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ESPN makes a mistake by not filming early days of Main Event

11 July 2014

By Dan Podheiser

LAS VEGAS -- Greg Merson and Ryan Riess sat across from each other at the ESPN featured table on Day 1A of the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event.

On Day 1B, Huck Seed and Dan Harrington sat at the exact same table.

The odds that two Main Event champions would draw the same table on the first day of the tournament are pretty small. The odds that it would happen again the next day are microscopic. And the odds that, both times, the Main Event champions paired with each other won the tournament in back-back-to-back years (Merson and Riess won in 2012 and 2013, while Harrington and Seed won in 1995 and 1996)? I'm calling a conspiracy.

In all seriousness, though, my beef with what happened -- or better yet, what hasn't happened -- so far in the tournament has been the lack of TV cameras rolling. There have been players at the ESPN featured table (and secondary featured tables) every day except for Day 3, but the cameras won't start recording until Friday, the start of Day 4.

Televised poker appeals to a wide variety of viewers, who watch the game to see different things and for very different reasons. I consider myself among the 99th percentile of potential poker viewers -- that is, I'm fully educated on the game, and what I really want to see is intriguing play by top professionals.

Unfortunately, tournaments don't always lend themselves to that kind of televised poker experience. The Main Event has one of the best structures around, but by the time Day 4 hits, it isn’t nearly as deep as the early stages. Most of the lines players take -- though certainly not all -- are fairly standard. And the further the tournament goes, the shorter the stacks become relative to the blinds.

Huck Seed, left, and Dan Harrington, right, the 1996 and 1995 Main Event champions, respectively, play together on Day 1B.

Huck Seed, left, and Dan Harrington, right, the 1996 and 1995 Main Event champions, respectively, play together on Day 1B. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

And that's why I want to see play from Days 1, 2 and 3. We know how Ryan Riess played at the end of the 2013 Main Event, and he sure played brilliantly on his way to the title. But early tournament poker is interesting and important, too, and unless you were following Riess closely at the beginning of last year's Main Event (and who was?), you have no idea what his game is like when the stacks are 300 big blinds deep.

Meanwhile, the less savvy poker fans among us might not watch poker on TV for the same reasons, but I'd bet they'd want to see play from the early days, too. The casual fan is attracted to the aspirational side of the World Series of Poker. That's what made Chris Moneymaker so intriguing, and that's why he has had a bigger impact on the game than anyone else.

Moneymaker turned $40 into $2.5 million and beat the best in the world along the way. And it was all captured on TV.

We should give the casual fan the chance to see a recreational player tango with Riess and Merson on Day 1. Let the world watch as the dentist from Lincoln, Neb. pulls off a bluff against Huck Seed. The poker world needs more of these anecdotal, "anyone can win" storylines, even if the pros always pull ahead in the end.

Broadcasting the early days of the Main Event seems to be appealing to all types of poker fans and viewers. I'm not really sure why it's not happening anymore. If I had to guess, I'd say ESPN is banking on the notion that casual poker fans have no interest in the early days. But I just don't see it.

 
Dan Podheiser
Podheiser is a graduate of Emerson College and has worked as the sports editor of The (Torrington, CT) Register Citizen and as an intern for NESN.com. Immediately prior to joining Casino City, Podheiser served one year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing grant proposals for a local non-profit.

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