The Final Table: A View Through Binoculars

by Lou on July 15, 2005

I called Amy Calistri yesterday morning to find out whether I’d missed anything by not being at the World Series of Poker and “watching” the last few days by reading the reports and live blogs online. Amy had no idea; she really couldn’t see a thing. Instead, she and many of the other journalists covering the WSOP were relying on information coming from “pool” reporters.

With a crush of media on hand, and the Rio really ill-equipped to deal with the vast hordes of reporters who were issued media passes, and Binion’s facing the challenges of being even smaller and less equipped — no wireless computer access and that sort of thing — ESPN has restricted the number of reporters who have access to the actual event. What’s happened here is a sea change of sorts that began last year when ESPN, taking notice of the World Poker Tour’s incredible popularity, decided to match their bet by putting a lot more time, money, energy, and effort into the WSOP than ever before.

While ESPN has historically reported on the World Series, it was always a one-day, one-hour sort of coverage, almost a programming afterthought. But when the WPT blew up and began garnering even more viewers in reruns than they did when their shows initially aired, ESPN saw the handwriting on the wall —a blind man wouldn’t have missed it — and bet big on poker by committing to producing a season’s worth of WSOP programming. This year they took it a step further this year by exerting even more control over the event to ensure the kind of production values needed to make their show every bit as glitzy as the World Poker Tour.

What was once really a poker tournament that just sort of happened to be filmed by ESPN is now something else entirely. The World Series of Poker, particularly its signature event: the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament, which has morphed into a full-fledged TV production, in which the poker itself seems to have been subsumed into the creation of an entire season of TV programming.

That’s not bad in the macro view of things. The more exposure poker gets, the more people will play our game and that’s all good. But for the reporters, bloggers, poker aficionados and serious students of the game, it makes it tough to get up close and personal in real time.

Still, with only nine players remaining and the final table set to begin today, I’m gonna be watching (I’m using that word very loosely, since I’m 275 miles away from Binion’s in Palm Springs but evidently with just as good a view, or almost as good a view, as Amy), and get my real time feeds by a combination of the reportage from the following web sites: www.cardplayer.com, www.pokerpages.com, and the incredible Pauly McGrupp’s blog at http://taopoker.blogspot.com. Pauly is a blogging fool, working seemingly without sleep for the past six weeks to bring his views and opinions of the WSOP in real time feeds, and his opinion and the color he adds to these events is masterful.

All three sites offer real time updates, with chip counts updated periodically, and the information itself is remarkably similar from one site to another — due, in large part to the “pool reporter” effect — but there are enough differences between them that it’s worthwhile to keep all three windows open in order to get some differentiation in coverage.

Six new poker millionaires were minted as of about 3:00 AM Friday, and in a few hours we’ll see who walks away with the million, who winds up with $7.5 million, and which players fall somewhere in between. Stay tuned, and go online. It’s is the best way to follow this in real time.

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