Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Watching the 2015 WSOP: Those “In Between” Hands

Am continuing to follow the coverage on ESPN of the 2015 World Series of Poker Main Event, spending another two-and-a-half hours with it this week as they showed the latter part of Day 6 when they played down from 45 players to 27.

That makes six weeks’ worth of Main Event shows totaling 13-and-a-half hours so far, all of which have focused on Days 5 and 6 (which in reality lasted a little over 19 hours of actual poker). Looking at what’s to come, there will be two more weeks of shows, again in two-and-a-half-hour blocks, all of which will be about Day 7 when they played from 27 to 9. Obviously the drama surrounding the last bustouts -- in particular Daniel Negreanu’s in 11th -- will highlight those episodes.

Then for three straight nights (Nov. 8-10) there will come the “live” coverage (with a delay) of the entire final table.

As I was mentioning here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been watching with an eye toward selecting interesting hands to highlight in strategy articles over on PokerNews. In other words, preflop all-ins aren’t really registering with me very much, as those hands often feature only a couple of relatively simple decisions that aren’t so interesting to explore in any detail. Meanwhile longer hands that involve more postflop play -- especially those that make it all of the way to a showdown -- stand out as more engaging.

As it turns out, very few of these hands actually end in eliminations. Those who have played a lot of tournament poker know that shouldn’t be too surprising. The hand you go out on is typically not the one in which you made your most important decision of the tournament. In fact sometimes it isn’t even in the top five or ten... or for a tournament like the WSOP Main Event, the top 100.

Watching televised poker this way is a little like the inverse of NFL’s RedZone channel where they constantly race back and forth between live games to show touchdowns, turnovers, and other “action” plays affecting scores and outcomes. Instead I’m looking more intently what’s happening in between. Like plays affecting field position and down-and-distance (that set up the “action” plays), I’m scrutinizing the ones in which chips stacks changed, table images were sharpened, and circumstances evolved to influence subsequent shoves and knockouts.

There were 40 hands shown during the two-and-a-half hours this week (which in truth translates to a bit less than two hours, subtracting the commercials). Exactly half of them -- 20 -- were double-ups, knockouts, or uncalled all-ins.

Some of those 20 were not uninteresting, strategy-wise. For example Neil Blumenfield (who made the Nov. Nine) was shown pushing his short stack in multiple times after the flop and not getting called, sometimes in what appeared dicey spots to do so. And some of the other 20 weren’t that compelling either, but provided more exposure to the Nov. Niners and/or some interesting table talk.

All in all, though, I continue to find the shows enjoyable -- perhaps in part because for the first time in years I didn’t read every single live update as things were happening.

(EDIT [added 10/21/15]: If you’re curious about the hands I highlighted for this week’s “what would you do?”-style article, click here.)

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