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Top-10 ideas to improve poker programming

2 September 2011

Televised poker is always evolving, and my last top-10 list showed just how much it has changed, thanks to ideas that have improved the quality of the programming. Today, I'll offer up another list, this time of the ideas that I think could be used to further enhance the viewer’s experience. Many of these ideas wouldn’t make sense under normal conditions (say the WSOP, for instance), but would make great new made-for-TV formats.

10. Games other than Hold'em
I know, it's been done before, and it was unsuccessful. Not even a drunken Scotty Nguyen could get ESPN good ratings for the WSOP $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament when the final table was played in the limit format in 2008. But I think it's time to give it another shot (other poker games, not drunken Scotty). And maybe limit games just don’t work because the nuances of winning or saving an extra bet are hard to appreciate. But you can't tell me that a pot-limit Omaha game wouldn't get ratings. And I honestly think that no-limit 2-7 single draw might garner some interest, too, given that it's a twist on the first game most people learn to play, 5-card draw.

9. Barter for the price on each street
Sometimes, you'll see a player trying to figure out if he's getting the right price to make a call. And sometimes the player who made the bet might wish he bet a little less to string his opponent along. It would be fun to see a player facing a 50,000-chip bet say, "I'll make the call if you cut it down to 30,000." It would add a whole new level of complexity to the tournament and the negotiations could get to be intense. If you like to watch people barter (this is the reason I love the show Pawn Stars), you’d love this format.

8. Ironman poker
I've run two marathons and have friends who do Ironman triathlons. And I've played poker for 24 straight hours on a few occasions, too. So it's no surprise that I want to see these two endeavors combined. Players compete in an Olympic-length triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run) to determine their starting stack. Then, a tournament is run that should last about 24 hours with minimal breaks. At the end of the day, the winner will be a true Ironman. And who wouldn’t be entertained watching Mike Matusow try to swim?

7. Politicians resolving policy issues
Politics could be considered the ultimate poker game. Instead of pitting well-known poker players against each other, put politicians on the felt and let them resolve policy issues based on their skill at the card table. Wouldn't the debt ceiling negotiations have been more interesting if House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama played a heads up poker match instead of all the verbal sparring we had to listen to a few weeks ago? While this is probably not the best way to determine public policy, sometimes you have to wonder whether it would in the end be more effective. And it would change how people vote in elections, too. It wouldn’t take too long before Washington was filled with poker players … and then maybe we’d see some action on Internet poker regulation!

6. Exotic locations
Let's face it, card rooms aren't that interesting. And while the producers of poker shows have put together some pretty impressive stages in recent months (look no further than POKER PROductions, which created the set for the WSOP stage, or 441 Productions, which created the Epic Poker League's final table set), there's something to be said for the beauty of the outdoors. Stu Ungar won the 1997 World Series of Poker Main Event on Fremont Street (it may have been the first time he'd seen the sun in months, based on how pale he was). But even Fremont Street wasn't that great a location. Let's give these guys a backdrop! Put them up in the Eiffel Tower, or on top of Mount Rushmore! Give us something interesting to look at in the down moments between hands.

5. Online tournament
One of the things that can make poker tough to watch is the "poker face," the stoic look that players try to maintain so as not to reveal the strength of their hands. And one of the beautiful things about online poker is that you don't need to hide your emotions. Frustrated that your open raise got three-bet again? Of course you can swear at your opponent, because he can't hear you. Need to talk through a decision on whether or not you're going to fold or shove? Go ahead. Revealing the strength of your hand to your cat isn't going to hurt your chances. I'd like to see a tournament where the players can't see each other, and are forced only to play the cards. With cameras on every player, you'd get genuine reactions, and you could even have analysts interview players after hands are over to ask about their decision-making process.

4. Hole card cams at every table
One of the great things about televised golf is that there's always someone taking a shot. The leaders might be walking down the fairway to their tee shots, but two holes ahead, a contender is standing over a 12-foot birdie putt. Being able to cut from one shot to the next gives a game that could be very slow to watch a great pace.

Having a camera at every table would allow live poker broadcasts to switch over to tables where a big hand was in progress. If Phil Hellmuth isn't on a featured table, but just shoved all-in, the production crew could switch to him to see his fate. And if there’s something big happening at the table where coverage is currently focused, you could always switch over with a seamless “This from a moment ago,” as often heard on golf broadcasts.

3. Full disclosure of staking
It's not a big secret that poker players often have backers or trade percentages of tournament earnings with other players. The practice has been in the news lately after Chino Rheem claimed a $1 million prize for winning the first Epic Poker League Main Event, but had to pay out nearly all (if not all) of the winnings to his backers and people he owed money to. If you're unfamiliar with the arrangements that players often make, Card Player has a great look at how those arrangements are made, and how they've changed in the wake of Black Friday.

I think it would be interesting to know exactly what those arrangements are, and what the implications are for each player. If a player has 100 percent of himself, it's simple to figure out how much he's going to go home with. But to see a graphic that indicates just how much each player wins would be great, including the players who have already been eliminated. Surely the players don't want this type of disclosure, but as a casual fan, it's easy for me to say that I'd like to know.

2. Call your opponent's hand bonus
In poker, the only way you win a pot is by betting your opponent out or showing down a winner. Well, I'd like to change that, at least for one made-for-TV poker show. I'd like to give players the opportunity in heads-up pots to be able to predict their opponent's holdings, and if they get it right, they automatically win the hand, even if their hand is beat. If both players correctly call out their opponent's hand, the rules would return to normal and the winning hand would take down the pot.

Players would need to correctly guess what both cards are, and suits would only need to be called in the case of a flush. Daniel Negreanu would be unstoppable in this format.

1. Let players openly discuss the hand when heads up
If you watched Negreanu during the live WSOP coverage this year, you know how frustrated he was at not being able to talk about a hand when it reached heads up play due to a TDA rule. He even wrote about it in a recent blog post. Negreanu’s point is that it’s difficult for tournament directors to determine exactly what is allowed and what isn’t; some don’t allow players to say a thing so there’s no gray area, and others are very lax in their enforcement of the rule.

While Negreanu’s point is valid, the reason I hate the rule is that it ruins televised poker when enforced. Watch the video above of Negreanu calling out his opponent’s hands. That’s stunning television, and nearly all of it would be worthy of a penalty. And that’s a shame.
Top-10 ideas to improve poker programming is republished from
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.