Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 WSOP, Day 45: Places, Everyone!

Places, Everyone!I was unable yesterday to see any of the coverage on either ESPN3 (online) or ESPN2 (on the teevee) of Day 3 of the 2011 World Series of Poker, although from what I was hearing it was great stuff for poker fans. Six hours of coverage in the afternoon, plus another three-and-a-half in the evening? Wild.

I can say that while reporting yesterday from the Amazon Room we were very aware of all the shooting being done in every corner of the huge ballroom. I assumed some of it was going out “live”-ish (i.e., on a delay), particularly from the feature tables, while footage was also being shot for the edited Main Event shows that will start airing on ESPN in mid-August.

The space between the tables where we reporters roam, often fairly free of traffic during the preliminary events and even during the four Day Ones and two Day Twos of the ME, was full of folks yesterday, with the ESPN crews and extra media who’ve come just for the Main Event having to signal frequently to avoid crashing into each other and/or the waiters and massage therapists milling about.

All went reasonably well, though, and the extra cameras added a touch of excitement to the proceedings. I could tell some players weren’t always thrilled about the cameras’ intrusiveness, but most seemed to get used to it all and played along accordingly.

One new twist to the coverage of the outer tables that I’d never seen before was the use of a hand-held hole card camera to capture shots of players’ cards at tables that aren’t already equipped to do so. Imagine a small camcorder fastened to a flat, rectangular board no bigger than two playing cards sitting side by side. The crew would shoot a hand from beginning to end, then afterwards set the portable camera on the table and get the players involved to squeeze their cards in front of it. No one else (theoretically) would see the cards at the table, but ESPN would get a shot of them that could be later cut into to sequence at the start of the hands.

There were snafus here and there. In hands without showdowns, dealers had to keep the hands from the muck, then give them back to the players so they could show the cards to the hole card camera. On one occasion -- a hand involving Phil Hellmuth -- the dealer accidentally switched the hands so that Hellmuth was showing his opponent’s hand and vice-versa. It was a relatively small-pot hand, if I recall correctly, and the players were more amused than bothered in that instance. But I imagine there were other problems, too, not to mention the delays caused by the obtaining of these extra shots.

Like I say, though, it kind of feels like most of the players understand what they are getting into here and are thus mostly taking it all in stride. The WSOP Main Event is unlike every other poker tournament in the world -- a circus, a play, a performance with directors and supporting cast.

At the start of play yesterday WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart took the mic and noted over the public address that we were “about to go live,” referring to the ESPN3 streaming coverage. He then offered suggestions to everyone about what to expect and how to act. It felt weird, like we were all about to go out on stage or something.

Stewart also said something about poker entering a new age, moving out of just being the subject of documentaries and becoming even more like sports programming. I was busy readying for my workday, and so didn’t catch the entire statement. But as the day wore on I could tell that the line between merely chronicling what was happening and managing and/or directing it had been blurred even further. Every instance of players showing their hole cards after a hand had completed added further to that impression.

The show goes on in just a little while with today’s Day 4, with the inherently dramatic bursting of the cash bubble likely due sometime this afternoon.

Or whenever the director decides.

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