Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tournament Reporting

In the wake of the fiasco with fellow blogger F-Train and some ludicrous statements apparently made by him on a recent PokerRoad Radio podcast, I had some thoughts that frankly I have wondered about for a long time. In short, for those of you who didn't hear about it, the guys on a show called "The B-Team" on PokerRoad Radio, a podcast that presumably gets some amount of regular downloaders / listeners, basically took issue with the way that F-Train reported on the final table of the NAPT Venetian tournament that went down last week in Las Vegas.

The guys started off by claiming that F-Train was the same guy -- who they went on to disparage on their show for about five minutes -- who wrote some tongue-in-cheek posts a year or two ago about Daniel Negreanu going busto, among other things. Personally I never heard of these posts and I do not read the website where these were apparently written, but F-Train was quick to point out that it was not he who wrote the posts. Although the radio show hosts were clear at first in a throwaway kind of statement that they were not 100% certain if this person has been F-Train, as I mentioned they then went on for five minutes to put down F-Train by name, calling him all sorts of names and insulting him any number of ways for those posts that it turns out were not even written by him.

Obviously, this is ridiculously unprofessional behavior for anyone in any media context if you ask me, and it's a shame that these guys will I am sure never really get their comeuppance for their shoddy reporting. It does look like two of the three hosts of the show have left apologetic comments on F-Train's blog over the past couple of days, but frankly I think that is obviously an insufficient method of making amends for what they did. At the very least, they owe F-Train a specific correction on their radio show, as close as possible to the time of the original airing. I think the apologies in F-Train's comments from the radio hosts indicated that they are not regular hosts on the show and therefore don't know if or when they would be able to correct the problem. That, my friends, is bullshit. In a nutshell, if PokerRoad Radio does not publicly correct what they said about F-Train having authored those previous posts, in the very next broadcast made by PokerRoad Radio, then they are doing F-Train a disservice (whether he admits it or not), and, if I were in the habit of listening to this show (which I'm not), I would stop paying them any attention whatsoever, because they are showing just how little they know about "journalism" in any sense of the word. In fact, when other bloggers and other websites out there have written things about me that have been pure, unadulterated bullshit that even a cursory review of the facts would have indicated to be flat-out incorrect or misleading, that's exactly the policy I have followed, and as a result I don't read a few blogs anymore that I know I am missing out on some great writing at. But the bottom line is, when someone is willing to go out in a public forum and make an accusation or statement that is derogatory towards someone and later is proven to be totally false, that person ought to be man or woman enough to fix the mistake as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to do so in the same medium in which the original statements were published. In my view, apologizing in F-Train's blog comments -- while far better than nothing, don't get me wrong -- is totally insufficient and should not be considered addressing the issue in any meaningful or professional way. Imagine if I slam on someone for doing something in my blog, broadcasting it out to 500 people, and then later when it turns out I baldfaced lied, I simply send an email to the individual I lied about to say I am sorry. Sorry guys, that's just not enough, and it's not even close.

But the more interest aspect of the PokerRoad guys' comments about F-Train related to his commentary on Sam Stein's play at the final table, as detailed in this post here. Basically, F-Train describes a couple of "hero calls" Stein made at the final table that eventually cost him the chip lead he had held for two days straight, and then eventually the title once down to heads-up play. And, given the way F-Train describes the hands in question, I don't see how anyone can get up in his mug about his characterization of them as "hero calls". They are really, really light calls, both of which cost him and, frankly, both of which I assume most of us out there would agree were not Stein's finest moments in this tournament by a longshot. I think the point of the hosts on PokerRoad with respect to these statements is that it's bush league for F-Train to make these kinds of conclusions because he can't possibly get into the head of Sam Stein or anyone else at the final table. Which clearly, by the way, he can't. Nonetheless, a media outlet is paying F-Train to report on the final table, and that's exactly what he's doing. I mean, it's one thing if a guy characterizes Sam Stein as "an evil person" or "a horrible player" generally, etc. -- in other words, generalizations about the man which one reporter cannot possibly expect to be able to reliably make based on covering him in just this one tournament. But if someone thinks calling down for a large portion of a tournament-leading stack at a major final table with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake with 4th pair is "hero calling" and says so in a piece he is being paid to write about that event, then what's the problem? In this case, I cannot imagine what the real issue is with anything F-Train said about Stein's play, and I would have said the same thing about it -- in my blog or otherwise -- had I been paying attention I am quite sure. Even if someone does not agree with the characterization of these moves as "hero calls", in my view clearly that characterization is supported by sufficient evidence to not be attacked as being totally off base or something like that.

But then this got me thinking. Why aren't more poker tournament reporters accomplished poker tournament players themselves in the game they are covering? Wouldn't this make for more powerful tournament reporting, at least in the sense of being able to explain, understand and analyze what truly goes on at a final table like this? I mean no disparagement whatsoever to F-Train's poker play, but I do not know of him ever sitting down after four long days of nothing but aggressive, pressure-cooker no-limit holdem and trying to play a big stack through 7 other guys with again literally hundreds of thousands of dollars riding on every decision. Wouldn't an analysis done by, say, Erik Seidel, or da_professional or someone similar necessarily be "better" in that these guys have been in that spot before, know what it's like making decisions which directly and quite literally will impact the financial future of the players making those calls? That they have each many times taken a gigantic stack into a major final table, and had the experience of both blowing that chip lead and also riding that chip lead to a major poker title and 6-figure score? Isn't this exactly why shows like High Stakes Poker and even ESPN get people like Mike Sexton and Gabe Kaplan involved, because these guys have had some real poker tournament success and thus are able to offer insights that others are not?

I'll be honest. I've had the opportunity to have a few of my larger tournament scores chronicled in various media outlets, by virtue of them having occurred in major tournament series run by some of the biggest poker outlets in the world (none of these involving F-Train whatsoever, to be clear). Now, while there have surely been various levels of involvement and care put into these recaps, the bottom line is that, when I read the analyses of the hands in which I was involved, it is shocking how off-base sometimes the writer has been about either my intentions, the cards I was holding, and/or the strategy I was adopting on the hand or hands in question. Invariably then I go look to see who wrote the article, and immediately it becomes clear to me why the piece reads the way it does -- because this writer has no comprehension whatsoever of what playing winning poker deep in a large mtt is like. You've got a guy whose largest all-time mtt cash is a 3rd place in a 180-man sitngo on pokerstars -- three or four years ago at that -- being asked to comment on why I folded five consecutive hands to reraises before the flop when down to six players in a large mtt? No wonder he's going to conclude that I got over-aggressive, that I "donked" out, that I lost control, you name it. Because that's the only understanding he or she has of what I must have been doing there, even though it could not be further from the truth.

If you haven't had a lot of large-field mtt success, there is just no way your understanding of what is really happening at a large final table will even approach that of someone who's been there, done that before. Even just from the humble success I have achieved in my mtt history, it is clear as a bell that it's a whole different game -- literally -- being played when you're down to the final table and there's several tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) at stake. The amount of aggression that is required just to get you to that point, let alone to stay ahead of the blinds and antes, and more importantly, to react appropriately to the aggression that your opponents also have had to ratchet up, most likely for the past two full days or more already at that point, is completely and utterly different from the pressure and the decisions and the stategies that one uses in winning a 180-man sng or even in running to 39th place in a 2500-player nightly mtt with a $25 buyin on full tilt or pokerstars. It's not even close.

So wouldn't accomplished tournament players make better tournament reporters than accomplished reporters do?



Blogger Julius_Goat said...

Depends on if they can write worth a damn.

If they can, then their experience will provide more insight and clarity into what's going on.

If they can't, they're Phil Hellmuth.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Oh, no doubt, that these would have to also be good writers goes without saying. I just felt some weird deja vu when I was listening to Gobbo talk about F-Train can't possibly get in Sam Stein's head. I definitely know that feeling. But there have got to be a good number of people out there who are accomplished no-limit tournament players who would also write a mean report of a major final table if given the proper financial incentives.

8:40 AM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

How are you going to pay an accomplished poker player who presumably, due to his accomplishments, has lots of money.

Also, are all sports writers and announcers only legitimate if they played the sport on a professional level?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Bayne_S said...

Real question to me is how can the 3 dudes on poker road radio say "Sam Stein punted heads up" then go on to blast F-Train.

They agreed with F-Trains assessment and then went on to blast him.

On a side note does this post mean my FTOPS final table cameo gives my comments greighter weight on tournament assessment?

10:12 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

"Only legitimate"?


11:04 AM  
Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Come on, Hoy. Maybe the word "only" was a bit far, but the question is the same. How do you get accomplished poker players to take a writer's salary? And based on your belief that an accomplished poker player will do a better job tournament reporting than an accomplished reporter, do you agree that sports commentators with professional sports experience are better commentators than professional broadcasters?

Are you looking for a discussion or not?

9:39 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Maybe I don't know exactly what a "writer's salary" means. I certainly agree it would be hard to get an accomplished nlh tournament guy to do a final table writeup for some poker venue if the money was total crap. But in general I would think with the advent of online poker there would be plenty of guys who have been to big final tables many many times before and who could offer insights that some of the great reporter types we all know and love could not.

And yes, of course I think guys with the type of real sports acumen that can only come from years and years of experience in the sport and in big spots tend to make more insightful commentators. I assume that's why you see so many of that type of person in sports commentating. I mean it's Dan Marino and Joe Morgan and Cris Carter and Tim McCarver and Chris Collinsworth and Phil Simms and Harold Reynolds and Boomer Esiason and Dan Fouts and Mitch Williams and Troy Aikman and John Madden and Jon Gruden, etc. at least as much these days as it's Al Michaels and Joe Buck.

Maybe the answer is kinda like they do for the baseball and football games, you have a reporter type to do the general write-ups, and then a color guy who has more experience with the analysis that goes on to do the more in-depth analyzing of situations.

All I'm trying to say is, as I listen to those guys being a-holes on PokerRoad, I find myself wishing I could hear Gobboboy commentating all the way through the final table. Doesn't that sound like it would be interesting?

10:57 PM  
Blogger BadBlood said...

In sports, people go into color commentary and reporting often times because they can no longer play. Offering insight on current players and teams in whatever sport carries value to the viewer at no expense to the reporter. Dan Marino commenting on what he thinks of Drew Brees has no impact on Marino's ability to win a future game.

In poker, you don't really ever have to retire. You can keep playing. And if you're a solid +EV tournament player, offering your own insights into final table play could theoretically cost you money the next time you get deep.

Why give away your insights if they could possibly be used against you next time?

11:40 PM  
Blogger Schaubs said...

I agree with BBlood.

Having said that - maybe Hoy should give tournament reporting a try...

In golf it is the same thing. Nick Faldo is one of the best color commentators in the business right now - why? Because he has been there time and time again during his prime and knows exactly what players are going through both mentally and physically.

1:32 AM  
Blogger columbo (at eifco dot org) said...

I think one of the great counter examples is Howard Cosell. His autobiography, "I never played the game" really makes the argument that reporting should be by journalist and NOT by ex-players.

12:29 AM  

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