Thursday, November 27, 2008

60 Minutes On Online Poker Cheating Scandals Sunday

60 Minutes will run a piece on the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker cheating scandals Sunday night. The poker community has been worrying that this piece won't portray online poker in a favorable light. The show is scheduled to run at 7 PM on CBS, but it will run late in the east due to a football game beforehand. Read the preview of the show.



This week's newsbites:
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Harrah's Upset With November Nine For Not Generating Enough Publicity

Harrah's PR executive Seth Palansky said on Gary Wise's podcast that members of the November Nine turned down opportunities to appear on The Tonight Show and Ellen. He added:
... one of the reasons why I wanted to come on here with you tonight Gary, was to express a concern I do have for some of the advice and some of the moves poker players are making. Because if you want to mainstream a game, and if you're trying to get corporate America to buy into what you're selling, you need Tom Bradys, you need Peyton Mannings, you need Michael Jordans, etc. If we have guys that aren't willing to take that mantle, or the same ten, twelve guys that you see getting a lot of attention at the Main Event early on: the known names for their antics or whatever the case may be. If people want to leave it just to those dozen, they can't grow the game. For all the others, they've got to take advantage of the opportunities that get presented to them, and it's unfortunate that in situations where we had a successful pitch and an opportunity for our players to be on that national stage, they chose not to.

...I believe they owe it to the brethren of the poker community to take the mantle and try to elevate the game, just as any poker stakeholder is trying to do.... I mean, you walk into the door of the Main Event, you know the ESPN cameras are rolling, you know what comes with the territory if you advance very far. And it's unfortunate that it simply comes down to "I want the money, but I don't want what else comes along with achieving that success."
They haven't made any decisions about next year's WSOP yet, and don't expect to have the schedule finalized before late January or early February.

Barry Greenstein, a member of the WSOP Players' Advisory Council, was also on the podcast. He said the delay got the November Nine triple what they would normally have received in endorsement money. He also hopes that they'll do a better job for the fans next year, either by making it a three-hour show or bringing back the live stream of the final table.

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High Stakes Poker Season 5 Tapes In December

High Stakes Poker season 5 will tape December 19-21 at the Golden Nugget, according to a GSN press release. The minimum buyin will be raised to $200,000.

Ilari "Ziigmund" Sahamies recently revealed that he's among the players participating, and it's expected to start airing in early spring.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Schedule Update, Newsbites, And Final Table Debrief

Heartland and Club WPT are the only shows running new episodes until WPT season 7 starts in December.

This week's newsbites:
  • We estimate that WPT season 7's FTP sponsorship revenue is 29% less per episode than season 6's licensing fees.
  • The WPT continues to cut expenses: they dropped the Borgata Poker Classic from their schedule. They'll make two episodes out of the Borgata Poker Open instead.
WSOP Main Event final table debrief:
  • The delay worked out pretty much as I expected (see my Sky Falls editorial from the time it was announced). The surprises to me were: it didn't generate as much publicity as I'd expected and the final table participants earned hardly anything extra from the delay.
  • The broadcast was widely criticized, especially for condensing the most important event in poker into 2 hours and 24 (out of 274) hands.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Main Event Final Table Ratings Soar

The WSOP Main Event final table's ratings were up 46%, from last year. As mentioned previously, non-Main Event ratings were flat and Main Event ratings other than the final table were up 10%. The Main Event final table ratings were higher than the average of last season's regular season NBA and MLB games on ESPN. Jeffrey Pollack said:
Third, we successfully changed the paradigm from “who won” to “who will win.” In fact, Tuesday night’s episode on ESPN was the highest-rated poker show on television since 2004 and we even beat the legendary 2003 final featuring Chris Moneymaker.

We haven’t made a decision about next year’s Final Table format...
For more data, see the press release and Associated Press.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WSOP Main Event Ratings Up

Ratings for the delayed final table aren't in yet, but ESPN is touting higher ratings for the WSOP. Card Player reports:
... ESPN’s 30 WSOP episodes are up 6 percent from last year (with an average Nielsen rating of .90), and its main-event episodes are up 10 percent (with an average Nielsen rating of 1.01). A Nielsen rating of 1.0 translates to 1,145,000 households.
Running the numbers, one determines that the non-Main Event episodes were flat from last year.
The final hour of ESPN’s Oct. 21 episode, which saw the final 79 players of the tournament narrowed down to 27, had a bigger audience than the 2007 main event final table...

The 10 p.m. hour of the Oct. 21 episode earned a 1.44 Nielsen rating, while the 2007 final table had a 1.38 rating.

ESPN’s Oct. 28 episode, which ended with only the November Nine left standing, boasted a 44 percent increase from last year and obtained a Nielsen rating of 1.59. The last time ESPN poker had ratings this good is when Jamie Gold talked his way through his monster field of 8,773 players in 2006.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

ESPN Reveals Main Event Final Table Results Before Broadcast

They make us wait four months for a two-hour highlight reel of the Main Event final table so that we'll be in suspense, then spoil it for us? I guess I shouldn't have expected any better from what I consider to be America's worst poker TV producer.

I previously said:

... as a poker fan, it's going to be awfully hard for me to avoid hearing the fate of the first seven players to bust out of the final table. I'd like to see the entire final table filmed within 36 hours of broadcast (or less: the last final table took about 16 hours, though it was a particularly long one).

I was right. I did modify my plan of completely avoiding the poker media for 3 days. That would have been very difficult for me. Instead, I just avoided places where final table results should appear. It didn't work... and I've read that ESPN was broadcasting the winner on SportsCenter and their news scroller all day long. Starting the final table 59 hours before the broadcast is far too long a delay, especially when they're expecting us to wait that long to see... wait for it... 25 hands.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

World Series of Poker Review

The biggest show on Earth just got bigger this year. While most serious poker players would admit that ESPN's coverage of the WSOP is not even close to the best poker on TV, there's something to be said for its bombast. Ever since 2003, the theatrics have grown exponentially and now the tournament is shown as a mix of circus freaks and tragic heroes.

ESPN is not going to corner the market on thoughtful, experienced poker play -- they know their shows don't match the purity of a High Stakes Poker or the skill level of a Poker After Dark. But that isn't their goal. ESPN is out for ratings and popularity, and the way to get that is apparently by showcasing character. And with each passing year, the producers have found a way to focus more and more on the people of the World Series of Poker, not just the hands. And for better or worse, we do get a lot of character.

Structured more like a reality show than a poker tournament, the typical WSOP episode this year would clearly identify heroes and villains, then focus heavily on those characters until one of them was eliminated -- I almost expected Matt Savage to show up wearing Jeff Probst khakis and snuffing out the torch of Mike Matusow, saying "Patrik Antonius has spoken. You must now leave the felt." And in many episodes, the hero-villain dichotomy made for entertaining drama. In an early $1500 NLHE episode, we saw Theo Tran and Mike Ngo go at each other with dueling egos; a $5,000 mixed holdem event showcased a snarky Roland DeWolfe going at Magic players like David Williams ("Two outs and it comes hobgoblin-hobgoblin. So sick"); and a lot of the Main Event shows centered on feuds between an increasingly intolerable Phil Hellmuth and a rotating cast of foils such as Christian Dragomir, Adam Levy, and Brandon Cantu.

But the most noteworthy story of this year's WSOP coverage was the $50,000 HORSE event that came down to an epic battle between Michael DeMichele and Scotty Nguyen. So clear was the distinction between hero and villain at this table that ESPN hardly had to pump it up in editing. But props to Norman Chad for pulling no punches in his commentating. He appropriately upbraided Nguyen at every opportunity, refusing -- as the tournament staff evidently did in not giving Scotty any penalties -- to cater to a celebrity pro and instead verbally attacking Nguyen's classless display of drunken profanities, wholesale abuse, and immature braggadocio. This was one of the best (in terms of unfettered exposure) or worst (in terms of its portrayal of the poker elite) episodes of TV poker I've ever seen. Any casual viewer not familiar with the behavior of poker professionals might come away thinking the sport is loaded with greasy slimeballs who spend their nights spitting insults at humble young opponents.

In past years, tournament coverage was often worthless when compared to the character exploration, as each final table would get only 60 minutes of TV time, resulting in viewers only getting to see the all-in races. But this year ESPN expanded its coverage and dedicated two 60-minute episodes to many of the events, giving us a bit more post-flop play to go along with the "plot" of the final table. In this regard, while the poker coverage is still slightly inadequate (they don't show all the hole cards, chip counts and blinds are often woefully missing), ESPN did improve this year from 2007.

All that said, the single biggest change to the broadcast is the most obvious one: the Main Event final table was delayed by four months. As has been covered to death in poker journalism, the field was reduced to the final 9 in early July, then everyone took a break. ESPN aired all of its Main Event coverage week after week, ultimately revealing the 9 characters that will reunite in Vegas this weekend for the Biggest Day in Poker for 2008. The pros and cons of this move by Harrah's and ESPN has been debated to death, so I won't get into it here. But from a poker on TV perspective, it's hard to see the downside. The majority of viewers will watch the Final Table this Tuesday not knowing who won (since it's a lot easier to avoid spoilers for 2 days than it is for 4 months), giving us actual suspense. And while some final tablers got more exposure than others (Chino Rheem, for example, has become a much bigger star than, say, Ylon Schwartz), nobody can deny that this group of players has benefited from the delay strictly in terms of celebrity.

It's difficult to cover such a sprawling event like the World Series of Poker without missing a lot of the nuts and bolts, and ESPN will probably always suffer from their pathological dedication to personality over sport. The face of the WSOP this year became a cavalcade of douchebags and donkeys, from Joe Bishop to Tiffany Michelle to Nikolay Losev to Paul Snead, leaving the quiet experts smothered in their wake. You really can't learn how a tournament is won by watching ESPN's coverage, and you can't spot the plays that make good players great. You get a lot of loud all-ins, a lot of races, a lot of bluffs, and a lot of celebration. And if that's what it takes to get ratings, the network is doing their job. We can read Harrington or watch Poker After Dark if we want a lesson. The WSOP is a document of poker in our times and the circus it has become. Like it or not, at least we got a front-row seat. And that's worth *** out of *****.

See also our previous review and How To Fix The World Series Of Poker Broadcasts.

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Poker On TV Update: WSOP Main Event Final Table

The WSOP Main Event final table broadcast is Tuesday at 9-11 PM on ESPN. There won't be any live video this year, but there's an audio broadcast or you can follow its progress at sites like PokerNews.com. If you want to follow it live, Sunday at 10 AM Pacific/1 PM Eastern the final table plays down to two players and Monday at 10 PM Pacific/1 AM Eastern they play the heads-up battle. Personally, I'll be avoiding the poker media from Sunday till Tuesday, though I'll miss the live video of the last couple of years. You may also be interested in our news and editorial pieces about the 117-day final table delay (so far, against all odds, it does not appear that the delay caused the sky to fall).

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

WPT Season 7 To Be Sponsored By Full Tilt Poker

WPT Enterprises will get $3.25 million from Full Tilt Poker for sponsorship of season 7, which will start airing on Fox Sports Net on December 7. I've been saying for a while now that this was the obvious, and perhaps only, course available to them. Shutting down their own online poker site recently opened up the opportunity to work with a more successful one. The sponsorhip covers the season 7 broadcasts on FSN and in Mexico.

See also: press release, 10-Q.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Merge Gaming Network Review And Users' Guide

The Merge Gaming Network* (e.g. Carbon Poker; rakeback) is an excellent choice for many people, especially because of it's profitability, but serious players may find its traffic too limited.

Merge Gaming's greatest strength is that it has the worst players of the six major US-friendly sites/networks: that's the largest factor in the profitability of a room. Additionally, some of Merge's tournaments have overlays (they pay out more than the sum of the buyins). The Merge Gaming Network also offers good software, decent customer service, and fairly good payment processing. Merge's software has several fun special features:
- It shows the probability of winning when players go all-in, like on TV.
- It has a lot of unique emoticons (try typing "shark" in the chat box).
- You can rabbit hunt (see the cards that would have come out if it's folded to you).
- You can run hands twice.
- You can show your opponent a single card.

The commonest deposit methods are debit, credit, and prepaid cards (All Access is recommended). Checks are the standard cashout method, but they charge a relatively-steep $25 fee and are very slow lately, taking about a month.

Carbon Poker offers a 100% bonus on deposits up to $600 and entry into new depositor freerolls.

Serious players may find Merge's traffic to be too limited: it's the smallest of the US-friendly sites/networks I recommend, with limited traffic above about $100 NL Hold 'em ($0.50/1.00 blinds with a $100 maximum buyin), and little traffic at games other than no-limit hold 'em. Traffic peaks at European hours (earlier than the US). You may want to consider playing Merge and another room at the same time, however, for it's profitability. It's also weak for people who play a lot of tables, e.g. tables don't pop up correctly for stackers (a method of multitabling). Multitablers may want to try the mini mode tables, as their text readability is much better than the regular tables at reduced sizes. A converter is required to use Merge Gaming hand histories with a hand history database like Holdem Manager.

Click the images below for larger versions:







* A network is a group of poker rooms (often called skins) that pool players and use the same software.

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