Live tournament reporting needs a new coat of paint: Periscope, hand replayers and changes to chip counts might provide the right sheen.
We are hand for hand in the bubble phase of the World Poker Tour (WPT) UK Main Event. I am standing on the shoulder of Simon Deadman. He is one of the most skilful and prolific players left in this game. He is also one of the chip leaders.
Deadman is staring into the soul of the chip leader Paul Dando. For the next 5-minutes, my attention is metronomic between the two. The tension is unique. This is poker. People are folding away to a single ante hoping to squeeze into the money. Deadman could do them all a favour. A thought that was quite incredible moments earlier.
You can read the full description of the hand right here.
Live reporting at poker tournaments needs to change.
We demand personal interaction with our stars more than ever before. That one hand is my abiding memory from that tournament, and yet I could never do it justice. My writing is not that good. Live reporting serves a purpose. It allows people to check updates when traveling on trains. But it shouldn’t provide the spine-rattling roar.
Poker is a strange beast unlike any other form of sport or game in as much as the end game is drab and boring when compared to the earlier jabs and uppercuts that take place when the tournament is bustling with vibrancy. The drab and the dreary end game is available to be watched live on the Internet, and yet we rely on a few pairs of eyeballs covering hundreds, sometimes thousands, of players in the very heart of battle.
Some live tournaments operators recently banned Periscope. We should re-examine this decision. While I understand the reasoning for excluding its use for players, I think it would take live reporting to the next level.
Had I had Periscope during that hand between Deadman and Dando, you could have witnessed the drama for yourself. With a microphone attached to my lapel, you could have also listened to me commentating. At the end of the hand, you could have heard comments and opinions of other players at the table, and perhaps Deadman and Dando.
Players may feel that this is too impersonal.
All great live tournament reporters build relationships with the players. They also have excellent interpersonal skills. They can take snap judgments of who is a talker and who is not. They can build on these relationships by creating great live video content.
Let’s examine the Deadman v Dando hand as an example.
Deadman lost the hand. I know him quite well, but I wouldn’t ask him questions after he had lost. I interviewed Dando during the tournament and would have felt confident asking him for his opinion on the hand after the dust had settled. I would have felt extremely confident pulling a few players aside to ask them their view. It’s great entertainment that you don’t see in the blog.
These proposals won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will be good for the game overall. There was a time when you could kick lumps out of an opponent in football, and never get caught. These days players can’t pick their noses without a camera catching them. The players have had to adapt to play under these conditions. The game has grown extraordinarily as a result of in an increase of focus on the minutiae of the match.
The same could happen in poker.
It occurs to some degree in the latter stages of the WSOP. The ESPN camera operators get into people’s faces and cause mayhem. It bothers the players, but there wouldn’t be TV coverage without it. Recreational players wouldn’t get their five minutes of fame. Professional poker players wouldn’t become stars.
Live reporters could be coached to ensure they film and commentate discreetly. They don’t have to ram cameras down people’s lug holes. They will learn to ebb and flow with the table. If people are raucous with laughter and enjoyment, then get into that flow. If they are all seriousness and angst, then respect that flow.
Another area of the game that I think needs to change is the collation of chip counts. I know my point of view differs from my colleagues enormously, but I don’t think accuracy is as important as the timeliness of change.
I have seen live reporters spend an age getting an exact chip count only for that to change by the time they have returned to their laptop. It’s wasted time in a role where time is very precious. Live reporters are not the right people to be taking chip counts.
The end goal must be compulsory chip count updates by individual players. PokerNews created the chip count app, but I feel we should go one step further and have this technology built into the tables. Players should be made to update their chip stack periodically by pressing a few buttons on their table.
If not, then the dealer can perform this task. It doesn’t take that long to eyeball ten stacks and enter them into a system. It takes even less time to adjust stack sizes. It doesn’t have to be accurate to the 1k chip, and they can resolve discrepancies during each break with a full chip count.
We need to also change the way we record hands. There needs to be a standardised system that eases the writing process for the live reporter. I have worked on numerous back-end systems for every outlet, and they all have one thing in common – they slow the writer down.
All hands should contain the following information.
1. Position of everyone at the table
2. Chip stacks of everyone at the table
3. Blind level
4. All hand information
5. Any necessary colour
6. Final chip counts
I recently spoke to Craig McCorkell about a hand that I saw him play during the WPT UK Main Event. The hand interested me from a strategic point of view, so I spoke to him afterwards. McCorkell doesn’t want me talking about the hand because it was a particular play catered for a particular opponent, but it was obvious by the way I had recorded the hand that the stack sizes of those not involved had a crucial part to play in his decision making, but I had not recorded that information.
The lack of information is not always the fault of the live reporter. They are trying to get into the field amass as much information as possible before darting to their computer for input. It’s a very busy job and by gathering as many hands as you can, you miss out on the detail.
A great way of improving this situation is to have a system whereby live reporters enter their hand in a standard way, and a Hand Replayer captures the information and then plays it out for the viewer. I believe this form of media will be more favourable than an eyeball scan of a written hand.
There are times when a Hand Replayer doesn’t do a hand justice. The Deadman v Dando hand is an excellent example. It would have been perfect for Periscope, seconded only by creative writing and thirdly by a Hand Replayer.
There are some of my thoughts relating to potential live reporting changes, what are yours?