Thursday, July 09, 2009

2009 WSOP, Day 43: Anatomy of a Hand Report

Anatomy of a Hand ReportAn especially enjoyable and interesting day yesterday helping cover the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event for PokerNews. As I texted to Vera Valmore at the end of the night, it might have been one of the more fun days I’ve ever hand doing this silly stuff.

It was announced as the largest-ever restart of a WSOP tournament, with a whopping 2,924 players coming back from Days 1c and 1d. A few minutes before play began, I asked one of the tournament officials where exactly all of the players would be seated. “Every table in the building,” was the answer. That meant all of the Amazon room, the Brasilia, the Miranda, the regular “poker room,” as well as tables set up in the hallway in front of Buzio’s restaurant. Something like 325 tables altogether.

The day was a good one for reporting for several reasons. For one, even though it was such a huge field, since it was a Day 2 we did have a seating chart and at least knew where folks were starting the day. The chart became less reliable as the day wore on, since tables would break and players would be moved. But having that kind of head start helps immensely, as there’s a chance to locate the “notables,” the big stacks, and others early on in order to track them. And there’s also a better opportunity to discover new folks, too.

Also, the day was only four levels long, which seemed way too short for a Day 1 (see my sort-of-whiny post about covering Day 1b), but which was not so bad for a Day 2 (Levels 6-9), when the antes were already in play and folks were willing and/or required to do a bit more gambling than they had to back when they had 300 big blinds with which to work. So a lot of action happening all around to help keep us engaged.

Additionally, I had a pretty cool draw as far as tables went, although I think any assignment would’ve been good yesterday in terms of getting a lot of interesting players and personalities to cover. One field reporter (Drew) and I were watching about 35 tables or so, including the two feature tables being shot by ESPN. Some of our guys were trying to keep an eye on a larger number of tables -- especially early on, before we lost approximately half the players who started the day -- but really when there are just two of you and it gets above a half-dozen tables you’ve already got more than enough to handle.

Covering the feature tables is a bit of a logistical hassle. Because of the necessities required to capture the video and audio for the later ESPN broadcast, they can’t really allow other media to get too close to the tables (as we might be able to do otherwise). So basically I’m jostling with all of the other fans on the rail trying to catch glimpses of hands and chip stacks. I managed to keep track of both tables in a general way throughout the day.

Dennis Phillips was at the secondary feature table, and while I didn’t get any of his hands I saw his stack stay around 120,000 most of the day. I chatted with him at the end of the day and discovered he’d picked up a couple of pots at day’s end to chip up to 190,000. I interviewed Phillips over the phone for HBP last fall, and have gotten the chance to meet him in person this summer -- indeed, as you've already heard elsewhere, a helluva friendly guy.

I was able to report on a few hands from the main feature table where Phil Hellmuth was seated. Hellmuth had a good day yesterday, starting with 27,000 or so and ending with somewhere in the neighborhood of 135,000. (Again, I had to estimate his stack from approximately 40 feet away, so I could never be that precise.) From the hands I saw, players appeared mostly unwilling to tangle with the Poker Brat, often folding to his raises. Say what you will about him, but he is an intimidating player, most especially to the relative novices. And being on TV doesn’t lessen his opponents’ anxiety much either, I imagine.

Terrence ChanHad some very interesting hands to report otherwise, too, some of which were supplied to me by Drew and others I was able to see for myself. Toward the end of the night I reported a hand with Terrence “Not Johnny” Chan -- it was the post I wrote on Day 2b -- and realized afterwards that the post came from what was kind of an ideal situation for reporting a relatively early level tournament hand. Click here to read the post.

I’m a fan of Chan’s blog, and at the end of the day he cut and pasted the post over there. I’m also a fan of Chan, and so when I say I liked the post I should point out that I didn’t necessarily like how the hand turned out, as he lost some chips after suffering a fairly unfortunate beat on the hand. But I did want to say a few words about why the conditions surrounding the hand and its report were so agreeable.

Why do I say it was an “ideal situation” for reporting a hand? Well, there are a number of reasons. First, I had adequate context for the hand. I’d been keeping an eye on Chan’s stack the entire day, and so was roughly aware how the day had been going for him. I wasn’t necessarily aware of the relative toughness of his table (as Chan talks about in his post), but I had some idea at least of what the day had been like for Chan before getting to this end-of-night hand.

Secondly, I’d actually watched the previous two hands played, and so also was aware of the immediate context for the hand. Not that I would include all of that info in the hand report, but it helped me understand better some of the significance of what I was seeing when the actual hand played out.

Thirdly, I was there for the whole hand -- the preflop betting, all of the subsequent action, the showdown, etc. A lot of times we reach a table after the flop and while it can still be interesting to read how a big hand plays out postflop, not knowing what happened with the preflop betting necessarily lends a (sometimes very significant) incompleteness to the report.

We might also throw in that a “notable” player was involved. We even had a picture of Chan to include with the post, another bonus.

There are a few more reasons why the conditions were good for that particular hand report. I got Chan’s opponent’s name afterwards -- Dean Bobel -- and so didn’t have to refer to him as “the button” or the like (as sometimes cannot be avoided). It was one of the last hands of the night, and so the scene surrounding the table was of interest, too. I included a detail about the announcement to spectators to clear the room having come across while Chan was tanking.

Finally, the hand itself had a kind of intrinsic interest to it. Bobel had made a gutsy raise all-in on the turn with what he likely knew was the worst hand, and Chan made a gutsy call which required a good read by him of the situation. The river took the hand away from Chan, and thus the outcome, too, had a little twist to it, adding a bit of drama to the whole story.

One last, important factor that made the conditions for reporting the hand especially favorable -- I saw the hand myself. While our field reporters are typically very good at what they do, there’s always going to be something lost when one person conveys to another what he or she witnessed, and the second person then tries to convey that to an audience. Not only does the possibility of inaccuracy become greater, but there is something about being there watching something go down that just can’t be passed along.

I thought I’d mention all of this because, to be honest, such an “ideal situation” comes up very, very rarely on the tournament floor. Really it isn’t until the final table that we can ever hope to have such unfettered access to all of the details of a given hand and thus be able to produce such a report.

According to WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack’s Twitter feed, 2,044 players will be coming back for Day 3 on Friday, and so it will likely be a similar day from the reporting side of things. Not sure if they’ll be able to play all of the way down to the money (the top 648) or not tomorrow, but I think that could happen.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned yesterday, today is going to be a fun day off as I get to participate in a couple of tournaments. First will be what is called the “Media Charity Poker Tournament” in which Benjo, Katkin, and myself will be competing as a team, Le Grand Fromage. Then later in the day will come the PokerNews freeroll in which we’ll all be playing for ourselves. There’ll be some bounties in the latter, I think, to make things more interesting. Then in the evening comes the PokerStars party over at the Palms, which I may or may not attend. I went last year, but since I am still sort of fighting off the “casino crud” I referred to a couple of posts back I may opt to conserve my energy tonight -- we’ll see.

In any event, I’ll do my best to report on it all here tomorrow. Whether or not conditions are ideal for doing so.

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