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Top-10 observations from the Epic Poker League's first televised tournament

10 October 2011

The Epic Poker League made its debut on CBS on Saturday with the final table of the inaugural six-max $20,000 event, which took place at The Palms Casino Resort in August. Previously, coverage of the tournament had aired on Velocity.

The first event was a star-studded affair, virtually guaranteed by the fact that players could only get into the tournament if they had qualified for a league card or by making the final table of a $1,500 satellite.

The tournament coverage wasn’t groundbreaking. After all, we’ve seen televised poker tournaments before. But I saw plenty of things that are worth noting. So here are my top-10 observations of the Epic Poker League’s first television broadcasts.

10. Plenty of rankings
The Global Poker Index, a system of ranking poker players based on their performance over the last three years, was developed by Federated Sports + Gaming, the parent company of the Epic Poker League. And commentators Pat O’Brien and Ali Nejad weren’t afraid to throw the rankings around at every available opportunity. Player rankings were also included in the graphical display with player names, much as a college basketball team’s national ranking or seed in the NCAA tournament would be displayed during a televised game. The rankings are great for the casual observer who may never have heard of Jason Mercier but knew by the end of the broadcast that he was the third-ranked tournament player in the world entering this event. But the rankings, at times, seemed to almost supersede the importance of the tournament. The broadcasters were a bit too eager to tout a ranking system that would be at most only be a footnote in any other poker broadcast.

9. Ad for the Facebook game is realistic
The first ad I saw during an Epic Poker League broadcast was for the league’s free-play game on Facebook. And I have to give them credit – they made it realistic. The player in the hand showed pondered what to do with king-jack after hitting top-two pair on the flop before finally deciding to move all in. But my favorite part of the ad was the fact that all nine players saw the flop. Yup, that pretty much sums up free-play online poker.

8. Nejad is a name-dropper extraordinaire
Ali Nejad, the “color commentator” for lack of a better term, has been working on poker shows for quite some time. During that time, he has forged relationships with many of the world’s best players. And he isn’t afraid to let you know about it, either. Whether it’s playing cash games with Jason Mercier, being on the receiving end of a power drive by Gavin Smith, or that Eugene Katchalov is a really good guy, Nejad lets you know that he knows the players. He’s like the Michael Wilbon of poker.

7. Edited down to show a lot of hands
Don’t expect to see a lot of tanking on Epic Poker League broadcasts. Play is edited down to just the action in an attempt to show as many hands as possible. There are exceptions (Erik Seidel’s river decision against Chino Rheem’s bluff is notable), but with just an hour to show the entire final table, there isn’t much time to show the thought process.

6. Player profiles are fun
My favorite part of the broadcast was the player profiles of Huck Seed and Erik Seidel. Seed’s hobbies were revealed as prop bets and yoga, while Seidel was asked about his Twitter feed, and even read a few of his funnier tweets. The profiles revealed some of the players’ personalities and will go a long way toward making casual viewers care more about the players involved.

5. Controversy addressed
There was plenty of talk about Chino Rheem’s financial problems. Rheem even talked about it himself, saying that everything is better when you’re solvent, from the taste of food to the quality of sleep at night. Nejad talked at length about Rheem owing others money. That said, nothing was said about some of the shadier things Rheem is alleged to have done, and I highly doubt much will be said about the league’s decision to revoke Michael Devita’s prize for winning a $1,500 satellite into the second Main Event because he is a prior sex offender.

4. Small, subdued crowd
When the World Series of Poker moved the Main Event final table to November, it gave players several months to get friends and family members out to Las Vegas to watch them play for poker’s biggest prize in the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. As a result, the atmosphere at the final table has started to resemble what you’d see at a soccer match, complete with huge cheering sections for each supporter. Part of what makes the atmosphere great is that most of the players are not accustomed to winning million-dollar prizes in poker tournaments, and neither are the people sweating them. As a result, the ups and downs of the tournament draw gasps and roars, as the crowd awaits the fate of their friend or family member. In contrast, the audience at the first Epic Poker League final table was pretty sparse. And many of the people watching were other Epic Poker League card holders – people used to the up and down swings of tournament poker. No one rushed the stage when Rheem took the title (though they may have been waiting for him at the cage), and it’s unlikely you’ll see anyone do so at any of the Epic Poker League events. The emotion just isn’t there for the spectators.

3. Not afraid to ignore a player
I have to say I felt pretty bad for Hasan Habib. The poor guy started the final table as the chip leader and finished fourth, but the broadcast cut out all but his bustout hand. To make matters worse, the only part of the hand they showed was the river reveal after he was all-in with pocket jacks vs. Rheem’s pocket aces. Then, to add insult to injury, O’Brien and Nejad then talked about how Habib’s bustout guaranteed that Mercier would take over the number-one spot in the Global Poker Index, barely noting Habib’s participation in the event.

2. Jury still out on Pat O’Brien
O’Brien has a voice that exudes authority. The longtime sportscaster’s scripted openings (listen below) add weight to the idea behind the Epic Poker League. But his commentary during play sounds scripted and stilted at times. Hopefully this will change as he gets more comfortable with the material.

1. High-quality poker play
While I have plenty of complaints about the pace of play shown, the fact that Habib was essentially ignored, and that the commentators were either too self-absorbed or uninformed, the overwhelming feeling I had after watching the first Epic Poker League broadcasts was that the quality of play was through the roof. Seeing Seidel pick off Rheem’s bluff, or watching players value bet mediocre holdings knowing they had the best hand gave me a whole new respect for the players who have qualified for the Epic Poker League. I think Rheem said it best after getting owned by Seidel: “I’m not gonna lie,” said Rheem. “Even though I lost the pot that was probably the coolest hand of poker I’ve ever played in my life.”
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.