Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Speaking of Poker: What You Can and Cannot Say, Part II

Speaking of Poker: What You Can and Cannot Say, Part IISean G added a comment to yesterday’s post about “Poker2Nite” mentioning that the show’s hosts had put out a new episode of the Poker Road Radio podcast, and that on that episode (12/6/09) they discuss the television show, some early critiques, and their efforts to improve it.

Ended up listening to the podcast later yesterday and greatly enjoyed hearing Scott Huff, Joe Sebok, and Joe Stapleton (who, indeed, is a contributor and writes the “Weekly Misdeal” segments) talk about the show. There’s a terrific interview in there with new World Series Main Event champion Joe Cada, by the way, with Cada continuing to come off as a down-to-earth, likable dude as well as a willing, able “ambassador” of poker. Both before and after the interview the hosts talk about “Poker2Nite,” and having just watched the first three episodes I found their discussion very entertaining and revealing.

The fun they had at their own expense -- e.g., laughing some at Sebok’s stilted appearance and delivery (especially on the initial episode) -- reminded me a little bit of a passage near the end of Victoria Coren’s new memoir For Richer, For Poorer: A Love Affair with Poker which I reviewed here last week. Amid a passage discussing the Hendon Mob forum and some of the more rude and critical contributors she’d encountered there, she notes how the original spirit of the site had become altered over time.

“The original idea [of the site] was all about self-deprecating British humour,” she notes. “The guys played down how good they were. They played up the bumbling hopefulness of the game, the borrowing of money to get into tournaments, the impoverished Delboy dreams of greatness.” (For Americans, that latter is a reference to the central character in a popular British sitcom “Only Fools and Horses” from the 1980s, I believe.)

Referring to her own sponsorship by PokerStars (and the cynical responses of some on the Hendon Mob forum), Coren wonders “With sponsors to impress and carping railbirds to placate, is there any room for humorous modesty?” She goes on to quote her friend and Hendon Mobster Barny Boatman draw a contrast with American culture, where “players talk up how great they are, how much better than the next guy,” something he finds “a bit crass.”

I realized listening to the PokerRoad Radio podcast a couple of things. For one, I was laughing a lot thanks to the off-the-cuff wit of the hosts, a lot of which, in fact, was derived from that willingness to poke fun at themselves -- that “humorous modesty” -- that Coren wonders might be threatened in poker by things like sponsorship, corporatization, and what might be called the “professionalization” of the game. (And which, I suppose, Americans are in fact capable of, too, here and there.)

The other thing I realized when listening to the podcast was how these elements -- the spontaneity and the “humorous modesty” -- were largely missing from the television show.

One can see an attempt to bring in some of both in the most recent episode of “Poker2Nite” with the addition of a segment called “All In Blind” in which Huff and Sebok picked topics at random and discussed them without apparently having prepped too much beforehand. It will be interesting to watch tonight’s show and see how the guys continue to work on incorporating these elements that make their podcasts so entertaining.

Speaking of the pressures of sponsorship, they were adamant about how UltimateBet (or “UB”) had given them total creative control over the show, and how none of the decisions made about segments or their content had been dictated by UB’s preferences. “UB has not tried to tell us one thing to put on the show or leave off the show,” explained Stapleton. Having watched those three eps, I’d say there’s no real reason to doubt that claim. Indeed I can’t say I ever was all that conscious of the fact that UB could have had any sort of editorial input when I was watching.

The big Antonius-Isildur1 hand was discussed on 'Poker2Nite'However, I did find very intriguing Huff’s explanation for why in their discussion of the big $1.35 million dollar hand between Patrik Antonius and Isildur1 (in the second episode) they were unable to refer to the fact that the pair was playing the hand on Full Tilt Poker. The omission was not because of UB’s sponsorship of the show, but rather because Fox Sports Network would not allow them to mention a “dot com,” real money online poker site on the show.

Explained Huff, “We are allowed to mention ‘dot nets’ but we also have to be factual as journalists.... This hand did not take place on ‘’ so for factual reasons we can’t say it happened on ‘Full Tilt Poker-anything’ because if we say ‘dot com’ it’s illegal [i.e., forbidden by the network] for us to say it and they’ll just bleep it or take the segment out entirely, and if we say ‘dot net’ we’re being factually incorrect, so it also can’t be aired. So the only option is to not mention where it happened and only mention the facts we are allowed to report on.”

Kind of amazing, really, and indicative of the delicate spot the guys sometimes find themselves on the show, reporting-wise. Stapleton then added a bit more clarification to the situation.

“If Phil Ivey had happened to be playing that hand, or someone who was in the United States at the time, we wouldn’t have been able to report on it, as per Fox,” said Stapleton. “We can’t talk about anyone playing online poker for money in the United States [because] in the eyes of the network, we are promoting illegal activity.”

Indeed, I remember at the start of that segment reference was made of both Antonius (a native of Finland) and Isildur1 (thought to be from Sweden) as “Scandinavian sickos,” and Huff also had mentioned -- seemingly unnecessarily -- that Antonius was a “Monte Carlo resident.” And at the end of the narration of the hand, Sebok noted how the money had “shipped straight from Sweden to Monte Carlo.”

Pretty strange world, if you think about it. A show sponsored by a “U.S. facing” online poker site, airing on a U.S. network, that can’t even mention that people in the U.S. can play online poker for real money. Makes one appreciate how hard it can be to find grins in the midst of such a humorless, litigious context.

Anyhow, for those with FSN, the show airs again tonight (Wednesday), and the rest of us can watch online shortly thereafter.

(I titled the post that way because this whole topic recalled an earlier one -- written two-and-a-half years ago -- in which participants on an episode of “Poker After Dark” were bemoaning the fact that they were not allowed to say certain words like “gambling” and “money” when announcing poker shows.)

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Blogger Sean G said...

Thanks for the mention Shamus. Glad I could be of help.

I agree with your analysis, great post!

12/09/2009 11:33 AM  

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