Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vegas' Most Boring Spectator Sport

Why do people watch LIVE poker? I ask every single poker star I interview, and Chris Moneymaker on "The Strip" gave the best answer: No clue.

I was invited on Friday to come to the Bellagio to watch the final table of the World Poker Tour Championship, a sort of mini-World Series of Poker event with a $25,000 buy-in in which the winner got about $4 million. (Jamie Gold, by comparison, won a record $12 million last year at the WSOP.)

The big draw was that Guy Laliberte,
the founder of Cirque du Soleil and the wealthiest man in all of Canada, was one of the six left in out of 639 players. I went over at about 4 pm to observe with the prospect of interviewing Laliberte for this blog and "The Strip." He's an elusive fellow, I've only interviewed him once back in 2003 for a Newsweek piece on "Zumanity," and I thought it would be fun.

I was also exhausted from a very long week that included four hours of gruelling dentistry Thursday and still had me throbbing on Friday.

Three hours later, I left. It could have taken all night -- in fact, Laliberte was knocked out in fourth place for $600,000ish about 90 mins after I departed -- and the allure of going home and lolling with Miles on a Friday evening after a long work week was just more appealing than sticking around for an undetermined amount of time to bring you all a chat with Laliberte. I'm sorry.

But mostly I was baffled by why the audience -- about 400 people -- were so enthused. They sat there for hours watching...nothing. They had to follow on monitors and try to understand what the announcer said about chip counts and the like, the action was very slow and most of the hands involved people folding. I had the advantage of sitting behind a row of poker bloggers in the media booth so I could look over their shoulders and read how they explained the situations, but even they had no idea what sort of mental gymnastics these players were going through. (I was also stunned by how many poker bloggers there are, all largely writing the same thing, and how very respectful the World Poker Tour folks were of them. I doubt there's any activity where the media reps are even slightly as solicitous toward bloggers.)

The point is, I get why people watch poker on TV, where you can see the hole cards and remark on the decisions with perfect 20/20 hindsight. But in person? For hour after hour?

In about a month, the World Series of Poker will rev up again at the Rio. Thousands will stand around and watch. It is probably the weirdest spectator sport in all of Vegas. There's hardly even the chance of scoring a free drink or glimpsing a bare breast or anything!

Can anyone explain this to me?


Roberto Lopez said...

I once went to check this out and it is excctly as you described. I think watching baseball is more exciting.

Drizztdj said...

Do you play poker?

You might get a better understanding of what the players are going through if you've played tournament poker before.

As for the bloggers... check out,, for their insights

TheStripPodcast.Com said...

Yes, I have played cash games in private and at casinos and I've also played a tournament once. But there isn't much to KNOW when you watch people play live games in these mammoth settings. You don't know -- and you never find out, at least not while you're there -- what the hole cards are.

So it's impossible to genuinely get into the heads of the players or really understand the actual drama before you.

And as for bloggers -- I am thrilled they all get the respect they do from the poker PR world. Bloggers in other arenas aren't so fortunate.

Drizztdj said...

It is surprising that if while playing in a poker game "are you _____ from _______ poker blog?" generally you'll receive some praise.

The Wagerer said...

To people who come from any country where they grow up watching cricket, watching poker is a cinch. It could perhaps use a tea interval, though...