Friday, February 29, 2008

Playing Favorites

Being famous has its perksI suppose I’m not the only one who was glad to see Phil Ivey finally break through and win that WPT title last night at the L.A. Poker Classic. Thought that first hand -- in which Ivey crazily lost nearly a third of his chips after calling an all-in with A9-offsuit -- was a bad omen. But obviously Ivey recovered and once again demonstrated why he’s so justly revered as a poker player.

It’s an interesting phenemon, really, how we poker fans tend to root for the “name” guys whenever possible. All of the buzz yesterday on the forums and blogs collectively demonstrated a sincere desire to see a Hellmuth-Ivey heads-up showdown last night. (Hellmuth departed in sixth.) I referred to this phenomenon in passing in a post just after the Giants’ stunning upset of the Patriots earlier this month. There I pointed out how most of the world was in fact pulling for the underdog. Yet when it comes to the professional poker tournament circuit, that otherwise instinctive allegiance to the little guy just doesn’t seem to apply.

I followed the live updates last night over on the WPT site. I like how they present the hand-by-hand reports -- essentially similar to what PokerNews did last summer for the WSOP, plus that nifty auto-refresh feature on the live blog page. Was playing hands of H.O.R.S.E. up top and watched as each new hand appeared below.

Speaking of those reports -- and our fascination with “name” players like Ivey and Hellmuth -- I saw Terrence Chan’s recent post (by way of Andrew “Foucault” Brokos) in which he points out how when it comes to poker tourney reporting, the more famous players tend to come off better when reporters recount hands in their articles.

Chan offered a couple of examples in support of his thesis. In one, he tells how the Australian edition of Bluff left out certain details when reporting a hand in which he knocked Chris Moneymaker out of a tournament in Sydney. In the hand, Chan held J9 preflop vs. Moneymaker’s JT. Chan made a straight on the turn, which is when Moneymaker ended up putting all of his chips in the middle. However, the article simply stated that “Moneymaker fell to Chan’s straight despite being marginally ahead preflop.” In other words, the report -- though not inaccurate -- implies the all-in occurred before Chan had made his straight, thus making Moneymaker look better (or the victim of misfortune) and Chan lucky (or less skillful).

By the way, Foucault gives a counterexample in which he quotes PokerNews’ report of the hand in which he busted Barry Greenstein from the 2007 WSOP Main Event. That hand report similarly omits details, this time making the more famous player -- Greenstein -- appear to have played the hand less well.

As far as live reporting goes, I have a lot of respect for the difficulties those guys face. They are forced to work quickly and oftentimes cannot obtain every detail from a hand, yet must report on it anyway. Am somewhat less forgiving of a misleadingly incomplete hand report for an article appearing some time after the fact, but even there I can see where certain factors outside of the reporter’s control (e.g., space considerations) might force an ambiguity-causing abridgement here and there.

While I don’t think these omissions clearly add up to an agenda among journalists to reinforce the notion that “the more famous you are the better you play” -- as Chan says (with tongue partially in cheek, I’m imagining) -- these anecdotes do highlight a couple of truths about poker reporting. One is that details, even those that perhaps seem superficially insignificant, matter greatly. All poker players know there is a host of meaningful information that comes with every single hand that would escape even the most meticulous rail-watcher. So even the most exhaustive hand report is going to omit something.

The other is that famous players certainly do get more attention from reporters and probably a bit of bias in their favor as well. Sort of thing comes with being famous, really. Reporters are (or should be) mindful of the fact they are writing for an audience. And when it comes to poker tourneys, the audience is usually made up mostly of folks who are more interested in hearing about the likes of Hellmuth and Ivey than about the other players sitting around the table, no matter how good those players are.

All of which provides a good rule of thumb for reporters to remember: If you must omit details from hands, try not to do so in a way that paints an inaccurate portrait of what actually occurred (no matter who the players are).

So . . . if any good hands come up at tomorrow’s Saturdays with Pauly (which I plan to play), I’ll try my very best to report ’em fairly!

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Blogger Aquaman said...

I think we root for the Pro's in Poker over the amatures because we want reassurance that poker is a skill game and not just gambling.

If the pro's win it shows that it is a skill game and since everyone believes they are above average in skill ;) they will then make money in the long run.

2/29/2008 10:29 PM  
Blogger Rakewell said...

I think the hand I discuss here is another example of the same phenomenon:

Apostolico's factual errors make it sound as if the way Chan (the defending champion) played his flopped straight was more extraordinary than I think it was. Don't get me wrong--Chan did everything right, but so could hundreds of other people who flopped the stone-cold nuts heads-up against an amateur opponent who flopped top pair when way behind on chips. It's hard to see any way that all the chips would not have gone in on this hand. IMHO, ascribing godlike prescience to Chan for stacking Seidel is just Hollywood wishful thinking.

3/01/2008 4:19 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

That's a great point, Aquaman -- one that might partially explain the occasional bias in favor of the "name" pros that'll come up in reporting, too.

Like yr clarification of the Chan-Seidel hand, too, Rakewell.

3/01/2008 6:13 PM  

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