Monday, January 28, 2013

The Mouth, The Brat, and Poker on the Tube (Again)

Like you I heard about Mike Matusow winning that NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship over the weekend, outlasting Phil Hellmuth in the final to win the sucker. Was somewhat intriguing afterwards to follow some of the reactions to these two having made it to the final and thus securing themselves starring roles when the tourney makes it to air this spring.

Seemed as though responses covered the entire spectrum. Some were impressed. Others dismayed. Some saw in the result reason for optimism regarding poker’s popularity going forward and/or future prospects for televised poker. Others were considerably less enthused about “The Mouth” and “The Poker Brat” finding their way back into the poker spotlight.

The “Is good for poker?” question was posed again in different ways (and with different degrees of sincerity). In some cases I thought it was just a kind of instinctive response, caused by a vague memory of having at one time cared about who played poker on television and whether that person was skilled or not. Or entertaining. Or well behaved or well groomed or well spoken or well... whatever.

Like... how do I respond here, again? Oh, right. Poker needs this because....

Still, even those who seriously desired to stake out a position on the issue seemed cognizant of how televised poker has most certainly become much less meaningful, especially in the United States where online poker remains (essentially) positioned beyond American players’ reach.

Most appeared aware that the stakes are much, much lower. That is to say, whether the ratings for NBC’s poker show are high or low matters about as much as the difference between being dealt a pair of deuces or a pair of treys. Or should I say, 9-4 or 8-3. The game is probably going to play out similarly, either way.

When both Hellmuth and Matusow made the final four of the NBCHU, I was reminded of the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event in which both made deep runs before Hellmuth finished 45th and Matusow 30th. They’d lasted long enough for people to begin considering how interesting it would be should they both make it to what was going to be the first ever “November Nine.” But neither did, and a couple of days later came the discussions of how there weren’t any “names” among the final nine (and whether or not that was “good for poker”).

When the two of them subsequently made it through to the finals, I then thought of how some viewers happening upon the shows later on might think they were watching a rerun from years ago. Incidentally, it sounds like the schedule will involve six two-hour episodes, with the first three coming on consecutive Thursday evenings (9-11 p.m. ET) starting in March, then the last three airing on Saturday afternoons (1-3 p.m.) in April. (Those prime-time shows in March will be up against the NCAA men’s basketball tourney on 3/21 and 3/28.)

I’ve written here before about both Hellmuth and Matusow on many occasions, including noting more than once that neither seem to me to be especially great ambassadors for poker. Then again, just repeating that assertion makes me want to rethink the whole idea of what such an “ambassador” really is (or should be). Clearly some are better suited than others when it comes to representing poker in a favorable, constructive way that ultimately might prove beneficial to increasing its popularity and acceptance among the general public.

I suppose in the end, those who serve the game best will find a way to do so. And it won’t require them to win the one tourney that happens to be on the teevee, either.

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