Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 WSOP, Day 19: The Day One Debate

Day 1Yesterday I helped cover Day 1 of Event No. 28, the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event for PokerNews. Started with 596 runners and ended the day with around 100. Ten one-hour levels were played, so the three of us covering the event -- Chad, my blogging partner, and Andy, our field reporter -- were watching about 50 players hit the rail per level.

Most of our time yesterday was spent identifying players, entering them into the chip counts, tracking their progress, and then, eventually, busting most of them from the counts. Andy, who has experience doing this sort of thing on the World Poker Tour, knows a ton of players and is an absolute maniac when it comes to counting chips. If you can believe it, we ended up tracking something like 220-240 players yesterday, entering all of those names and updating their counts a couple of times per hour.

I say “if you can believe it,” because if you check the Day 1 chip count page today -- the official end-of-day counts that come from Harrah’s -- only the survivors are listed. All of those players we entered and tracked no longer appear on the page. I cannot answer why this happens. I have some inkling of how the process works, but I have nothing to do with it.

Somehow Chad and I also managed to write 100-plus blog posts during the day as well in between all of the data entry, noting big hands (and some small ones) and as sharing a bit of color here and there, too. Examples of the latter included my reporting on T.J. Cloutier and Luc Greenwood discussing Cloutier’s career in the Canadian Football League (“From Blocking Backs to Blocking Bets”), Will “The Thrill” Failla cracking up his table with his hilarious description of his getting paid the minimum with quads (“Omahahahaha”), and an epic tank by Michael Binger in a hand that lasted more than 15 minutes (“Which Is More Difficult? Poker or a Ph.D.?”).

There’s a great debate going on currently among various parties about priorities when it comes to reporting on the first day of a three-day event like this. I’m not going to get into all of the applesauce about chip counts that has gotten folks into a frenzy here of late. Some who have never tried this sort of thing think they could be better kept and more accurate, but I know there is nothing more three people can do with a field of 600 (or 2,000 or what have you). Double the crew and we may have something to talk about here, but otherwise it is really a moot point.

Rather, I just present the situation and invite you, reader, to consider what is really important when it comes to reporting on Day 1 of a three-day WSOP event.

In 2009, we actually did not track chip counts at all on Day 1, and instead reported on hands and provided color throughout the day, passed along the eliminations of the notables, then at day’s end tried to identify all of the big stacks and give readers an idea who was in front heading into Day 2. (Incidentally, these events never reach the money on Day 1, and usually it takes a little while into Day 2 before the bubble bursts.) That represented one approach -- by no means necessarily the best, but just one way to do it.

This year the approach (as described above) has been a little different, and I think one result from the change is that it has opened up this debate about priorities when it comes to Day 1 reporting.

You know already I’m kind of a “word guy.” I obviously enjoy writing or I wouldn’t have kept this blog for so long. So I’m one who is predictably going to value hand reports and color, whether we’re talking about Day 1 or the final table.

But I am not adverse to numbers or statistics, either (a big reason why I think I find poker so fascinating, really). That is to say, I ain’t against counting chips at all. In fact, I’m probably one of those strange cats who kind of likes doing it. (Not so crazy about doing it all day and then seeing the results of my efforts vanish once the next day begins, but again that’s something out of my control and I’m not going to fret over it.)

So what do you think? What do you want to see when you check in on the first day of reporting from a WSOP event?

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6 Comments:

Blogger A Year of Books said...

No one will remember (or have any reason to remember) Player X's chip count on Day 1, Level 3, of Event X. Quotes, anecdotes, big hands -- these are elements that add real value to the report. I would vote for spending more effort on these at the expense of early chip counts. You guys are doing a strong job. Thanks.

6/16/2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger Rakewell said...

As I already commented on my own blog, in response to the Negreanu thing, I value the stories much more than the chip counts. Didn't miss 'em at all last year. I have no vested interest in who wins, and therefore don't really care who is ahead at any point. (Besides, who is ahead at some point on Day 1 has almost zero correlation with who ends up winning.) What I value in the reporting is the characters, the blowups, the examples of good sportsmanship, the player interactions, the rules controversies, the jokes, the astronomically improbable hands, the stupid things said, etc.

6/16/2010 3:04 PM  
Blogger BJ said...

I have plenty to say about the relative value of chip counts, but first, I'm glad that you got a chance to work with Andy Liakos. He's one of the best tournament reporters I know. (I work with him year-round on the World Poker Tour.)

Andy is a hell of a chip counter to be sure, but it's not like he's a one-trick pony or a savant. Andy kicks ass because he works hard and he cares about providing excellent tournament coverage. He sets higher reporting standards for himself than our bosses do, and that is extremely rare in any field. (Especially one as low-paid as ours.)

For example -- Andy developed his own system for tracking chip counts at the final table so they would be constantly updated, but then he took it a few steps further. He fine-tuned the system and worked with me until we figured out a way to get those chip counts into my hand-for-hand updates, so there were running counts available. (Chip count pages usually only show the most recent counts, not the historical ones.)

At the time, it was an experiment, but once we saw it in practice, we realized there was huge value to the fans in being able to see how quickly (or how slowly) final table chip counts were changing.

I wouldn't take a bullet for Andy Liakos, but I would hunt down his killer and exact vengeance.

6/16/2010 4:09 PM  
Blogger BJ said...

I am one of the vocal proponents of chip counts. I love hand updates too, but they fill different needs for different types of readers.

Before I continue, let me say that anyone who says chip counts don't matter on Day 1 should realize that all the same arguments apply to hand updates.

If someone is following the coverage all day long, hitting refresh several times an hour, then the hand updates give them some interesting stories to read. I have a feeling those types of fans would prefer the balance tipped more toward updates than chip counts.

However, there are a lot of people who just check in once in a while to see how a tournament is going, or check on the progress of their favorite players. They aren't going to take the time to scroll back and read the past few hours of updates. For these fans, a list of recently-updated chip counts provides a lot of information very quickly.

Scanning the chip counts on Day 1, I can quickly find:

1. Which players signed up for this event.

2. Which players have already busted.

3. Which players are doing well.

4. How my favorite players are doing.

To get that same information from hand updates is difficult at best (requiring a lot of reading/scanning), and sometimes impossible (if there are no updates on the info I'm looking for).

For the record, this is one of the problems I have with puns in update titles. If I am scanning back through the coverage to find something on a specific player, I often skip past updates where the title is focused on humor rather than information. (Or it slows me down as I have to decipher the puns.)

Obviously, both updates and chip counts are important to tournament coverage. And chip counts aren't easy, and require more work. But the value of a scoreboard in any game or sporting event is not to be underestimated.

Yes, some people watch every minute of a baseball game or a World Cup soccer match. But others just check in for a moment, look at the score, and go off to do other things for a while. Many poker fans are the same way.

6/16/2010 4:37 PM  
Blogger Fermented Wisdom said...

While I appreciate having both write-ups and chip counts at my disposal, if you made me choose one and only one...it would be the write-ups. Fortunately for me, there are only a handful of individuals whose chip counts I'm interested in, and those individuals (for the most part) post their own chip counts periodically on their Twitter accounts.

But in the interest of full disclosure, it's important to note that I find this statistical aspect to poker tournaments rather boring, especially on Day 1. It's the brief stories (when well written, as yours are) that draw my interest into the tournament itself. With the number of events in the WSOP, it's rather difficult for a "casual fan" such as myself to be drawn into every single one. But I visit Poker News specifically to read those hand updates, because they draw me into the experience of the WSOP as the basic chip counts never could or would.

One more thing to posit before leaving -- I'm taking the under on # of readers you have who would give up your writing for minute by minute chip counts. I frequently read bloggers like Pauly, Poker Grump and F-Train not because they provide some empirical data I want, but because their writing skill draws me into their world far more than numbers ever could. Without that writing skill...my time spent on Poker News would drop substantially.

Thank you for all your hard work out there, for sharing your writing with us via this blog, and most importantly, as a lover of words -- thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for not being on Twitter. :)

6/17/2010 11:57 AM  
Blogger BJ Nemeth said...

I'm not surprised that readers of Shamus's blog prefer the write-ups to the chip counts, but keep in mind that it's a self-selected sample that isn't representative of all readers of live updates.

Let me repeat -- I enjoy the hand updates. I enjoy writing them, and I enjoy reading them. But more often than not, when I follow tournaments, my first (and often last) stop is the chip count page.

6/17/2010 7:41 PM  

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