Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Reality TV

Screen shot from ESPN's coverage of Event 4 of the 2008 WSOPLast night was fun. Started out the night making a pizza, kind of a new trick for me. Have made a couple over the last week, including building the crust from scratch. Toppings included a tomato sauce (with onions, basil, olive oil, a carrot, and a little garlic salt), portabello mushrooms, parsley, garlic, and mozzarella & parmesan cheeses. Crust a mix of regular flour & wheat, which adds a little flavor as well. Good stuff.

Then Vera and I watched -- pretty intently -- ESPN’s coverage of the final table of Event No. 4, the $5,000 Mixed Hold’em (Limit/No-Limit) event. Between the pizza and the TV show, I ended up missing the start of Dr. Pauly’s tourney, though I was kind of on the fence anyway, knowing I probably wasn’t going to get involved in a late night of poker. I’m seeing this morning that my PokerNews colleague, Garry Gates, actually won the sucker & so will be heading to the Borgata in September. Congrats, Garry! And kudos again to Pauly for hosting (and for five years).

I was looking forward to last night’s broadcast for a couple of reasons. One was to see how many times I could catch glimpses of myself in the background. Pure narcissism, I’ll admit it. The other was to compare ESPN’s repackaging of the final table with the experience of witnessing it live. Thought I’d share just a few impressions of the show.

The entire final table took 197 hands to complete, and with the breaks took around nine hours to play out. ESPN showed exactly 27 of those hands during the two hours of coverage (around 85 minutes with commercials). Each elimination hand was shown except for that of Pat Pezzin (who finished 8th). Poor Pezzin really got the short end of the coverage. (Hell, I might’ve been on screen more than he was.) Indeed, given the hands they did choose to show during the first hour, they really should’ve found the time to show this one hand of Pezzin’s, I’d think.

The first hour of the show was quite entertaining. I was surprised to hear Norman Chad editorialize about Justin Bonomo’s history of online cheating, although it actually makes sense that ESPN would acknowledge it here, especially given Bonomo’s starring role in this particular telecast. (By the way, Otis has a brief, smart reaction to Chad’s comment.) And I enjoyed Roland de Wolfe joking with David Williams about the Magic card game (“Never play a hobgoblin out of position”). From where we were stationed (about fifteen feet from the players), we couldn’t really hear much of the table talk, so all of this was new to me.

I noticed on a couple of hands small discrepencies between how we reported the action over at PokerNews and what was said or shown on ESPN (including one clear error on PN), but everything matched up for the most part. One thing I realized fairly quickly watching the broadcast was the fact that I had no memory of several of the hands shown -- namely, the ones about which I did not post. As my partner Tropical Steve and I were alternating hands, I would be typing up one hand while another was ongoing, and so usually gave little attention to those hands.

There were a few other little things I noticed and/or discovered when looking back through the reporting.

The first hand of the second hour -- the 15th of ESPN’s coverage -- was a very interesting no-limit hand in which Roland de Wolfe made a hero call on the river, successfully sniffing out a Bonomo bluff. This was a hand I wrote up -- Hand #84 of the final table. De Wolfe limped from the button with pocket sixes, David Rheem completed from the small blind, and Bonomo checked from the big blind. The flop came 8-8-7 with two clubs. Rheem checked, Bonomo bet 30,000 into the 46,000-chip pot, de Wolfe called, and Rheem got out. The turn was a deuce, putting a second spade on the board. Bonomo bet 80,000, and again de Wolfe called.

The river was the Qc. On the blog, I said “Bonomo didn’t take long to bet 200,000.” On the program last night it appeared Bonomo took about ten seconds to make his bet, and I think that was just about the actual time span. Then it appears de Wolfe takes about thirty seconds before making the call. (Bonomo had Ah4s, and de Wolfe took the pot.) On the blog, I reported that de Wolfe “went into the tank for several minutes” before making the call -- and I’m confident that was the case. I rarely would say “several minutes” in a post unless, indeed, at least 4-5 minutes had passed.

Even so, I don’t think the editing really misleads all that much, nor does it really throughout the broadcast. There were a couple of moments presented non-chronologically, but neither really mattered. They showed Phil Hellmuth make his cameo (and get booed by the crowd), then showed a hand that took place a good 15 minutes before Hellmuth had walked in. They had a reason for doing so, though, as they caught Hellmuth talking to de Wolfe about a hand in which Bonomo had laid a bad beat on de Wolfe -- so they edited in Hellmuth’s appearance just after that hand.

Probably the most affected part of the broadcast was the heads-up portion. Lindgren and Bonomo actually played 40 hands, but only four of those were shown (and Lindgren won all four). The first hand shown was one in which Lindgren had pocket aces and raised, then Bonomo, who held 7-2 offsuit, folded. That was in fact the eighth hand of heads-up. Then they show Lindgren ordering a Milwaukee’s Best Light, something he had done prior to the first hand being dealt.

Like I say, though, most of the edits didn’t create too false of an impression of how the final table actually went. Of course, from the show I don’t think one can necessarily appreciate the extent to which David Rheem and David Williams -- the chip leaders heading into that final table -- struggled to get anything going that night. Andrew Robl came off as not terribly strong player on the show, and while I don’t believe he was the greatest limit hold’em player at the table that night, the overall depiction of his play (the one hand they showed him winning was a huge suckout versus Howard Lederer early on) probably wasn’t entirely fair to him. And it does look like Lindgren was simply untouchable, catching cards and making correct reads at every turn. Which was only partly the case.

Even so, I have to give ESPN some credit for putting together a decent narrative and presenting the thing in a mostly accurate fashion. Like following a recipe, these shows. And like the one for the pizza I made last night, the one ESPN follows generally produces something halfway decent.

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Anonymous gtycoon said...

ESPN is doing a pretty good job as usual. I always want more coverage than they do show, but as long as they're showing poker on TV I'm happy.

8/07/2008 9:50 PM  

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