Monday, November 04, 2013

On Not Predicting the November Nine

Am more or less locked in now to follow the action from Las Vegas as the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event final table finally gets going this evening. I’ll again be watching from home, which these days works out especially well thanks to the start-to-finish “virtually live” coverage right there on the teevee via the ESPN networks.

Got myself prepared for tonight’s action in part by writing a “Final Table Viewing Guide” over on Learn.PokerNews, inspired in part by some questions I’d seen getting passed around regarding when and where to view the final table and other logistical considerations. I ended up including a variety of info in that guide about how things will go tonight, if you’re curious to click through.

I didn’t say anything about who would win tonight, although I did end by sharing those odds the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino are putting out via their sports book. In fact I pointed out how given the nature of poker tournaments, betting on anyone to win is necessarily a gamble since chance obviously will be playing a role in affecting the outcome.

As many have noted before, the WSOP and ESPN have together succeeded in making the “November Nine” resemble in numerous ways a sporting event, with the idea furthered even more currently with the live coverage, play-by-play and color commentary, graphics and stats, player interviews, and even a big crowd to cut to occasionally for reactions.

However, as I wrote my little preview and read through some others over the last couple of days, I was reminded of a big difference between the WSOP Main Event final table and, say, baseball’s World Series or the Super Bowl or the Final Four -- namely, the fact that when previewing the event most commentators generally steer clear of offering unambiguous predictions about what might happen.

Think about how most “Super Bowl preview” columns or shows are necessarily punctuated with predictions from the writers or panelists. It would seem almost strange not to have a final score attached or at least some language addressing fairly directly who the favorites are and who are the underdogs. Indeed, the discussion of just about any upcoming NFL game often begins with a premise provided by the current point spread, with the commentators positioning their own arguments about the game accordingly.

Now I know some who are writing about or discussing the November Nine are also pointing out how the big stacks -- chip leader J.C. Tran in particular -- have an edge while the shorties -- Michiel Brummelhuis, Mark Newhouse, and David Benefield -- are obviously “dogs” heading into play tonight.

And others are bringing up how players like Amir Lehavot (who has won a bracelet before and is a tough customer in online cash games), Marc-Etienne McLaughlin (who has made two previous deep runs in the Main Event, finishing 30th and 86th), and Ryan Riess (who has a track record of success on the WSOP-C over the last year and impressed many with his play this summer) are decent candidates to win, too.

I might as well mention Sylvain Loosli (perhaps a relative wild card though an obviously solid player) and Jay Farber (the one true non-pro of the bunch) as players no one is ruling out, either, or at least no one who has some idea regarding the vagaries of tourney poker.

But when it comes to outright predictions, most remain tentative, only willing to make such couched within the usual qualifiers. If you think about it, a person with enough familiarity with tournament poker and/or these players to make a prediction would also necessarily know that such predictions are folly and thus cannot be made with confidence.

Making predictions on sports -- or betting on games -- adds a great deal of enjoyment to watching them. I feel like with poker (speaking of it strictly as a spectator “sport”), such predictions or bets don’t really have the same effect, as the chance element is so much more obvious to us than is the case with other sports.

What I mean to say is that while luck obviously matters in baseball, football, basketball, and all other sports, we aren’t as inhibited by it when it comes to proclaiming what we think will happen in a given game or season. But with poker -- and especially for those of us who have played the game and are thus well acquainted with how conspicuous luck can be -- we can’t be so sure.

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