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PPV coverage of WSOP was like a blast from the pastLike legions of other men in their 20s, I feel in love with poker when I watched Chris Moneymaker win $2.5 million and a World Series of Poker title on ESPN in 2003.
That tournament introduced me to the tradition and prestige of the poker's biggest stage, and like most other guys my age, it allowed me to dream that I, and amateur player, could someday take down the final table of the WSOP's Main Event.
Those dreams have faded for the most part, as I've grown older and wiser and my life has changed to include a wife and son (though I do still hang on to one shred of hope with this site). And the WSOP broadcast on ESPN has never been quite the same for me, in large part because I knew the outcome of the event before it was broadcast in my living room.
When Greg Raymer was dealt pocket eights against David Williams' A-4 near the top of the hour in 2004, I knew it was the final hand and there was no drama for me. Same goes for Joe Hachem and Jamie Gold's wins in 2005 and 2006.
This year, I watched the live pay-per-view broadcast on ESPN.com. (We had been told the PPV broadcast was going to be available on Comcast in Boston, so our editorial team gathered at fellow poker writer Ryan McLane's house to watch it in HD. Instead we huddled around his laptop, trying to make out who was who and if that black card was a spade or a club.)
The broadcast lasted over 16 hours of real time, and it was the best Main Event final table I've watched since 2003, because for once, I didn't know the outcome.
It was thrilling drama, and it was impressive how well the live broadcast went, considering how long it lasted.
Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad did yeoman's work as commentators, and several high-profile guests were sprinkled in as well. Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Jeffrey Pollack and Mike Matusow all took a seat next to Gordon and Nejad during the broadcast, and players like Erick Lindgren and Bill Edler even joined the group over the phone.
The commentary was insightful, but it was also entertaining to hear Edler disagree with each of Gordon's assertions and to hear Gordon talk about how unpopular he was on the 2+2 message boards. Neither of these moments would have occurred in the scripted commentary on an edited broadcast.
But the most amazing part of the coverage was the poker. Jerry Yang's rapid change in status from a short stack to a huge chip leader was unbelievable. Phillip Hilm's rapid change in fortunes from chip leader to first to bust was jaw-dropping.
And Yang's post-tournament interview, which ranged in topics from God answering Yang's prayers to come from behind in several hands to his family's amazing journey from Laos to the United States, was genuine and revealing.
I went into the final table with no opinion of seven of the players (I knew enough about Lee Watkinson and Alexander Kravchenko to have already formed one). It was a refreshing feeling to be able to watch them and develop a rooting interest, not knowing who was going to win. It was like watching a real sporting event.
I'm amazed at how professional the PPV broadcast was, and would definitely watch it again next year. My only suggestion to WSOP officials, however, is to delay the final table until the weekend. How great would it be to organize a Saturday afternoon poker game and have the Main Event final table going on in the background? It makes playing into the wee hours of the morning that much easier, and doesn't force you miss work the next day.
Oh, and Comcast? Please actually go through with running the PPV broadcast next year. I don't want to have to sit that close to Ryan to look at his laptop for 16 straight hours again.