page set up in his honour, as if he were a figure of fun rather than a criminal. Even Archie Karas, a professional gambler who won and lost over $40million, had his degeneracy somewhat glorified in a feature on ESPN’s World Series coverage.

Archie Karas, "the gambler's gambler"

But all of these eccentricities and misdemeanours pale in comparison with the story of Ron Fanelli.

Known as the “Mad Yank”, Fanelli had been a popular figure on the London poker circuit before moving to Thailand. But recently his friends and acquaintances were shocked to hear he had confessed to the murder of a Thai prostitute.

Poker pro and journalist Victoria Coren wrote this touching article, assessing the situation from the perspective of a friend, rather than that of a fellow poker player. She touched on his demeanour at the poker table, but the focus of the piece – as it well should be – is that we sometimes think we know someone and then find out we were wrong.

In such circumstances, it is invaluable to have a reasoned perspective on matters, rather than jumping on any pro- or anti- bandwagons. Unfortunately, whether through a morbid fascination or a mistaken sense that any publicity is good publicity, posters on poker forums such as Two Plus Two have dwelled on Fanelli’s crime. Some simply express their shock, others search for humour in the situation. Few realise the implications of their actions.

van der Sloot confessed to murder in June

Parallels may be drawn with the case of Joran van der Sloot, prime suspect in the much-publicised disappearance of student Natalee Holloway, who confessed to the murder of Stephany Flores last month. Does it matter that van der Sloot was a recreational poker player? Of course not. But other recreational players, or even some professionals, may be keen to relate to the fame of such criminals by being able to say “I know that guy” when in truth they sat across from him in a poker tournament in Aruba for about ten minutes.

Whether down to an obsession with commercialised “true crime” figures or something far more sinister, the media and public focus on such stories of violent crime may be unavoidable. However, there should be no excuse for the poker aspect of these stories being jumped on as anything more than a mildly interesting footnote. In an age where efforts are being made to elevate the game to the status of an honourable profession, we should be seeking to do anything in our power to distance it from its ugly past.

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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