Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flimsy final table

If this was a final table, it was made with rickety metal legs, a thin coat of astroturf and gaudy markings showing you where the cards should be placed.
Granted, the Main Event of the WSOP is, ultimately, like any other tournament, and so you're going to have a mix. You're going to have the luckboxes and the pros, the skill players and the ones who give an "aw, shucks" when they outdraw yet again, the bad calls and the fantastic bluffs.
But that's not what I saw Tuesday.
I just saw horrible poker.
That could have been ESPN's coverage. In fairness, it's nearly impossible to whittle down that much poker to two+ hours with the understanding that you have to show the bustouts. But I'm going to judge this final table by what ESPN shows us, as that's what the general public will watch. They won't go to PokerNews or PokerWorks or the countless other poker sites to follow every hand. That's what we do.
The whole November Nine was made for the average television viewer in an effort to make it more of a sporting event. It worked last year. Ratings were up. I think I still hope they do it every year. I like the final table being a spectacle. 
But not if that's the poker we'll see.
The final table, at least what ESPN showed, did nothing to showcase poker as a skill game. The massive chip leader, Mr. Moon, played like he was in outer space. I don't think I've seen that horrible a performance at a final table. This is our biggest event of the year, and the guy who had most of the chips looked to the average viewer like he was a lucky logger and nothing else.
Now granted, I didn't see the heads up match, mainly because my DVR thought the show was only two hours long (and I wonder how many other viewers had that trouble), and he supposedly redeemed himself there. But Moon seemed like a country boy who got lucky, not a skilled poker player.
And how many times did Cada, our champion make reckless, foolish pushes, only to suck out with a two-outer? This is supposedly the best player in the world, the one who beat all the others, including the Man, Phil Ivey? I can't imagine what the average viewer, one who really doesn't have much understanding of how poker tournaments work, thinks.
It worries me. We want average viewers to watch this show. Again, that's why the November Nine was created, to put poker more into the mainstream. And then we bill the winner of this tournament as the World Champion. The average viewer, therefore, must think these are the best players in the world. That's what I think when I see the Yankees celebrating.
I saw all-in calls with mediocre hands like K-Q, no regard for stack sizes, gutless folds, even when the story made no sense, stupid, all-in bluffs and suckouts galore. In fact I can't think of a time when the best hand held up at a crucial moment. 
I would imagine the average television viewer probably can't either. And while we carp about how poker really is a skill game, seriously, no really it is, and hope that they overturn the stupid federal law that says it's gambling, I have to wonder what the everyman thinks.
Because if I'm everyman, after seeing the final table, I'm really wondering what's so hard about this supposed skill game, wondering why people scream about some law that says it is, and scraping together $10,000 through roulette, blackjack and craps, all so I can get my gamble on next year and hit it big, baby, just one time.

Edit: Oh, the heads up match is TONIGHT? Sweet. OK. Maybe that will help. :)


Sean G said...

I followed the coverage live for as long as I could, and then caught up with the PokerNews hand coverage the next day. So I can't really judge based just on the ESPN coverage, which is how most people will see it.

Seeing all the hands, and knowing more about poker theory, I was able to see more skill in the play than I think the average person would. However, luck really did play a large role.

To be honest, I thought the play in this final table was not really all that different than the play I'd see at a $5 MTT on Full Tilt. Which doesn't really make a good argument for the skill side of things, really.

Still, I really enjoyed it watching live, and I'm not convinced the general public can ever be brought around to understanding the skill side of poker, so the luck aspect of the coverage doesn't bother me so much.

Memphis MOJO said...

In the little bit of heads-up I watched, I got the sense that Cada was playing cautiously. He knew he was the better player, and would eventually win out.

smokkee said...

a lot of fugly play no doubt.

Alan aka RecessRampage said...

You think this is a bad thing? When Varkonyi or Moneymaker won, remember the WSOP slogan? Anyone can win. That's the appeal of WSOP. I would much rather it be this way so that the average person would want to try poker rather than the table be filled with all the stars where an average person would just watch in awe at the display of the skill... oh wait, they won't even know because an average person won't even pay attention to the blinds, the pot odds, the psychological impact, etc etc. As long as those two clowns are announcing on ESPN, the WSOP is clearly just an entertainment and for that, it's better to have more bad beats rather than some good hand holding up.

Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Good post, pokerpeaker! I don't disagree, although I did think there were a number of interesting hands shown that demonstrated how "skill" often determines how things go -- e.g., players skillfully maneuvering their way to claim pots, making mistakes to invite trouble, etc.

My perspective on the whole thing is warped by having followed all 364 hands so closely as they occurred, but I am inclined to think that yes, given how things turned out, the ESPN show probably did help further the impression that you push yr chips in, close yr eyes, and hope for the best.

What's that song Matusow sings? "Poker, poker, it's all skill... start with the worst and go uphill"?

The Wife said...

You sound a little curmudgeonly. Good thing you're so adorable.

Don't we want the fishes to come play with us? Give us their money?

Until they suck out - then I'm totally with you. :)

Ah, you know I'm with you, whatever.