Friday, December 13, 2013

“May All of Your Cards Be Live...”

I mentioned how this most recent trip of mine culminated with that WPT final table at the Bellagio which was a “TV” one. Not all WPT events are shot for later broadcast (on Fox Sports), but quite a few are. Since this was the first time I’d actually been present at one of these, I thought I’d share a few quick impressions.

Anyone who has attended a WPT final table that was scheduled to be televised probably will be familiar with everything I’m sharing here. That is to say, it isn’t as though anything I noticed as someone there reporting on the event is that different from what anyone else in attendance gets to see, too.

In fact, for poker fans who happen to be where a WPT televised final table is taking place, I recommend checking it out. The entire day I was thinking of a good friend of mine who loves to watch poker on TV -- still (!) -- and who is always asking me about players he sees. I realized how much of a kick he’d get out of seeing one of these shows being created.

I knew before that Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten were present at these final tables, but I hadn’t necessarily realized how they actually are commentating quite a bit as the hands go by. I know they’ll go back and do more in post-production, but I hadn’t necessarily appreciated from watching the WPT on television that some or even most of what we hear from those two comes during the actual playing of the final table.

The desk at which they sat was far enough away from the table -- and from the crowd and those of us reporting -- that you couldn’t hear every word they said. But you could definitely pick up on the excited responses as Sexton and Van Patten both reacted to a big river card or other crucial moments at the final table (of which there were several), which added an extra bit of fun to the proceedings.

Meanwhile, Lynn Gilmartin is now doing the anchoring for the WPT shows, and she, too, was shooting a lot of her segments as the final table was being played.

I’ve known Lynn for a while now thanks to her long association with PokerNews and PokerStars, and so am well familiar with how great she is in front of the camera. In fact, I’ve joined her a few times for brief vids from the LAPT -- here’s one from last year -- on which the contrast between our relative levels of ease only further underscores her skills.

Lynn was positioned at an elevated table over to the side where she could be heard introducing returns to action or taking us to commercial breaks, interspersing questions of Mike and Vince. Then we also saw WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage interviewing players to the side of the stage, too, both before play began and after bustouts.

Watching both reminded me of sitting in the press box at the WSOP while Kara Scott would shoot segments and marveling at how cool they all are, often able to move through the segments in one take and sound great doing it.

As someone who has spent a lot of time standing in front of classrooms full of students, I’m not necessarily shy about talking to groups. But the challenges faced and conquered by these folks whose jobs put them in front of the camera still impresses me, and I can’t imagine how much work it would take to get to the point they seem to be.

The play moved rather quickly without a lot of delays for setting up for certain shots or for other production-related reasons. I suppose that defied my expectations a little, too, after having worked a lot of events on other tours where there would be frequent stoppages of play related to the broadcasts being shot or streamed. By contrast, they kept things moving pretty quickly throughout yesterday, no doubt in part because of a desire not to keep the extensive crew working longer than necessary.

All of the other elements of the TV show were there, too -- the Royal Flush girls and their “bar,” the trophy presentation, and so on. There were nice recognitions of Jack McClelland made both before and after the final table as well, as this was the last event for the Bellagio’s retiring tournament director.

All of it kind of took me back to the days of being a big “poker fan” -- i.e., a decade ago when I was right there with everyone else discovering the WPT on television for the first time and becoming instantly fascinated with the show, the game, and the people who were part of it.

I know the WPT doesn’t quite occupy the central place in poker’s subculture today as it did back then. But it is still an important part of the overall scene and I think still brings a lot that’s good for the game as a whole when it comes to promoting the game to a wider audience. And they continue to put on a good show that ultimately seems more than anything to underscore that sense that poker really can be a fun time.

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