Thursday, September 03, 2009

Internet Poker Killed the WPT

I realized this week that having a baby recently has given me a whole new perspective on watching televised poker. I'm serious about this, and I think I really mean what I said in the title up there: the spread of internet poker ultimately hurts, not helps, the popularity of poker on television.

For years I've thought it's more or less the exact opposite -- people will watch poker on tv, get into it, and soon they'll realize they can qualify for those very same tournaments they're watching by playing online, so they'll play more poker, and the cycle goes on. All the while, my (and ESPN's, clearly) thinking has been that people getting more and more in to playing poker would also be getting more and more in to watching poker. I mean, it stands to reason, right? You're becoming more interested in the game, you're taking shots at playing in the very same size tournaments as the ones you can watch on tv, against some of the very same players you can watch on tv, and in some of the very same situations as you can watch on tv. And, over the past several years, there's been tons of poker on the tube to choose from -- not just 16 episodes of ESPN WSOP coverage every summer, but also the WPT all year round, High Stakes Poker for the big cash games, the Heads-Up Championship, and various other sitngo, cash and tournament options to watch. So why wouldn't people watch more and more poker as they get more and more in to playing poker, especially online?

Overload.

It's that simple. It's poker overload.

This has finally occurred to me because since having a baby I have more or less not turned on the computer at home. Hardly even once. I can't have even logged in to full tilt more than two or three times since the little guy came, and I haven't seen an image of a playing card on a screen for maybe the longest time in a few years. Poker, in all its forms, has just been on a hiatus with me for a little bit with more important things take up the time that poker has competed for.

But then a couple days ago I happened to be rocking the kid to sleep while zoning out to some random tv, and on ESPN after sportscenter ended suddenly came up the coverage of the WSOP Main Event, Day 2, which I haven't been watching much of this year, just as I haven't watched most of the past couple of years' coverage either. But this time, it was different. For me anyways. The colors of the cards were bright. The guys' characters were on display. George was there and even giving up some famous George quotes for the table. Lawyer-turned-poker-player Greg Raymer was there too, making for a really fun feature table. It was really interesting, and I watched poker on tv with more gusto than I have in several years, without a doubt. I was really into it. Hammer Wife couldn't believe it but I was honestly even laughing out loud at Norman Chad (!!) with all the Seinfeld references.

And further, there was the poker. Ahh the poker. I watched some Russian dude in sunglasses at the feature table call down a c-bet from Raymer on the flop with just overcards for about 6% of his stack. Then I got really interested as he checked, Raymer fired out again on the turn (which gave the Russian dude second pair with second kicker), and the guy pondered forever, staring Raymer down, and eventually slid out another sixth of his stack to call again. I was really rapt by the time the river fell a rag, Raymer pushed out a big bet for about half of the Russian's remaining stack, and the guy thought forever again before actually calling down Raymer's two pairs with his QJ on an xxK-Q-x board. I couldn't believe it.

Later I was similarly interested to watch Greg Raymer himself make a seriously call-stationy play, calling an preflop raising opponent's decently large allin bet on the flop when Raymer had just top pair with a Ten kicker. Frankly I could not believe Raymer made that call, and somehow of course he happened to be right, the other guy had top pair with a 9 kicker, which just added to my amazement.

But when I really knew something was up was when I watched Jesus raise preflop from early position with pocket Jacks, and get called from late position by AQo. The flop came down an amazing JTT, and I was completely glued to the tv set. I really wanted to see how Jesus would play this hand. I was truly excited to get to watch how an amazingly successful WSOP player like Chris Ferguson opts to play a flopped monster like this. And I don't just mean watching whether he bets or checks the flop. I mean, how long he waits to make the bets or calls (or raises) that he makes throughout the hand. How he holds and moves the chips he does bet from his stack into the pot. And any other clues or signals that Chris seems to give off when he knows from the getgo he's got the board locked up.

What made that hand particularly enthralling to me was that Chris played it more or less totally differently than the line I would have taken. And boy did it pay off. When that flop came down JTT, knowing I had not just flopped a boat but the over boat on the board, I am pretty certain I would have checked. I would have check-called the flop for sure. On the turn, if my opponent had checked behind on the flop, I would bet out around 2/3 the size of the pot and hope my opponent thinks I'm trying to steal. But if my opponent had bed the flop and I had called, then I would probably check to him and hope he leads out again so I can at that point move in my stack and he will have to call for the pot odds. For what it's worth, I do seem to recall Doyle even saying in Super System that he tends to check the flop with the overboat, just because you have the board locked and there isn't much your opponent can have hit when you connect with the flop that hard.

But Chris doesn't play by Doyle's rules, and he doesn't play by what I'm sure is the standard donkey move of checking the flopped boat even regardless of having been the raiser before the flop. Chris figured he raised from early position before the flop and this guy called him from late position, so he's got to have something good. Two high cards maybe, or a medium pair. And Chris knows -- instantaneously, I was extremely impressed to note -- that for either of those hands (two high cards or a medium pair), the TTJ flop is not necessarily a bad thing. If his opponent called preflop with AK or AQ, he's now got 6 outs to top pair and another four outs to a straight. If it was KQ, he's now got the open ended straight draw. If it was AJ, KJ or QJ, he's just made top pair and a decent kicker on a paired board, which is also playable in many situations. And lordy if the guy called preflop with AT, KT, QT or even JT, then he is in a world of hurt cuz he will obviously play those hands as well. So Chris considers all of this over the span of maybe two seconds after the flop hits the board, and then he slides right out a standard c-bet, just like he'd been planning the move since last Thursday. His opponent, who does have AQ and reasonably thinks he has ten outs, calls there as the pot odds plus the implied odds make that a pretty good call against a decent stack early in a big no-limit event like this.

When the turn brings a rag, I am once again really interested in what's on the tv, and I of course am immediately thinking of my favorite move, which is to bet when I flop strong as if it's a c-bet, and then if I get called, to check the turn even though I actually did flop strong to the hand. This way the other guy, who already called my flop c-bet so clearly has something or some intent to steal the pot from me later in the hand, will often lead out on the turn as if I am admitting defeat and willing to give up my c-bet. Then I spring the allin check-raise on them, and only the really good players fold. It's a great move and I've made thousands of dollars in real cash just doing that to donkeys, especially early in tournaments.

But once again Chris had another surprise for me up his sleeve. Jesus didn't even skip a beat before sliding another bet out on the turn, larger this time since the pot itself has grown larger after the bet and call on the flop. I mean, this guy flopped the over boat, immediately c-bet the flop, got called and then immediately bet out again with a standard second-bullet bet on the turn. I couldn't believe he would waste his chance to double up on that play, but wouldn't you know it, the guy smooth called again. I guess Chris's immediate betting was making this guy think Chris was just firing a second-bullet bluff, I don't know, but I couldn't believe he called again. Amazingly, the river card brought the killer K, making the final board JTTxK, and when Jesus quickly moved allin on the river, his opponent had to call having rivered broadway and getting exactly the card he was calling all the way to pick up.

It was really an amazing hand, and just one of several interesting showdowns I saw in just under an hour of watching the first poker on tv I've seen in years probably. And I had an awesome time, something I definitely haven't felt about televised poker in a long, long time. And I could tell while I was watching it exactly why that is: because I haven't spent the last several nights already staring at a screen, flopping full houses and making those calls with top pair. Even after just a couple of weeks, the whole game seems fresher to me, more interesting.

Playing online poker a couple of hours every night causes a tremendous overload of poker in my brain, and I would venture to say the brains of most of you out there as well. It may not feel that way, and I'm not saying we would necessarily be happier playing less, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and guess publicly here that most of you who have played online poker with some regularity over the past, say, two years or more, now watch far less televised poker than they did two years ago. I'm sure it's true for most people out there. When I'm already facing these exact same situations myself, night in and night out -- sometimes several times a night -- seeing the cards fall, the big calls or folds, the rush of praying for that miracle on the river, the thrill of successfully slow-playing a donkey out of his stack, then watching more of the same on tv is really quite boring nowadays. Back when I didn't have online poker is an outlet for my interest in the game, I was an online poker junkie. You couldn't get me to turn it off and I wouldn't even go out on Tuesday nights when the WSOP coverage was running. But then I got into actually playing the game instead of just watching it, started playing in tournaments regularly, and suddenly poker on tv just seemed, well, second-best.

Now after just a couple of weeks away from online poker and the immersion that medium allows me in this game I still love and enjoy, I'm already ready to let my old poker outlet back into my life just a little bit. ESPN's WSOP coverage was just about the best hour of tv I've watched since the one where SpongeBob gets left in charge of the Krusty Krab and tries to make Squidward do all this extra work, and Squidward tells SpongeBob all those funny lies and SpongeBob believes every single one of them because he is the most gullible sponge in the sea.

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5 Comments:

Blogger AVIGANOLA said...

I am so glad to see you are doing Poker Posts again. Thought you gave the game up! Keep up the great work. GL. Tony

9:47 PM  
Blogger PokahDave said...

whoa! Step back from the remote control....you are currently suffering from SpongeBob Overload Syndrome. More commonly known as S.O.S Very common in households with multiple kids.
Step back...shut off the TV...and get back to bad beats on Full Tilt Pronto!

3:48 AM  
Blogger BigTPoker said...

I just wish that somehow one could make online play like the TV shows and simply skip from one good hand to the next.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Chad C said...

Since poker has evolved to an uber aggressive game you were just witnessing good play by Jebus... The over aggros tend to float so much now that it only makes sense to bet the nuts on every turn.... There are just so many people willing to ship it with KJ why not bet? Check calling is so transparent, especially on a board of that texture....

1:15 AM  
Blogger james said...

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6:27 PM  

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