Jessica came across some online reporting from the WSOP conducted from 1995 to 2000 -- that, is dating back to pretty much the beginning of online anything -- and in her post describes what she found and what she likes about it.
Her post ultimately points back to the argument in favor of so-called “hand-for-hand” reports from final tables, something both she and B.J. Nemeth have long petitioned for and demonstrated in their reporting from World Poker Tour final tables. I’m talking about the practice of reporting every single hand from a final table, often numbering them, rather than only reporting most and/or significant hands while perhaps inserting other items of interest or relevance along the way.
Thus Jessica’s primary emphasis in her post is to argue that “it is time we stepped it up with hand-for-hand of every major final table” at WSOP events and other major tourneys. I want to address that argument, but first let me say a few things about that 1995-2000 coverage Jessica unearthed and in particular the examples of hand-for-hand reporting they contain.
Here is the page containing links to those 1995-2000 WSOPs. I know I’ve seen some of this before tucked away on the Conjelco site, although to be honest I hadn’t really explored it much and so like Jessica wasn’t previously aware of everything that was there.
By the way, for those seeking more early online reporting from the WSOP, the PokerPages site has reports going back to 2000. (There’s overlap, actually, with the same 2000 reports appearing on both sites.) CardPlayer has live updates from all events in 2005 and 2006. And from 2007 to present, PokerNews has handled the coverage as a primary content provider for the WSOP.
Among those reports from 1995-2000 one finds event summaries (including interviews and other goodies) written by Tom Sims, Andy Glazer, and Mike Paulle. Some of their reports from those final tables are quite thorough, and as Jessica points out these writers have left behind a great resource for anyone interested in studying the WSOP history during these pre-“boom” years. These guys were truly trailblazers.
One especially cool nugget highlighted by Jessica is a hand-for-hand account by Sims of the 1997 WSOP Main Event final table at which Stu Ungar won his third title. She also highlights another interesting item from that year’s WSOP Main Event, “The Andy Bloch Project” in which Sims and Bloch worked together to report all 648 hands Bloch played in that year’s ME.
Both reports are fascinating in their thoroughness. I think it’s probably safe to say nothing quite like it had been tried before -- not on such a scale, anyway -- and thus was Sims (and in the latter case, Sims and Bloch) challenged to establish both a methodology for keeping track of the info as well as devise a system for presenting it.
Jessica praises Sims highly, and I can’t help but agree with her that he’s left something especially valuable in his report. Jessica calls Sims’s 1997 ME final table report “one of the most compelling, colorful, and thorough pieces of content” she’s ever read, and even goes so far as to suggest that between that report and “The Andy Bloch Project,” “his efforts... have more long-term value than any of the coverage generated at this year’s series.”
I’ll continue to agree with Jessica regarding Sims’s reports being “compelling” and “thorough.” And while the hand-for-hand stuff is not really that “colorful,” the “Daily Report” Sims filed to go as part of his 1997 ME final table reporting is indeed terrific, setting the stage nicely and really capturing the unusual scene at the only WSOP Main Event final table every to have been played outdoors (on Fremont Street, in front of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino).
I’m not going to go as far as Jessica and suggest the wealth of coverage from the 2012 WSOP somehow has less long-term value than Sims’s ’97 reports. I do think Jessica means more to praise Sims than denigrate more recent reporting efforts, and in fact her main point (as mentioned above) is really to advocate for hand-for-hand reporting from all WSOP final tables -- i.e., not just the Main Event -- so future readers and students of the WSOP can enjoy a record as thorough as the one Sims created 15 years ago.
In other words, I appreciate what she’s saying about the need for hand-for-hand coverage. From 2005-2006, CardPlayer occasionally provided hand-for-hand reports from WSOP final tables. PokerNews continued to try to do so from 2007-2008, and every once in a while in 2009. I was there with PN in ’08 and ’09, and so helped produce some of those reports and thus have had experience live blogging hand-for-hand. But from 2009 onward I believe the only hand-for-hand reporting from final tables that has been done at the WSOP happened at Main Events and the big buy-in events like the $50K Player’s Championship and the “Big One for One Drop.”
However, with regard to hand-for-hand reporting, let me point out a few issues Jessica doesn’t mention in her post.
She refers to the WPT’s reporting of final tables (which she helped with up until taking her position with the WSOP) and the standard set there for hand-for-hand reporting. “As a result,” notes Jessica, the WPT is “able to offer a wealth of statistical information that can only be estimated on other tours and at the WSOP.”
She’s right. It’s a little like having complete box scores for one league’s games, but only partially complete statistics for another. And like I say, I like the point she’s making about there needing to be more thorough “box scores” at the WSOP. As she notes, “these updates are the official record of these events and have a shelf life and utility that extends beyond the day of the final table,” and thus the more thorough the reports are, the more useful they can be.
Of course, the WPT’s final tables are exclusively no-limit hold’em, whereas at the WSOP many non-hold’em events present particular challenges when it comes to hand-for-hand reporting.
Pot-limit Omaha with pot-limit betting and two extra hole cards requires an extra bit of mental cogitation to chronicle hands at showdown. Stud games present more problems, with even more cards to keep up with, shifting betting order, and fixed-limit betting often speeding up the action. And of course, split-pot games add still more difficulty with multiple winning hands, split and quartered pots, and so on.
That’s not to say hand-for-hand coverage isn’t possible for non-hold’em events. But it is easier said than done. In fact, I’d suggest even an especially quick and talented reporter with a microcassette recorder (or today, an iPad) would find producing a complete hand-for-hand report from a Stud/8 final table an incredibly difficult task.
Finally, I’d like to share some of what Tom Sims himself had to say about the innovative experiment of trying to report every hand from the 1997 WSOP Main Event final table. Interestingly, while he’s clearly proud of what he achieved with his report, he’s much less quick to praise his work and hold it up as a model of reporting than is Jessica.
Sims starts his “Post-Mortem” reflection on his reporting thusly: “The 1997 WSOP is now history, and while I am generally satisfied with my role in Conjelco’s coverage of this annual classic, I think I could have done better.”
The next paragraph then describes his process a little further while explaining why exactly he believed his reporting was somehow lacking.
As I have related previously, I was a reluctant participant, and it took numerous invitations by Chuck Weinstock before I relented and consented, much against my better judgment. I really didn’t need the hassle of what turned out to be an unrealistic commitment on my part. Also, as I now realize, I violated an old maxim of mine: I put the “em-PHAW-sis” on the wrong “syl-LABBLE”, by focusing on recording the play-by-play data and getting it on the net the next day. I only did the Daily Report narrative because of Chuck’s urging, had little time nor mind-frame to do it justice, and relied on the coded, hard to read, play-by-play data to provide most of the meat of my reportorial efforts. This was a big mistake. Making the play-by-play data a public record was my prime motivation, but I should have highlighted more of the color and important hands at the daily Final Tables, and done the tedious transcribing of play-by-play data at my leisure, after the WSOP. If I ever undertake another Poker reportorial [sic] assignment, I will skip the hand-by-hand data (I’ve made my contribution!), or do it on a “to follow at my leisure” basis, and devote a lot more time and effort to what’s going on.Sims is much too hard on himself here, particularly with regard to his “Daily Report” which is quite engaging and highlights plenty of color (even if it doesn’t really talk about important hands). And despite what he says about abandoning the experiment, it appears he did provide one more hand-for-hand report for the 1998 WSOP Main Event final table as well.
Still, the reservations he expresses about hand-for-hand reporting are worth noting.
Interestingly, while he certainly believes that the “play-by-play data” he’s produced is valuable -- and with great prescience has an idea of a “public record” to which he’s contributing -- he laments that by producing the hand-for-hand report he’s largely missed out on being able to share the larger story of that year’s final table. Recognizing his own limitations as an individual reporter, he consciously chooses to forgo the hand-for-hand experiment going forward in favor of stepping back and being able to report “what’s going on.”
I present Sims’s own self-criticism as more food for thought to those who like Jessica would like to see future WSOP coverage model itself after what he accomplished.
One way of ensuring the creation of such a “box score”-like report from every WSOP final table would be for the WSOP to assign one person (or perhaps two for non-hold’em events) to do what Sims did and simply stand nearby and chronicle every hand -- not reporting it immediately like the live bloggers do, but taking the time afterwards to reassemble the notes into a readable format.
Of course, PokerNews (or another media outlet) could assign reporters to perform this task. And not to speak for PN, but I’d imagine they’d happily do so if the WSOP insisted that was the kind of coverage they required from them as part of their arrangement. But as Sims himself points out, producing such “play-by-play data” necessarily means the reporter(s) engaged in doing so aren’t going to be able to do much else.
I’ll end the post here, having already run on much longer than intended. I haven’t even gotten into the larger debate between the relative “value” or “shelf life” of unembellished hand-for-hand reporting and more imaginative narratives about what happens at a poker tournament -- an argument that if taken far enough starts to resemble debates about the relative worth of scientific explanations of the world versus artistic responses to it.
Anyhow, as a “word guy,” you probably already suspect where I lean on that one. So I’ll stop here and invite you to share your own words about it all.