Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Recap Writer’s Lament

Many times when explaining to someone unfamiliar with poker tournaments what exactly I do when I go report on them, I’ll bring up sports writing as an illustrative analogy. It’s a handy reference point, and while it doesn’t provide a perfect parallel there are a lot of connections between the two.

There’s the “play-by-play”-type reporting of hands and other aspects of a tournament’s progress that resembles sports reporters’ straightforward accounts of games and their results. There are also the profiles and features and player interviews and so on that go along with tournament reporting that similarly can correspond to how a baseball or football or basketball game gets covered.

A short New York Times article appearing a couple of days ago reminded me of the connection once again, one by Ben Shpigel titled “‘Or So It Seemed’: Notes on Rewriting the Super Bowl.”

The article relives the craziness of Super Bowl LI from the sports writer’s perspective. Shpigel notes how he’d written and filed a draft version of his report on the game early in the third quarter, when it appeared all but certain the Atlanta Falcons would coast to an easy victory. Then came the mad scramble to rewrite and amend once New England mounted what turned out to be a historic comeback to win.

Anyone who has ever reported on the final table of a poker tournament can identify with Shpigel’s story. I’m referring in particular to being the one charged with the assignment of writing an end-of-tournament recap of the result highlighting big hands and/or other themes from the final table.

Those who have done it have all been there. Trying to get a head start in order to publish your piece in a timely fashion after the tournament concludes, you’ll sometimes pick a potential winner to foreground, perhaps even writing an entire mini-profile of the player and how the victory fits into the larger picture of his or her career.

The player holding a big chip lead to start heads-up play will often be the one so targeted. Sometimes even with four or five players left there might be one with both a large chip advantage and significant experience edge who the recap writer will be encouraged to make the star of the early-draft version of the story.

Then comes the series of improbable double-ups and suddenly you’re hitting that backspace key. Speaking of, I wrote something for PokerNews this week presenting the Patriots’ crazy comeback as a series of all-in hold’em situations -- “Patriots Use Their One Time in Super Bowl Comeback.”

Depending on how long the final table goes, sometimes multiple recaps get written, all of which get trashed but one. I remember at some point a group of us agreeing that it was bad luck to get too enthusiastic about prematurely selecting one player to win, since doing so necessarily dooms your pick.

And never actually save a draft version naming a winner in the headline, a sure-fire set-up for future pain.

Anyone who has been there will enjoy Shpigel grieving over the many unpublished, alternate realities he’s composed. That group will also nod in ackowledgment when Shpigel explains he is “not in the business of rooting for teams,” but that he does “root for good stories and for blowouts.”

Tournament reporters will probably also like finding out the meaning of the phrase in the headline -- “or so it seems.” Check it out.

Image: “IMAG0021 Backspace” (adapted), Tom Anderson. CC BY 2.0.

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