Norman Chad: Characters in Poker are Essential for its Growth

Norman Chad: Characters in Poker are Essential for its Growth

Lee Davy sits down with the ESPN Broadcaster, Norman Chad, to talk about his voyage in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Championship, his experiences at the WSOP and much more.

Norman Chad: Characters in Poker are Essential for its GrowthI know that face.

That’s Norman Chad.

The voice of the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

We are in the media room and he is sitting next to me staring into space. He has the bewildered look of a man who has just busted, but I make a daring assumption that he wouldn’t be sat next to me if that had just happened.

It must be a break and if he thinks he is going to find some quiet time in the media room he is mistaken. Fortunately, for Chad, the room is full of Italians who can’t speak the English.

I can though.

So how is Norman Chad doing?

“The fact that I am still in, is a small miracle, and if I cash it will be a large miracle, but I am happy to be in a position to possibly cash.”

Due to his work, in and around the Main Event, I guess this is the big one for Chad?

“I wouldn’t play in the Main Event anyway because I don’t play No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE). I play all the other games. Stud-8 is my favorite game and this is the $10k buy-in, so it’s the equivalent of my Main Event.”

Chad has been working for the WSOP since the Moneymaker win back in 2003. That’s a lot of sights to see, and a lot of stories to tell. How have things changed over the years for Chad?

“People want to take my picture. If you look at me, who would want to take my photograph? Maybe five people in my life have asked for my photograph before I joined the WSOP, and now I can’t go five seconds without a request because it’s TV.

“So that’s changed. I’m not a very public person, and not a very sociable person. I’m not a good-looking guy, but people want to take my photo. I guess I am the Brad Pitt of poker.”

Just prior to talking to Chad I was talking to Jeff Lisandro, and he was pretty down about the lack of atmosphere in the Rio. I asked Chad for his opinion?

“That’s how Jeff is feeling right now. I don’t have any problem at all. Coming here every year is a thrill. It’s once a year, and it comes and goes in a hurry, and I know that for some people when it ends they can’t wait for it to come around again so they get another chance to win a bracelet.

“Jeff is one of the best players out there. He can win bracelets in any discipline, and he is a tremendous Stud player. I don’t know how players like Jeff can sit there and play 30-35 events. It just burns you out. Just after one day here, I want to walk into a car wash and have a spray on me for 15-mins. I am completely exhausted and I don’t know how they come back the next day?”

What has been the highlight for Chad in his time at the WSOP?

“The first year I started, I didn’t realize it was a magical moment, but it was. Not only did I not know it would ignite the poker boom, but I was also rooting for the other guy. I was rooting for Sammy Farha. People ask me why and I just tell them that it’s because I am an idiot.”

He did look the part.

“Right…he had a true Bogart look, and he was a poker pro. I just thought, ‘People are going to look at this guy and think this is what poker’s all about’. I mean who wants to see an accountant from Tennessee winning it? Fortunately, for poker, he did.”

How important are the characters in poker if the game is going to continue to be presented to a larger TV audience?

“Without question, the characters are essential. When I started doing this there was just a bunch of middle-aged men chucking chips into the middle of the table. Who is going to watch that? People don’t remember hands; they remember stories, characters, conflict at the tables and the back-stories of the people. I have always believed that to reach out to a greater number of people you have to talk about the players, not the hands.

“I would never sit there and do hand analysis. I have always believed to reach out to a wider group of people you need to talk about the players and hopefully have enough characters to do that. It’s difficult to find the characters these days. Poker expanded, but it expended to a group of 23-year old kids who have been sitting in front of their computer since High School, so they don’t have any back-story – that’s their life.

“So we lose the Doyle Brunson’s, the TJ Cloutier’s and the Miami John Cernuto’s – I mean he used to be in air traffic control. I would sooner be talking about an Air Traffic Controller than the best guy playing JTo under the gun online – it’s not even close. We do need the characters.

“I’m thrilled when I find out one of them used to work at Wendy’s or McDonald’s so I can hang my hat on that. At least they flipped burgers for a few weeks, but they haven’t even done that.”

Each year I watch Chad mingling in the Main Event, notepad and pen in hand, searching for the stories.

“I used to talk to the production group and tell them that the stories are out there but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. But if you wander around you will find them. I often feel bad because there are so many out there you don’t find, but that’s part of the business.”

So whom does he love to see at the final table?

“I always let out a sigh of relief when Daniel Negreanu or Phil Hellmuth make the final table because they carry the telecast. The more they talk the less we have to entertain and I am done entertaining. I used everything up about five years ago. I am also rooting for Phil Ivey who I believe is the best all round player in the game.”

Are there any young whippersnappers he has seen that he believes can one day take over the baton?

“Part of the problem is it’s so hard to sustain success for so long. So a young whippersnapper comes along, and has an incredible 3-6 months, but as TJ Cloutier used to say when asked if they are a great poker players, ‘Come back and ask me in 10 years.’ Of course they are usually gone by then.

“Scott Seiver and Jason Somerville are two guys with great personalities. They understand, like Daniel did at a young age, that it’s not just about the cards. You have to get the business in. You have to entertain the suckers and make people losing money to you feel good about that.”

Does Chad believe the poker organizations could do more to help the younger players learn how to promote themselves, and therefore, the game?

“I am surprised there aren’t consultants out there to do exactly what you are talking about. Poker could use that, but there isn’t a poker umbrella organization. We can’t even get the rules right across the board.

“A guy that I don’t necessarily get on with, but gets it is Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot. He came from well before the poker boom and he understood that this is what we had to do. He created character. He had this patter about him, he had all of his jewelry, and he was ahead of his time in understanding how important that would be to the poker industry.”