Friday, November 11, 2016

On the Relative Watchability of Poker (Again)

Just a quick sign-off to the week today to share something unrelated to politics or elections or the like. I mean, it’s a poker blog, you know?

Saw my buddy Tim Fiorvanti -- formerly of BLUFF magazine and now writing for ESPN -- tweeting out today a new article appearing on ESPN in which one of the site’s senior writers Arash Markazi shares a personal reflection of having watched this year’s World Series of Poker Main Event final table.

Markazi isn’t necessarily a “poker guy,” although as he explains at the start of his column he plays now and then and like a lot of people during the 2000s found a lot of enjoyment in watching televised poker.

He shares the not uncommon view that a big reason why he found poker TV compelling back then was “because of the characters I had become connected to while watching all those shows.” He also got a little tired of it all even before Black Friday, and sounds as though he’d drifted away from watching over recent years (again, like many others).

Markazi went to the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino this year to watch all three nights of the final table. To summarize his general impression, he wasn’t too entertained, finding it all much too tedious and tame. To be fair, Markazi seems to be applying some of the criteria for what makes a sporting event entertaining to this in-person experience of the final table, which most of us who have spent time watching people play poker know isn’t really the best way to judge.

Even so, he persuasively laments that even after watching players going at it for more than a dozen hours, he “had no real connection to them” and thus couldn’t find a way to be engaged.

He thinks back to Jamie Gold at the 2006 WSOP Main Event final table who helps provide a sharp contrast between a fond poker watching memory and the more recent experience. He talks to Gold as well, who affirms the much-shared point that “you need to have players talking to have heroes and villains.” Since the 2016 WSOP Main Event final table featured relatively little of that, there was necessarily going to be (in Markazi’s estimation) a “disconnect between the viewers and the players at the table.”

Interestingly, Markusi doesn’t mention any of the coverage leading up to the final table, which I have to assume he didn’t see. If he had, he would no doubt have discussed the prominent role William Kassouf played in those shows, cast as he was as a kind of “villain” precisely because of his table talk or so-called “speech play.”

He might also have addressed the WSOP’s somewhat confused handling of Kassouf, which could have been interpreted as representing a position directly opposed to the one Markusi and Gold espouse in the column -- namely, that table talk is a very good thing when it comes to making poker more interesting as a “spectator sport.”

Anyhow, check out Markusi’s article if you’re curious, titled “Poker is lacking the heroes and villains it so desperately needs.”

Image: “Bax's parents watching him play the #mainevent #finaltable #wsop #poker #gojohnnygo #bax,” Dutch Boyd. CC BY 2.0.

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