30 April 2008

A New Spring?

Wild Roses
Originally uploaded by csquard

It's an anxious yet exciting time for me, this end of April. I'm pretty sure I won't be returning to the WSOP in a major writing capacity (you can find all of my poker articles and previous coverage here). There are still a couple of things that might take me to the Rio in the coming weeks; regardless, it will be a summer of sleeping at night rather than spending every waking hour walking amidst grinders hoping for their big score.

It damaged me on several different levels, my time there. It derailed my business, a huge block of time and energy that I've struggled to overcome since. It hurt some personal relationships with folks who I admire. It frustrated me, working feverishly with little to show for it.

The part I really enjoyed was working with people who were better than me at something I was learning, as well as helping others who were striving to hone their newly-found craft. Otis has always been the class of those at the WSOP the two years I was there, able to relate to everyone there with respect and professionalism. Amy won't be back, but she was the rock star that I cautiously introduced myself to in '06 then got to work with in '07. Pauly was always encouraging me, taking the time to care about what I was doing when what I was doing wasn't that relevant. Johnny kept me hopping and legitimized my vision of how we could do something different in the clutter that is poker coverage. Carmen was a breath of fresh air for me, and I'm so proud that she's continued to sprint forward since last summer. She brightened my evenings when she would come in and we would chat about some angle that she could pursue. Of course, it was a bit of the blind leading the blind as I didn't really know how to do whatever I was giving her direction on, but neither of us cared too much. Linda was able to keep me pumped up and going with encouragement and the late dinner.

Gene and Dan were great roommates to have last summer (OK, who am I kidding? I'm not actually sure if Dan lived with us!). I'll miss the late night nachos with Gene and the easy conversations about all things life and nothingness. It was the first time in a very long time that I had a buddy who I hung out with yet didn't spend every waking hour with. I liked it.

All of that said, poker coverage in general has some significant flaws. Due to Harrah's inability to figure out a way to handle chip counts electronically in a cost-effective way, the PokerNews gang has to relie on manual counts as non-intrusively as possible. Due to Harrah's inability to figure out a way to identify players, mystery men and women appear atop Day 2 leader boards magically, out of thin air.

The restrictions on live coverage and access is a complicated kettle of fish, something that other sports and competitions are confronting as well. The caste system created isn't that big a deal, not unusual in any business setting with multiple companies present. The significant issue is that the limits of access, necessitated by the physical constraints that come with poker tables and players and small spaces, simply diminishes the quality of coverage and the perspective given to the the audience. Why is there an audience for ESPN, SI, Fox Sports, national news coverage, network sports, and niche media at events like the Masters, the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500, and March Madness? It's because different media provide different coverage, different views and perspectives, and develop different stories.

The single biggest problem in poker media, in my opinion, is the lack of differentiation in what each outlet is trying to provide to the audience. Bluff/PokerNews has paid to provide hand-for-hand coverage and chip counts, yet other outlets dutifully try to out-do them. I don't know of any other competition where one media outlet provides the facts of the competition nor where those facts are so difficult to capture. As they should, Bluff/PokerNews works hard to collect as many big hands and chip counts as possible. But the complexity that is a poker tournament is still difficult to nail down, so many moving parts, players surging up the leaderboard only to crash down later.

Bluff/PokerNews now has many more tournaments under their belt, and the fact collection should be the best to date. Will the coverage be the best to date from the media outlets there? It just depends on what the readers really want. CardPlayer seems to have significantly increased the quantity of players tracked and reported on during their WPT events, raising the bar and giving vital facts to friends and followers of many more players that the masses haven't heard of.

ESPN, the biggest gorilla in the room, has done little to expand on their coverage over the last few years, aside from going to HD filming and showing more events. I really wish they would take a lead from the Masters coverage this year, where DirectTV showed five or six Masters channels (showing Amen Corner on one channel, as an example). There is absolutely an audience for more in-depth coverage, yet ESPN continues with their now formulaic presentation of big hands and their tired Poker Acts (e.g., Hellmuth et al), combined with "The Nuts" and human interest stories sprinkled in.

My most interesting experiment last year was when I spent 3-5 hours watching one player at one table. It was a dramatically different way to watch a tournament when you followed Nam Le at the beginning of a tournament, Jason Strasser during Day 2, Michael Binger down to three tables, Dario Minieri deep in the Main Event. Was it great coverage? I don't really know, but it was something unique and different. I felt like I got more of a glimpse into how different players played at different times under different table situations. You started to get a sense of the poker that we've come to know and love online, being able to see people change gears, to have a VP$IP of 12% or 60%.

Actually, what I'll miss most are the players. I'll miss seeing a smile from a player who knows or recognizes me, like Cyndy or Ben Roberts. I'll miss the people I got to know well, people like John Armbrust, Doug Kim, Jason, and Doug Carli. But I'll really miss my buddies who were there making their run, like sprstoner, LJ, lucko, Fuel, Drizz, and the countless others.

Maybe I'll sneak into one or two tournaments again this year and make my own run, get my first WSOP cash. Or maybe there is a new path for me this summer, one of normalcy and of excitement about the future and of looking for errant drives and of swimming with the boys.

(1 Gabe Kaplan, 2 John Armbrust, 3 Dario Minieri, 4 Jason Strasser, 5 Fuel and Spice Girls; all photos from 2007 WSOP--except the Spice Girls!)


Blogger Fuel55 said...

I know what you mean. I miss everyone too!

11:11 AM  
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