Monday, October 03, 2011

Epic Poker League Makes Television Debut

Epic Poker League makes TV debutWas home Saturday night and happened to be in front of the teevee when the debut of the Epic Poker League popped up at 10 p.m. Actually I think this might have been a “preview” show, not the official “premiere” which I believe is slated for this coming weekend. Here’s the full schedule, if you’re curious.

I’d seen a few references to the show coming up here and there, although I can’t say I made specific plans to watch. I wasn’t even sure the channel was included among the ones we receive, but a quick search just before ten o’clock revealed it was, and so I took a look. I was curious to see it, not just because I am writing that “Community Cards” column for the EPL blog (although feel free to take that for what it’s worth, if you like, when reading my evaluation of the show).

This first hour-long program introduced the EPL, filled in details regarding the early days of the first Main Event which drew 137 players, then picked up the action with 18 left gathered around three six-handed tables. Over the course of the hour the field was trimmed to 10, at which point I assume the next broadcast will pick things up.

I’ve seen no ratings numbers, but I’m guessing the show couldn’t have attracted a huge audience. It aired on Discovery HD theater, a channel which I believe will be redubbed Velocity sometime this week. Didn’t really notice a lot of chatter on Twitter about it while I was watching, although to be honest I’m not seeing much talk lately on Tuesday nights, either, during ESPN’s WSOP shows.

Televised poker most certainly lost its novelty for many long ago. And I think among U.S. players and viewers, the sudden unavailability of the online game (for the most part) has probably further muted a lot of folks’ excitement over the idea of watching others play cards. Thus has the impact of a new poker show lessened considerably.

Nonetheless, I did find the hour’s worth of poker entertaining, and so thought I’d share just a few impressions.

Shamus watches EPLThe overall look and feel of the show was excellent, the signature style of 441 Productions -- who had presented the WSOP on ESPN prior to this year -- evident throughout. The shots, the sound, the editing, the graphics, and everything to do with the presentation was top-notch, and I think might well make some wish 441 was still involved with the WSOP.

Pat O’Brien and Ali Nejad did fine with the commentary. O’Brien’s sports background kind of furthered the idea that we were watching a sporting event, an impression I think the EPL would like to encourage. There wasn’t much goofing or Norman Chad-style joking around, but rather what seemed like a mostly no-nonsense, efficient approach to the way the pair described the action.

There were a couple of interesting hands, strategy-wise, along the way. I liked the way stack sizes were incorporated into the graphics, with adjustments made as each bet was made. The numbers appeared in a subtle way beneath the players’ cards, meaning if a viewer didn’t care about such stuff, he or she could easily ignore it.

There were a few segments presenting backgrounds on players -- “human interest” stuff that worked well enough, I thought. I found it interesting that O’Brien and Nejad did allude to David “Chino” Rheem’s money troubles, explaining how he had over $4 million in career earnings (prior to this event) but had lost it all and then some. Also noticed how there were plenty of PokerStars patches to be seen, but no Full Tilt Poker ones (as far as I saw). (The event took place in early August.)

Global Poker IndexI’ll make one last observation. References to the Global Poker Index were made frequently, and especially toward the end of the hour it felt a little like an “argument” (of sorts) was starting to be advanced about how these rankings and the EPL should be regarded as heralding a new chapter in professional poker.

Much was made of the fact that three of the top four ranked players at the time -- Jason Mercier, Eugene Katchalov, and Erik Seidel -- were among the final players left in the event, the implication being that the tourney was proving, in a way, that the best players tend to win out in the end.

Was kind of weird, actually, to see these rankings brought up while hands were being played. Thus, say, when a hand arose in which Gavin Smith (ranked 101st at the time) was up against Katchalov (then ranked 3rd), it was a little like an underdog-favorite situation was being suggested such as when a lower-ranked team plays a top five team in college football, or a lower seed is matched with a top seed in tennis.

I guess the rankings do help bolster that feeling that it’s sports we’re watching, but most of us -- and by “us” I mean semi-serious or serious poker players -- know that such stuff doesn’t matter, really, when a hand is playing out. Still, I guess I’m curious to see how the GPI evolves and whether or not it really can effect some sort of alternate way of thinking about professional poker.

Like I say, it’s hard even for us poker fanatics to get too up for a poker show anymore. Still, it was an engaging hour of poker television. Not wholly absorbing or riveting, but engaging. Enough for me to try to find the sucker on the menu once the next episode rolls around.

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