Wednesday, November 02, 2011

On the “Almost Live” Feed (with Hole Cards)

Bob Carbone at the WPT Foxwoods final tableWas in full-on poker fan mode last night, following the live stream of the WPT Foxwoods final table on the laptop while watching the WSOP Main Event coverage on ESPN. In a way, the WPT stream -- in which we had commentary along with players’ hole cards shown on a 30-minute delay -- was kind of a preview of what we’ll be seeing this Sunday with the WSOP ME’s final table, where we’ll also get to see all of the hands (with hole cards) on just a 15-minute delay. The first “almost live” WSOP final table (with hole cards) ever! (See here for details.)

Some are starting to debate how showing players’ hole cards with such a short delay might significantly affect action at the table. After all, there was a single hand shown on last night’s WSOP coverage -- one involving Matt Giannetti and Ben Lamb -- that thanks to a long river tank by Giannetti took something like 13 minutes! (That hand was abridged to just a couple of minutes on last night’s edited show on ESPN.)

As it happened, the WPT live stream actually presented a concrete example of how showing players’ cards on a short delay could theoretically affect the tourney.

The final table rapidly played down from six- to three-handed, at which point one of the players -- the 60-something Bob Carbone -- had what appeared to be a fairly clear disadvantage skill-wise versus the two young pros, Daniel Santoro and Christian Harder. Although short-stacked, Carbone managed to hang on for a good while largely thanks to picking up a number of big hands (although he often failed to get paid much with them). Finally he was ousted in third, however.

The commentators -- Tony Dunst, Jonathan Little, and Nick Brancato -- were quite good, in my opinion, with their on-the-spot discussions of strategy. They definitely made watching the feed enjoyable, as did our buds B.J. Nemeth and Jess Welman with their appearances during the breaks. The fact that Carbone had less experience than the two pros made for an interesting dynamic, too, that enabled the commentators to highlight some of Carbone’s missed opportunities in ways that were genuinely instructive. Especially for those of us who are probably more like Carbone than like Santoro or Harder in our play.

After a while, the commentators began to talk about an apparent tell Carbone had having to do with how he arranged his chips. If he picked up a big hand like A-A, A-K, or Q-Q (which he did with higher-than-expected frequency, actually), he’d place stacks of chips on his cards. Meanwhile, if he picked up something less sexy like A-4 or K-8 or the like, he’d place only a single chip on each of his two hole cards.

Bob Carbone's 'tell'See, for example, that picture above, a hand in which Carbone picked up Kc8d and opened with a smallish raise. Notice how he’s only got a single chip on each of his face-down hole cards? (Here is a detail to the left.) That was the tell the commentators made a lot of in their commentary.

“It's like the most absurd tell I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Little. Indeed, it was remarkable to watch, and once the commentators had pointed it out it added another wrinkle to the show that made things all the more interesting.

It should be added that Carbone was demonstrating a fairly easy-to-spot pattern in his bet-sizing, too, raising big with big hands and small with marginal ones. But, of course, all of that was a lot easier for the commentators and viewers to spot with the knowledge of his hole cards. In fact, Carbone wasn’t having to show down a lot of hands, so his opponents couldn’t know for sure how the patterns of chip placement and betting matched up with his holdings.

While the players didn’t have phones at the table, one expected they probably would talk with friends during the breaks. And, perhaps, they’d talk to someone watching the stream who might communicate to them what their opponent was holding when, say, he made a big bet. Or placed a single chip on each of his cards rather than a stack.

A conversation began on my Twitter feed regarding the issue.

Randal Flowers (@RandALLin) said it was a “pretty big disadvantage for Bob” to have the cards shown on a 30-minute delay. “With announcers announcing (albeit obvious) tells on players, the fish has almost 0 shot,” added Flowers, who added that he assumed Charder and Santoro would be getting texts relaying the information.

“I think this stuff is going to be the end of moneymakers and golds and yangs,” chimed in Jonathan Aguiar (@JonAguiar). “The pros will have too big an edge.”

Justin Bonomo (@JustinBonomo) disagreed with Aguiar, calling it “crazy hyperbole” to think the situation gave an especially significant advantage to the pros versus the amateur. “The edge isn’t even remotely close to that big,” said Bonomo.

Others chimed in on either side, but you get the gist of the debate. Whether or not play was actually affected by the live stream at last night’s final table -- and if any players gained an extra edge along the way because of it -- is hard to say, really. But you can see how showing the hole cards to a viewing audience relatively soon after a hand is played has the potential to matter a lot when it comes to how the tourney plays.

We’ll see how things are handled at the Rio this weekend, where one assumes players will not have phones at the table, although will surely be consulting heavily with friends on breaks.

Jesse May was addressing this issue in his commentary on the WSOPE Main Event a couple of weeks ago (see here). What do you think about this new trend in poker television -- one that certainly adds to the excitement of watching, but perhaps could unduly affect how the games are played?

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Blogger Philip Cartwright said...

Interesting. Of course, delayed feeds are a potential opportunity as well as a potential handicap. How long before players try to use them to establish fake tells and betting patterns?

11/03/2011 10:37 AM  

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