These episodes should prove interesting for a number of reasons. For me, I’m anticipating a lot of “feature table” action that I personally was unable to witness while covering the event for PokerNews. If my memory serves me correctly, during those first four “Day Ones” and perhaps even the two “Day Twos” none of us were allowed into the small stadium area where the feature table took place, so we couldn’t report on those hands at all. Neither was it very easy for us to get close to the second feature table, located just outside of the mini-arena. So most of what they show -- over these first few weeks, anyway -- will be brand new to me.
I recall Chau Giang getting a spot at that feature table there early on (and some of us wondering how, exactly, Giang managed to land a role as the star of the World Series). I know Ray Romano was seated in there (during Day Two, I think), and in fact I even snuck over and peeked in, seeing enough to report on a hand or two, as well as on Romano’s bustout. ESPN did allow us a reporter in there by the third day, I believe, and so from that point forward the feature tables did get some coverage on PokerNews (although I was always stationed at one of the outer sections). There was a pretty wild feature table hand on Day 4 involving Jean-Robert Bellande that should definitely be shown sometime later this month, I’d think. I remember getting a report on that one later that night while bowling with Whit Blanton, another player at the table at the time.
ESPN had its cameras elsewhere in the Rio, too, grabbing shots of other celebrities and stars as well as the occasional showdown. The dealers were issued these “All In” cardboard paddles which they would hold aloft whenever a player’s all in bet was called, giving the crew time to rush over and set up to film. So I’d anticipate seeing some of those hands interspersed within the coverage of the main tables.
I believe it was the last of the Day Ones, Day 1d, when F-Train and I were stationed over in the Blue section right next to Jamie Gold’s table. Gold lasted about six hours, not quite three levels, and there was an ESPN crew there the entire time recording practically every hand. Will be curious, then, to see how much of that particular table they air (probably in a couple of weeks). Not to mention to scan the background for familiar faces.
Of course, those of us with some awareness of what went down in July will not be able to avoid watching for early glimpses of the so-called “November Nine.” Given the relatively obscure status of those who eventually made it to the final table, it seems as though the odds were probably against ESPN getting much coverage of those guys during the initial couple of days. Which means for the first couple of weeks, anyway, we probably won’t be seeing much of Dennis Phillips, Ivan Demidov, Scott Montgomery, Peter Eastgate, Ylon Schwartz, Darus Suharto, David Rheem, Craig Marquis, or Kelly Kim.
Seems to me the guiding principle here will probably be to try to recreate the thrill ride that was ESPN’s packaging of the 2003 WSOP Main Event -- seven terrific hours of poker TV, culminating in the surprise victory by Chris Moneymaker. And for many of those watching (sometime in September, I believe), it was a surprise, as the outcome of the event, played out back in May at Binion’s Horseshoe, wasn’t known to most.
My sense is that while these first few hours of the 2008 Main Event will be mildly intriguing to some of us, they won’t come close to that level of excitement. Perhaps the buzz may pick up as we move through October and toward that final table preview show (scheduled for November 4), but right now it seems like a pretty steep hill for ESPN to climb.
Whatever happens, how these next two months of shows play out and are received will particularly affect whatever Harrah’s and ESPN decides to do with next year’s WSOP. And thus arguably should have some, more general effect on poker’s future as a whole, too.