That’s how Tony Kornheiser introduced a short segment on Monday’s “Pardon the Interruption” regarding the heist that occurred at the European Poker Tour Berlin Main Event last Saturday. After a brief summary of what happened, Kornheiser then opened up what would amount to a 90-second discussion of the story with his co-host Michael Wilbon by posing the following question:
“Wilbon, do you see this as a serious breach of the law, or an exciting new twist to televised poker coverage?!”
Kornheiser’s tone (and grin) made it clear he was being sarcastic, but bringing up the topic this way seemed to indicate the somewhat cynical view the hosts and other sports journalists have about poker butting its way onto ESPN and the sports section. And, as it turned out, Wilbon’s answer made it sound as though he understood the question somewhat seriously.
After starting with a joke asking about Norman Chad’s whereabouts at the time of the robbery, Wilbon described his thoughts when watching the video clip from EPT Live showing the tourney suddenly getting interrupted.
“Watching from afar, I’m like... this is like a wrestling promotion!” said Wilbon. “This was like a set-up to get more attention -- to get goofballs like you and me talking about this stuff -- and it seems like an exciting new development. Like a car chase on CNN!”
Kornheiser agreed it was exciting stuff, suggesting that the incident “will be a movie within a year.” The conversation quickly concluded after a couple of incredulous reactions at the level of security that allowed the theft to occur. (By the way, a tip of the fedora to Gary Wise for mentioning the PTI segment earlier this week in his ESPN column.)
I guess I can’t really blame Kornheiser or Wilbon for reacting this way. For those who have never participated in, covered, or attended a real live high-stakes poker tournament, there’s a lot of mystery about what goes on. In other words, I guess I am saying I am inclined to pardon “Pardon the Interruption” here. Though I ain’t necessarily congratulating them for any special insight, either.
Given poker’s storied history in the U.S. -- a history filled with cheats and thieves and other “hold’em up”-style scenes -- I can see how some hearing of the EPT Berlin robbery wouldn’t necessarily appreciate how uncommon an event it really was. (Heck, I remember the first time I went out to cover the WSOP getting asked about how I’d handle being around gangsters. No shinola!)
Obviously the robbery was not “a set-up” or some sort of promotional gimmick. (And, really, to think it was would require a heckuva lot of cynicism.) Not that the EPT or any of the other professional poker tours would even desire this sort of attention, or expect it to help stimulate their growth.
I had the chance to talk with one of the players who was still in the Main Event at the time of the robbery on Saturday -- Ilya Gorodetsky. In fact, he was seated at the feature table when the interruption occurred. In my interview with the Russian player, he told me how some initially thought it might have been some sort of joke. But it soon became clear it was not.
You can read the full interview over on Betfair, where it was posted this morning: “Fright at the Feature Table: EPT Berlin.” Big thanks again to Ilya for taking the time to talk with me.
Here’s to a less exciting weekend this time, eh?