Confessions of a Poker Writer: Underrated and Overrated Players

TAGs: Lee Davy, Poker Writer Confessions

Whilst working at the World Poker Tour (WPT) event in Ireland back in Season X the play had reached Day 2 and there was this grumpy looking bloke who was not so quietly building the biggest stack in the room.


I approached him and asked him what his name was and how many chips he had. He gave me one of those looks and just carried on with his game. I could tell Little Dave Nicholson knew who he was so asked him.

“That’s Dave Shallow. He’s a legend.” Said Nicholson.

“Why does he have such a chip on his shoulder?” I asked.

“He’s great once you get to know him. I can’t believe you don’t know Dave Shallow.” Laughed Lil Dave.

Shallow went on to win the event and if I ever see him playing at another major event, I know who he is, his name will go into the chip counts on Day 1 and I will fill the live updates with his interesting hands.

When I first got into this game I was told that a great live reporter needs to know a decent proportion of the field. Now unless you are a crackpot poker enthusiast who reads every magazine on the rack, watches every show on the tube and stalks players whilst they walk down the street; this only grows with experience.

The tournaments that you work at, the more players you will recognize. As that was the first tournament I had seen Dave Shallow play in, there is no way that I would know who he is because when I walk into a shop it’s not the poker magazines that catch my eye, and when I am raiding the Internet for videos to watch, when my old lady is out of town, it isn’t poker videos that turn up on the screen of my laptop.

The same thing happens when I work at the World Series of Poker (WSOP). As a European you don’t get the chance to work on the Heartland Poker Tour (HPT), World Series of Poker Circuit (WSOPC) events or the Stateside WPT events.

I have lost count of the number of previous WSOP bracelet winners who grab me by the arm and utter those immortal words.

“Don’t you know who I am?”

There are a lot of WSOP bracelet winners in the world and the likelihood is that unless I have seen your pretty face in the news, or seen you playing in a European event then it’s tough luck buddy. Your hands are not going to be spread outside of your own social network.

Which brings me to the point of this article.

When I started out in live tournament reporting I didn’t know anybody except those I had seen on television. I quickly calculated that if I had seen them on television, noticed on the Hendon Mob that they had won multiple titles, or a boatload of dirty green, then I assumed they were a great player and worthy of coverage.

I was wrong.

I remember once writing a closing post at an event in Europe where I had christened a table the ‘Table of Death’ because it was littered with champions of the WPT, European Poker Tour (EPT) and WSOP circuits. A highly rated, and respected, live tournament pro pulled me on it and told me that it was a table full of fish.

Now that’s a bit of a contrast. Here I was telling the world that this table was mustard and there was a live pro, who had not amassed the accolades that these superstars had, and he was telling that they were nothing but a bunch of donkeys.

But how is that possible.

“Luck.” He told me.

Not willing to believe the word of one man, I have spent the last three years asking every possible player about the skill levels of the ‘superstars’ and they all concur.

“Lucky bastards.”

The idea for this article came after I wrote a write up covering the recap of the first three starting flights at WPT Montreal.

I wrote: “There were a lot of big names taking advantage of the re-entry clause and unfortunately, Day 2 will be a lot weaker as a result of a plethora of high profile eliminations.”

I received the following comment.

“Try not to put so much emphasis on the poker personalities, and state the obvious, which is that Canada has many great poker players and that we can hold our own against anyone.”

Does he have a point?

Should I, as a live reporter, stop writing about poker personalities and glorifying their skill level and instead focus my attention on the real players in the game? The ones with exceptional skill, but appalling luck. I am not being facetious here either because if they were skillful and lucky I would know about them as Hendon Mob would drag me into their faces.

Like Dave Shallow?

But here’s the conundrum. How do I know who these great players are if there are no scores to back up these claims? I don’t play with these players? I don’t hang around on 2+2 talking about poker with the elite. I just pack my bag, head off to the tournament area, hope and pray I have good working Internet, free food and water and a field full of poker personalities so I am never lacking a story.

Dave Shallow was a name that came out of the mix when I asked several pros who they believed were some of the most underrated players in the game that did not get enough media coverage. Several more names emerged also, and a theme started to develop.

First of all, players tended to side with players from their own country. I suppose this is only natural as they would have logged more hours playing with these types of players than anyone else.

Secondly, there weren’t that many nominations for the underrated. This is a theme that I have found over the years. The guys who think they are really good, do not believe that there are that many players who are really good.

Thirdly, people hated talking about this subject. In the main they felt uncomfortable naming names, but there were one or two who also didn’t want the fish to know that people thought they were fish.

I wonder if they know they are a fish?

The great point made by a few is that naming names would be a pointless exercise, and to demonstrate why I will pick on a name that was often quoted as over rated and that’s Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi.

When I report on The Grinder I look on the Hendon Mob and see that he has won everything but the kitchen sink. Perhaps, he has just got lucky one or five times? Surely longevity tells the story. You can’t be lucky over a long period of time because it evens out and skill rises to the top right?

Mizrachi has been playing poker for a decade and only seven other players have won more money than him in the entire universe, and two of them are in the top 10 because of the ONE DROP results.

So how can you tell the world that the Grinder is not a very good poker player?

The biggest reasons that people cited for the argument of underrated versus overrated being a null and void one were variance and subjectivity.

This is what Dominik Nitsche had to say on the matter, who from what I am told, is actually one of the few poker players who knows what he is doing (most of the time).

“I think everyone who has won multiple titles, and or ranked high on the GPI  is overrated by the general public. From a pros point of view the difference between someone who is in the GPI top 10, and someone who is in the top 50 is very small.

“A lot of people  of equal skill are getting different levels of respect for their play. Take someone like Manig Loeser, for example, who is a great player but hasn’t had the fortune to actually win any live tournaments yet. Put him on the same table as anyone who has won a triple crown, or multiple bracelets, and I guarantee you it will be impossible to say who’s the better player after a full day of live poker play.”

Another vital point to make when considering the media standpoint on who to report on during a live poker tournament, is who the audience is. I have said before that I believe live tournament reporting outlets are weak in this area, and don’t have a great handle on who their customers are.

But let’s assume that for the large part a lot of them are fans of poker. If this is true then don’t they want to know how the poker personalities are doing? Aren’t the truly great players just non-entities to the public, in the same way that they are to some members of the media?

“The general public doesn’t have a deep understanding of poker. They are looking at it like they look at the Premier League, the Formula 1 or any sport event where skill is the dominating factor in deciding who wins.” Said Nitsche.

“Tournaments are pretty high variance so it’s pretty tough to say who’s definitely underrated and who’s definitely overrated.” Said Andrew Seidman.

“I think the media are very good at creating “poker stars”. They give lots of exposure to players that play everything and that’s what the poker fans that don’t know the game very well want to know. I wouldn’t try to market some high stakes cash game wizard that spends his time in front of his computer studying the game. They are not interested in that.” Said Pascal Lefrancois.

Live reporters are always searching for the hand, the color, and the story. To achieve this they need to know players, and this is what happens. Players do well in tournaments and they get noticed by writers who remember them in the next tournament. The more tournaments they do well in the more coverage they get in the blog.

Occasionally, someone will point out a wizard who makes a billion bucks a year online and he or she will get exposure also, but in the main the formula is pretty simple. Win something and I will write about you, and I couldn’t care less if you are great at poker or shit. I only care about trying my best to deliver the action from the floor to your laptop whilst running around like a blue arse fly trying to cover a tournament that might hold over a thousand players.

There’s another tweet…hang on what does it say?

“#WPT Montreal and no mention of the real beast MukulPahuja. #NeVerRmUK #respect #WTF”

What a twat I am…I wonder if he really is a beast?


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