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Best of Dan Podheiser

Gaming Guru

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Watching the November Nine on TV is a surreal experience

11 November 2014

At around 3:30 a.m. in Las Vegas Tuesday morning, Billy Pappas made his exit from the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event. The Lowell, Mass. native and foosball legend grinded his way to the final five of the November Nine, before losing a coinflip for most of his stack to Swedish pro Martin Jacobson. Pappas finished in fifth place for just over $2.1 million.

Back in Boston -- 30 minutes southeast of Pappas's hometown -- I followed along with the World Series coverage on ESPN. But when Pappas was eliminated (at 6:30 a.m. my time), I found out the way I learned of every big moment last night.



For many logical reasons, the ESPN broadcast of the Main Event final table was on a 30-minute delay from the actual proceedings. But because my job was to man the Casino City Twitter account all night, I was not immune to the spoilers provided by the reporters who were live at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. I found out everything that happened 30 minutes before it actually happened.

It's a weird dynamic for a viewer to watch a taped event knowing exactly how it plays out. But I wouldn't watch a live poker tournament any other way.

Let's face it: Live poker is incredibly boring, and last night's final table reached the pinnacle of banality. It was like watching paint dry, to be honest. But knowing that an exciting moment was 30 minutes down the road kept me on my toes. It even made me a little bit nervous for the players I knew would be eliminated, like the feeling you get when you watch a horror film you've already seen and know your favorite character is about to get axed.

But as for the broadcast itself, ESPN raised the bar in 2014 with what I think was its best November Nine coverage to date. The following are some of the things that really stood out to me about last night's broadcast.

Norman Chad is so much better live

When ESPN shows taped coverage of WSOP broadcasts, Normah Chad acts like a cartoon character alongside his co-host, play-by-play man Lon McEachern. He tries to be funny with every single line he utters, and it all sounds so canned and fake.

The broadcast began last night with McEachern, Chad and Antonio Esfandiari doing a stand-up introduction, and Chad was in pure cartoon form. It was truly embarrassing. But after that, when the “live” coverage actually began, Chad turned into the much better version of himself. He’s a smart, witty guy who can have an interesting perspective on poker and the people who play the game. He’s quick with on his feet and he and McEachern compliment each other quite well.

Unfortunately, when he has time to prepare, he transforms into a monster.

ESPN finally figured out how to maximize Phil Hellmuth's personality

For years, the poker community has held a grudge against Phil Hellmuth. That’s partially Hellmuth’s own fault, as his “Poker Brat” image can all too often be an accurate representation of his personality at the table. But if Hellmuth planted the brat image, ESPN certainly harvested it and fed it to the masses.

I think ESPN and Hellmuth have finally figured out that Hellmuth has the potential to provide quality analysis during the Main Event coverage, but he can also be used as an entertaining punching bag. The segments with Hellmuth, Negreanu and Kara Scott breaking down hands during breaks in the action were great, and Negreanu’s “Critique the Tweets” segment, where he made fun of Hellmuth’s tweets, were priceless.

Kudos to ESPN, and to Hellmuth for playing along.

The hand analysis during breaks was fantastic

Speaking of the hand analysis with Hellmuth and Negreanu, it was really, really good. Negreanu is one of the most personable players in the game and he has an uncanny ability to break down complex poker subjects into digestible information. Hellmuth could use some work on his vocabulary -- he seems to have a tough time finding the right word to use -- but his insight is valuable, too. Negreanu and Hellmuth have competing styles at the table, but both have been and continue to be extremely successful tournament players. It’s great having their analysis of big hands during breaks in the action.

The graphics were quite helpful

I love the fact that ESPN now has every player’s stack size presented across the top of the screen, along with the current blind level. It helps when trying to predict what bet size a player will make or to analyze the play based on stack dynamics.

The poker viewer is now an educated consumer, and we deserve to be catered to.

I enjoyed seeing hole cards
A lot of people, including several professional players, were complaining on Twitter that they did not like seeing the hole cards on TV. They’d rather spend time trying to guess what each player has based on their action in the hand.

While I agree somewhat, I guess I’ll say that my perspective is a bit skewed. When I’m sitting there until 7 a.m. watching poker, I’m not trying to carefully analyze every single hand. I want to glaze over most hands and pay close attention when the hole cards tell me something big is happening.

Esfandiari needed a nap

I don’t blame Antonio Esfandiari for sounding weary as the night went on last night, because I almost dozed off a few times, too. But there were a few times in which Esfandiari completely botched the analysis of a hand because he simply read the cards incorrectly. His analysis was spot-on throughout the night -- when he didn’t misread the board.
Dan Podheiser

Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.
Dan Podheiser
Dan Podheiser has covered the gambling industry since 2013, but he has been an avid poker player for more than a decade, starting when he was just 14 years old. When he turned 18, he played online poker regularly on U.S.-friendly sites until Black Friday in April 2011.

Since graduating from Emerson College with a degree in journalism in 2010, Dan has worked as the sports editor for a chain of newspapers in Northwest Connecticut and served a year as an Americorps*VISTA, writing and researching grant proposals for a Boston-based charity.

Originally from South Jersey, where he still visits occasionally to see his family (and play on the state's regulated online poker sites), Dan lives in Brighton, Mass. with his wife and dog.