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Rant: Do We Want Color or Conformity in Live Poker Reporting?
Look at the back of any newspaper in the world and analyze the content of the sports stories.
Within those lines of text you will find a familiar theme: opinion.
Without opinion there is little room for creative expression. And without creative expression there's no need for newspapera to seek high and low for the best journalists in the world.
Instead, they could pretty much hire anyone.
It's Why I Pay for My Paper
As a fan of sports I don’t pick up the newspaper just to read the facts. By the time I sit down to read I have already consumed those facts by word of mouth, television, radio or the Internet.
I sit down with my newspaper to read opinion. When Lionel Messi has a shocker, I want to be told about it. When John Terry has a stinker, I want to hear about it. When Steven Gerrard has gone over the top in a tackle or Luis Suarez dives, I want an opinion.
It’s why I pay for my paper.
During the recent WPT Emperors Palace Poker Classic an MMA fighter by the name of Adam Speechly won a WPT Celebrity event and therefore a seat into the main event.
As I watched him play I could tell that he had very limited experience playing live tournament poker.
At one point in the contest with blinds at 100/200 he picked up pocket kings in early position and made a 10x raise. He was three-bet by a player holding pocket aces, got it in, sucked out on the turn and immediately tried to shake the hand of his opponent who wanted nothing more than to chop his own head off.
In that moment I saw inexperience, laughter, pain, sincerity and awkwardness. The full gamut of emotions. So I wrote about it.
I expressed the facts whilst also giving my opinion on the ‘fish out of water’ actions of the amateur player.
Am I to Write Like a Monkey?
Not long after my post went public a professional poker player who was reading the live updates from the States wrote this on Twitter.
“Can whoever is doing the live updates for South Africa stop editorializing the play of amateurs and everyone really. Not a good look.”
This piqued my interest. What is my role as a writer? Is it to provide entertainment for the readers, or is it to just relay the facts?
Am I to use all of my creative talent to write an extremely interesting piece, or am I to write like a monkey?
“That’s an interesting question,” says Darryll Fish. “I would actually prefer if the media would lean towards the side of color commentary, rather than robotic relaying of information.
"However, I don’t think there are many people in poker media who have enough experience with the game to make valid statements and have respectable opinions.
"The difference with mainstream sports is that those reporting it are very knowledge on the intricacies of their sport without having to play it, whereas poker sort of requires in-game experience from which to form opinionated statements.”
Poker is a Game of Varied Opinion
The interesting thing about Fish’s point on the respectability of the opinion of poker media is that poker is a game of such varied opinion.
Stick five of the best pros in the world in a room and ask them to dissect a hand and they will all probably have different views. Not one of them will be viewed as optimal, and each will be respected on its own merits.
I believe members of the poker media can have a sensible opinion of a hand, without going into too much depth, and that it should be respected as long as it's written without causing undue offence.
“For me, drier updates are better,” says former European Poker Tour (EPT) champion Ben Wilinofsky. “I can form my own opinions on the action and am usually only following to see how friends are doing.
"But for the growth of the game, I think more color is better. The more entertaining we can make the game to casual observers, the more we can pull into the player pool.”
If there is a point to this article then Wilinofsky has nailed it with a hammer the size of Thor’s.
Surely, the reason that live updates exist is to provide a service to our customers. But who are they? When was the last time a live reporting outlet carried out a study to find out who its market is and what it is they want to see in a live updates blog?
Turn the Mundane into the Magical
If we are here to provide content for the current poker community then I believe the dry facts, with a smattering of sensible color, is the right approach. But if we exist to attract new customers to the game, then we need an explosion of color.
We need to turn the mundane into the magical. We want our readers to want to be there in the midst of the action -- not turning off because of the monotony of our ink.
From a writer's perspective this answer is also important. I often hear poker players questioning what value their role as a poker player provides to the world, and I have those same thoughts as a writer.
If I am allowed to entertain and provoke debate then I have a purpose that makes me want to get up in the morning, traipse into the tournament area and write about poker for 12 hours.
But if I'm being paid to write like a robot? Then sorry, I'm in the wrong job.
I can’t stick around and waste my time writing, “Daniel Negreanu raised, Phil Ivey re-raised, Daniel Negreanu folded and Phil Ivey took the pot," because in all reality my 12-year-old son can do that.
“But if you leave live tournament reporting, Lee," wondered Dominik Nitsche, "who is going to write about the color of my underpants?”
Ok … perhaps I stretch the boundaries of color a little too much sometimes.