Monday, September 29, 2008

On Poker Mags (Redux)

Empty PromisesGot a chance over the weekend to glance at the latest Card Player, the one with Layne Flack on the cover (Vol. 21, No. 19, Sept. 30, 2008). Have yet really to peruse the issue, but I did take a gander at Jeff Shulman’s “From the Publisher” intro, headlined “Card Player Readers Sound Off About Scotty Nguyen’s Televised Antics.” And, well, I thought I’d sound off a little, too.

Shulman begins by noting how “many loyal Card Player readers were upset” after watching Nguyen’s performance on ESPN a few weeks back, adding that Nguyen had posted an apology over on the Card Player forums. Shulman summarizes the letters as being “nearly” unanimous in their condemnation of Nguyen’s conduct, with “many” of those who took the time to write suggesting that “Nguyen’s actions cast poker in a negative light outside of our industry.”

“We couldn’t agree more,” says Shulman in response.

As a conclusion to his response, Shulman then shares that “many readers asked why our magazine overlooked Nguyen’s conduct” in the August 19, 2008 issue (Vol. 21, No. 16). “We received more than a few questions about whether or not we saw the tournament or just reported the results,” says Shulman.

I had noticed the same, of course. It was hard not to, given how that issue -- with Nguyen on the cover being christened as “The King of Poker” -- had arrived in the mail the day before the ESPN program first aired. I didn’t read the issue until after I’d seen the show, and thus like most readers had the spectacle in mind as I scanned the articles reporting the event.

There were three different articles in that issue that focused on the H.O.R.S.E. event. One (“The King of Poker”) is a straightforward summary of the action that indeed reported nothing beyond key hands and eliminations. A second (“Three-Handed Nightmare”) also simply reports a couple of key hands from three-handed play and nothing more.

A third article, titled “An Interview With the Players’ and People’s Champion,” consists of a five-question interview of Nguyen about his victory in the event. In the interview Nguyen does talk about having lost his temper just before being eliminated in the 2007 Main Event, and explains how this year he had redoubled his efforts to control himself. “This year, I said no more personal [grudges]. I don’t care who it is, if you make me mad, I’m going to walk away.” The interviewer then asks Nguyen about a moment during the H.O.R.S.E. finale when he did just that -- he walked away “to blow off steam” -- though the focus of the question is not on what made him angry, but instead about how he had stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans during the interval.

To the reader who hadn’t seen the ESPN broadcast, there’s very little indication that Nguyen conducted himself in anything but a professional manner at that final table. To the reader who had seen the show, the interview certainly contains a couple of ironic-sounding moments, which I suppose might have further inspired some of those letter-writing readers to ask Card Player why there was no indication of the ugliness in any of their reporting.

I remember thinking as much at the time, but frankly passing it off as a familiar bit of sugar-coating. Back in February I wrote a post called “On Poker Mags” in which I stated that while there were many things I liked about Card Player -- e.g. the strategy columns, some of the features, and the book reviews (although I think they’ve stopped doing those) -- Card Player could not realistically be considered “a reliable source for unfettered, ‘journalistic’ treatments of the poker industry . . . even if it does refer to itself as ‘The Poker Authority.’”

In other words, I don’t expect Card Player to judge Scotty Nguyen or make any pronouncements within its pages about whether or not his actions cast a “negative light” on the industry. I’ve been reading the magazine for a good while, now. I know better.

Even so, Shulman felt the need to respond to readers’ complaints about Card Player’s perceived silence regarding the unpleasantness at the H.O.R.S.E. final table. “Unfortunately, due to strict WSOP media guidelines,” explains Shulman, “Card Player was unable to observe the tournament live, and instead reported on the event from a media room that was not equipped with an audio feed.”

Now that’s simply disingenuous. In several ways.

Probably the most obvious is the implication that Card Player somehow had no idea whatsoever about any of the extracurricular activities that went on that night until after the ESPN show aired. I was over in the Brasilia Room that night covering a different tournament, and I’d heard all about Nguyen’s antics even before the night was done. Indeed, for the next couple of days it was all the buzz there at the Rio. Absolutely no one who covered the WSOP this summer -- regardless of the level of access -- could possibly have made it through mid-July without some inkling of what had happened.

Furthermore -- as the interview with Nguyen shows -- it is not as though Card Player couldn’t have done some further investigation after the event took place to help them find out what happened that night beyond key hands and the order of eliminations.

In fact, Shulman is being a little less than sincere about those “strict WSOP media guidelines” when he suggests non-credential reporters couldn’t even enter the same room as the final table. The truth is, anyone could walk in off the street and take a seat in the arena to watch a final table. Again, just silly even to imply poor Card Player had to sit way over in the media room and watch it all play out on a silent television screen.

But really, the biggest problem I have with the disclaimer is the insinuation that the magazine would have reported something about Nguyen’s antics if they could have, but they were not allowed to.

Oh, they could have said something, if they really wanted to. But they didn’t. And like I say, I don’t really expect them to.

But the suggestion that they woulda if they coulda.... Frankly that strikes me as more misleading than any of those articles about the H.O.R.S.E. event were.

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Blogger Littleacornman said...

That's why I prefer to get my poker news from blogs like yours and Taoofpoker.No added sugar!

9/29/2008 8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I buy a ton of poker mags each and every month, mainly because they are easy to read and take no effort to digest. Brain fodder if you like.

I must have five in the bathroom right now, waiting for me to jump into the bath or use the toilet, something to read that passes the time!

9/29/2008 9:29 AM  
Blogger Wine Guy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/29/2008 11:37 AM  
Blogger Wine Guy said...

I, too, was shocked at Scotty's performance at the table. Over and over again he continued to swear and rail against his opponents. Seems like a drinking issue as he was poppping them back pretty good (WSOP should definetly review procedures for serving drunk patrons).

As for any "professional" media NOT seeing/hearing about this is rubbish. Obviously shows that Card Player is sugar coating the facts, or ignoring them.

9/29/2008 11:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Would Jeff had said the same thing back in 2006 when THEY had the "exclusive rights" to covering final tables?

9/29/2008 6:13 PM  
Blogger Greylocks said...

IMO, the most likely explanation for CP's apparent oblivion is that Barry Shulman is really in no position to pass editorial judgment on others' behavior. Long before TV poker changed everything, Shulman pere had a rep as a really bad actor in tournaments, and from what I hear, he hasn't gotten much better. See here and here for just a sample.

The infamous Party Poker MIllion incident was especially well-documented at the time on RGP by other witnesses - someone who cares more than I do can probably find the threads if they search the news group archives.

9/30/2008 12:45 AM  
Blogger AllanDuke said...

I dont read poker magazines. I dont care about the lives of poker professionals.

9/30/2008 4:00 PM  

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