Televised Poker

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The whole poker community owes Late Night Poker a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks to this show, we now have a plethora of programmes on tournaments and poker “characters,” which in turn has led to the poker sponsorship that we’ve all been waiting for.

That’s great stuff … well, not all of it is.

Take Late Night Poker, for instance. That programme, revolutionary as it was, could have been a whole lot better. I did one of the commentaries with Jesse May, and as much as I enjoyed it, I was annoyed that the editing was so poor. One minute, we would all be looking at Player X, well endowed with a mountain of chips, and the very next frame, the same player would be nursing a miniscule stack. Where did all of his ammo go? Could I explain to the viewers that he’d suffered some bad beats? Nope — the powers that be didn’t care. Could we have heard more of what the players were saying to each other, as some of it was very funny and provocative? Nope — television likes long, silent, “dramatic” moments.

How about the Poker Million? The first series held in the Isle of Man was fantastic, probably because it was live and therefore had no editing to interfere with John Duthie’s magical performance. As for the following two series, well, I wonder if the office of fair trading would be interested in a programme with a title that bore about as much resemblance to its contents as Arnold Schwarzenegger does to Tobey Maguire. And how about cancelling one series just three weeks before filming? Many poker players were left fuming about their travel arrangements that then had to be scrapped.

On to the World Poker Championships, recently televised in Dublin’s fair city. This was the first European poker tournament that was shot “on location,” and because of that, there were many unexpected problems. It’s obviously a whole lot easier to film in a studio than in a Grade 2-listed Georgian town house with four flights of stairs. Cramming two poker tables, an audience, and a camera crew into such a confined space meant there were many delays. Filming two heats a day resulted in the cameramen working from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. the following day. They were not happy bunnies, nor were the players who expected to be starting at 3 p.m. and yet had to wait until 8 p.m. to pick up a hand. On the positive side, poker players were allowed to wear sponsorship logos. Great move. However, some players were disappointed to find that unless they survived to the last six of their 18-player heat, their one and only TV appearance was their exit from the tournament. Was that good value for their sponsors?

I was a guest commentator for one of the heats, but unlike Late Night Poker in which the commentary was recorded, in Dublin, everything was live. Unfortunately, Billy “The Croc” Argyros and I were closeted in a room on the top floor while the action took place on the second storey, so we had to rely on the information on our TV monitors. Sadly, this information was often either wrong or simply nonexistent due to technical problems. Viewers could be forgiven for wondering if the commentators had succumbed to a dinner laced with magic mushrooms, indulged in an excess of liquid refreshment, or were suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s … or even all three! The positive aspect to this was that other poker players, on hearing the commentaries, may well have come to the conclusion that those involved have gone gaga and can therefore be dismissed at the poker table.

By comparison, the World Poker Tour and ESPN Situs Judi Poker shows are more slick and dramatic, which leads me to wonder why this is so. Are we Europeans inept and our cousins across the pond singularly gifted at making good poker shows? Or, is the European programming bankroll inadequate for the task? Or, could it be that rather than tournaments artificially designed to suit production schedules, the American productions are televising actual live tournaments, hence their drama and excitement? Whatever the case may be, it’s not in anyone’s interest to produce substandard programmes. Great shows capture big audiences, which in turn attract more advertising, which in turn command bigger fees from the TV companies and may even lead to the levels of sponsorship that we see in other sports. The European general public is not as poker literate as the transatlantic one, so our programmes must be not only exciting, but also edited and produced in such a way that the ordinary viewer can follow what’s going on; otherwise, he/she will just switch off.

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