Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poker, Poker, Poker (WSOP, Super Tuesday, Epic)

The 2011 $50K Poker Player's ChampionshipI mentioned yesterday how there’s a lot to occupy us in the poker world these days, even for those of us here in America who aren’t spending an hour or two (or ten) of the day playing online.

Found my attention taken up by three different tournaments yesterday -- one on television, one online, and one live -- and thought I’d share a few thoughts today regarding each.

The one on the teevee was ESPN’s coverage of the final table of $50K Poker Player’s Championship (Event No. 55) in which Brian Rast at the end dramatically faded three flush draws by runner-up Phil Hellmuth to take his second bracelet of the summer. Vera watched some, too, and we remembered being there for a while that night. Could fleetingly identify our silhouettes a couple of times in the background, in fact.

This was the first time I’d sat down to watch any of the packaged stuff ESPN began airing a couple of weeks ago. Incidentally I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the live streaming of this on ESPN3 over the summer, which I imagine would considerably affect how some would view these two hours of edited coverage. (The live stream of the $50K final table is currently available over on YouTube here: Part 1 & Part 2.) Had a few quick reactions to the show, and so I thought I’d just offer them here in list form.

1. A lot of above-average interesting hands were shown, and Hellmuth in particular (involved in the majority making the cut) made a number of nifty plays and reads. While he didn’t play perfectly and made at least a couple of decisions that could be questioned, Hellmuth was playing some creative poker that night -- more so than I think some would suspect him of being capable of -- and I think partly showed why he had such a remarkable WSOP this year. Should add, too, that Rast was a beast as well, his high-level thinking and play perhaps being slightly less obviously demonstrated during the two-hour show.

2. I like Norman Chad, but some of his commentary, particularly jokes about players’ looks, didn’t quite land last night. Kept calling Rast pale and compared George Lind to Billy Bob Thornton’s Karl character from Sling Blade. I remain a Chad fan, though. (By the way, if you’re curious, see Lind’s complaint on 2+2 last night about the Sling Blade stuff and Chad’s classy response.)

3. The Kara Scott updates fit just fine with the narrative, I thought. I’ll mention again that having watched those being shot (as well as the ones with Chad and Lon McEachern), they were invariably done in a single take.

4. The inserts from Joe Navarro about body language and Barry Greenstein offering analysis were fine, too. Vera in particular found the Navarro segments intriguing, which made me realize that like the personal profile stuff (e.g., about Rast’s Brazilian fiancee) the Navarro segments might have an appeal for those beyond the hardcore poker audience -- which the strategy stuff surely does not.

5. Was a little surprised at how the table was shot, actually. Felt like we were somewhat removed from the action, craning to see what exactly was going on at the table when players were making their bets. (Those crazy multi-colored chips -- which we didn’t enjoy trying to count at all, by the way -- weren’t helpful either.) Even the sound was a little strange at times, with the table talk not always coming through clearly. Kind of had the look and feel of a live broadcast, in fact -- very different from what we’ve seen over the last few years of WSOP coverage on ESPN.

As we all know, there was a new production company this year, with Poker PROductions having replaced 441. Meaning there’s necessarily going to be differences, and it’ll likely take a while for us loyal watchers of the WSOP on ESPN to get acclimated to those changes and then decide whether or not we like them. My overall impression, though, from these first two hours was positive.

8/9/11 Super Tuesday final tableThe online tourney I gave attention to last night was the Super Tuesday, the $1,000+$50 no-limit hold’em tourney that runs each week on PokerStars at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Thought it noteworthy to see that 360 players played in the event last night. That meant the $360,000 prize pool was well over twice the $150K guarantee Stars now has for the Super Tuesday. (The guarantee has been scaled back from $300K after Black Friday.) That field of 360 represented a big increase over the last few weeks, and looking back it turns out that was the biggest field since April 12 (373), the last Super Tuesday before Black Friday.

Yesterday I also saw PokerScout’s report noting how PokerStars’ traffic has surged of late, thanks largely, of course, to Full Tilt’s shutdown. Just four months down the line, Stars is edging closer to getting back to its pre-Black Friday traffic, kind of incredible when you think how the site instantly lost a significant chunk (perhaps 25-30%) of its player base on April 15. According to PokerScout, Stars currently claims 54% of the worldwide online poker market (among dot-coms).

The World Championship of Online Poker is coming up in a few weeks over on PokerStars, starting September 4. Will be interesting to see how numbers for those 62 events turn out, and how they compare to 2010.

Epic Poker, Season 1, Tournament Series 1, Main Event, Day 1Finally, I couldn’t help but follow -- pretty much all day -- coverage of the Epic Poker League’s first-ever Main Event. PokerNews provided updates, with Donnie Peters having flown from Uruguay to Vegas to join the coverage right away. I said something on Twitter yesterday about how his doing so reminded me of Phil Collins taking the Concorde to perform at both London and Philadelphia on the same day at Live Aid. (Not only was I referring to something too far back for many to remember, but in the poker world the name Phil Collins -- one of this year’s November Nine -- now evokes someone other than the pop star.)

There were also detailed updates on the Epic Poker website, including a lot of nifty features including chip counts by table and some other unique elements.

Early in the day ESPN Poker’s Andrew Feldman set a line of 137 entrants for the event. My first instinct was to think that number seemed high. There were only 252 eligible players, plus eight more who’d won their way in via the Pro-Am. (Andy Bloch, already eligible for EPL Main Events, won a seat, too, by finishing third in the Pro-Am).

As it turned out, Feldman nailed it with his line, as exactly 137 players did participate. Dunno what Epic’s expectations or hopes were exactly, but as I say that turnout seems pretty healthy to me, higher than I would’ve projected. Will be curious, of course, to see if the number goes up or down for the second Main Event, coming up soon in early September.

I mentioned here a week ago how I’d been asked by Epic Poker to contribute a “poker and pop culture” column, a fact which will you can freely keep in mind when reading any comments by me regarding the EPL and its prospects. There are some -- players (both eligible and non-eligible) and others -- who have already been critical of the league and occasionally sound as though they are hopeful the EPL will fail to sustain itself or to achieve its various goals, some of which are certainly lofty.

I certainly hope to see the EPL survive and even do well. Sure, I very much like having the opportunity to write for them now and then, and necessarily can’t help but share from afar the excitement regarding the league’s launch. But I’m also aware of the many factors currently in place here in the U.S. that will make it very challenging for the league to succeed -- the biggest, perhaps, being poker’s highly uncertain place in our culture at the moment.

Will be something else to watch, then. Along with everything else.

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