Like many, I had a bit of trouble last Sunday night (February 13) locating the program amid all of channels associated with the Fox Sports Network. I finally did see on the schedule the one-hour episode, the first of two presenting the 2010 Bellagio VI event that took place last July as the World Series of Poker Main Event was winding down for the summer. It aired at 11 p.m. here, so rather than stay up I recorded the show to watch later.
When I did finally see the show I discovered some of it had been excised due to a basketball game airing just prior that had run over its allotted time. Didn’t realize this until halfway through the episode when there appeared a message saying that “due to time constraints, we now move ahead in our coverage on FSN.” (I think it is being rerun at various times throughout the week, though, so there are still chances to see the entire thing.)
I believe an interview with Faraz Jaka, the Season 8 WPT Player of the Year, got dropped out, as did perhaps a hand or two. There were quite a few lengthy commercial breaks as well, meaning that all told I saw almost exactly 32 minutes’ worth of the show, probably about 80% of it, I’m guessing. So take these few first impressions for what they’re worth.
Following a “Monday Night Football”-like intro, the first eight minutes or so were devoted to recapping the first four days of the $10,000+$300 buy-in tournament that ultimately drew 353 players. The sequence was necessarily quite rushed, with tons of quick cuts, sound bites from players, and hastily-shown entrances and bustouts.
The frenetic quality of the sequence was compounded a bit by the graphics. For example, we were shown end-of-day chip counts for leaders and notables, but the lists appear on screen for only five seconds, making them pretty much impossible to scan. About halfway through this opening recap I additionally noticed the scroll on the bottom of the screen which continued throughout the program. There one found whizzing by in tiny type things like “Previous Champs,” “Prelim Winners,” “Day 1 Bustouts,” “Day 2 Bustouts” (and so forth), “Most Titles,” and Kimberly Lansing’s Twitter address.
The event featured a greatly-extended registration period, allowing players to buy in as late as Day 3. That fact was conveyed well enough here, but the uniqueness of such a format perhaps was not. During the minute or so devoted to Day 3, Erik Seidel is shown briefly registering. “Day 3, made it!” says Seidel with a wry grin, as if he’d accomplished something special. A pretty funny line, though I’m guessing the humor was probably lost on many, particularly those unfamiliar with how registration normally works for these events.
Like I say, the opening was kind of crazily-paced, even for a seasoned poker watcher like myself, and I can’t really say it oriented me all that well for the final table to come. There were a few interesting moments, though, such as seeing amateur Dan Stojadinovic folding a flopped set of fives on the money bubble and then talking briefly about having done so afterwards.
Following a commercial break the final table began, at which point we were shown (again very quickly) the current chip counts and payouts. The Australian John Caridad began the final table with a big chip lead, with Justin “BoostedJ” Smith and Phil Ivey his most notable challengers among the final six.
I ended up seeing nine hands altogether, with a couple of those joined after they had begun. Speaking once more of graphics, I kind of liked the use of four colors for the suits for the cards, especially since they are so small on screen. I thought Tony “Bond18” Dunst’s hand-analysis segment -- “The Raw Deal” -- was interesting and a decent addition, too. Dunst did kind of gloss over one element of the hand he discussed between Caridad and Ivey (i.e., the size of Ivey’s stack), but the segment was cool enough.
Of course, that analysis came after just the second hand shown, which was nearly halfway through the show. Was starting to get antsy to see some actual poker being played. Other detours to show Phil Hellmuth’s late entrance and early exit, to talk briefly with Melanie of the Royal Flush Girls about dating, and the like were all further distractions. Or at least they felt that way to me.
Ultimately the hands shown were only mildly interesting, with only a couple of difficult decisions being faced by players. Two players were eliminated, leaving Caridad, Ivey, Smith, and the German Moritz Kranich to return for the second and final hour of Bellagio Cup VI coverage next week. Not too much “character development” has happened, really, although Caridad has been portrayed as the least accomplished of the remaining four -- really the only player during this first episode to have made what appear to have been mistakes in the hands shown.
Kimberly Lansing’s “anchor” role seems pretty close to that of the previous WPT hostesses, actually, although she does appear onscreen more often and for longer stretches than the earlier hostesses did. Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, both of whom I have always liked as commentators, seem to be doing their same thing as well, although their roles felt a bit diminished thanks to all the rushing back and forth that was going on around them.
Last weekend I happened to have watched some old episodes of “High Stakes Poker” on GSN, realizing while doing so what a long shelf life those shows seem to have. Even though I’d seen them all before -- some more than once -- the episodes were nevertheless thoroughly entertaining. Even Vera, who was watching with me and who isn’t necessarily a big fan of poker television, said she enjoyed the shows, primarily thanks to the way the personalities of the players were allowed to come through. Gabe Kaplan cracking wise also helped, too. (We’ll soon see how his absence on “HSP” during the upcoming season will affect the show.)
By comparison, this debut episode of Season 9 of the World Poker Tour (or what I saw of it, anyway) wasn’t nearly as interesting to watch the first time around. And really, I can’t honestly say I’d ever willingly look it up to rewatch it in the future.
The show reminded me a little of a favorite band who’d made a number of solid albums finally getting signed to a major label, hiring a big-time producer, then putting out an overdone collection of tracks in which the tunes had gotten lost amid a lot of expensive bells and whistles. There’s something good in there somewhere -- something I remember I liked about what they’d done before -- but whatever that was it isn’t really coming through.
That said, I wouldn’t rush to judgment on WPT Season 9 just yet, especially after only seeing one (or, really, part of one) episode. Gonna have to try to watch the show some more, first. Here’s hoping the ball games don’t run too long.