Saturday, August 05, 2006

"You Might as Well be Watching an Aquarium"

-- said by Jay Greenspan, author of Hunting Fish: A Cross-Country Search for America's Worst Poker Players

Funniest line of the day, although it's only 3:20 Vegas time on a Saturday with lots of unhappy, sardonic writers milling around, so there's sure to be more witty stuff on the way. The WSOP Main Event Day Four play goes on a few hundred feet away. Excepting ESPN and the Card Player chip counters, however, there's no one else inside the ropes; all the red-badged, low-level media types (including yours truly), can no longer glimpse of the action.

What Greenspan's comment refers to are the plasma-screen TVs --- pricey 60-inch displays that have been set up for the benefit of the predetermined second-echelon media in the two halls reserved for their use. One screen is at the back wall of the main media room, the small cramped one that's packed to the gills during a normal day's play, while two more are in the more spacious Pavillion 11 that's been turned into a backup media center for the duration. I've actually preferred this overflow room in recent days. If I want a coffee or a sandwich I can still make the quick hike to the other hall, and I'm spared the rude behavior of some of the other people who have elbowed their way into the small spot. I prefer privacy to internecine squabbling, anyway; I'm an easy person to meet but a difficult one to get to know... and I prefer it that way.

Despite the fact that I'd like to own one of these screens, what they're showing us right now is utterly lame: a neverending, single-camera stream from the "board cam" fixed directly above the feature table. You'll see the Beast Light logo at the top and the PartyPoker.youbetterbelieveitsNETgoddammit logo below, the board as it's dealt, and not too much else. The current dealer is of African-American descent and has a lovely French manicure, wears moderate hand jewelry and seems to have a tattoo encircling her right wrist, and she might be available, guys --- her wedding-ring finger is unadorned.

Did you need to know that? I didn't think so. Neither did we.

Besides the board cards, one can see the chips pushed forward if they come from the 1, 5, 6 or 10 seats, though who those players are and whether any action represents an all-in push or another significant play is one of those mysteries for the ages. There's no sound, no graphics, no cutaways to other shots. All that stuff is edited in later, forming the package you'll see whenever the "Day Four" episode hits the air.

When the final table arrives, the plan (so we're told) is to augment this image with other live feeds from the final table, so that the low-level writers can at least fully see the action as it occurs.

As for me, I've got no interest in writing the same second-hand news as everyone else.

It's an aquarium, indeed, and we are the small fry.

Despite the grumbles around me, for me it's no surprise at all; I've expected it and have planned accordingly --- matter of fact, I just took a second place in a Party SNG. The corporate hammer's been waiting to drop for a couple of days, and drop it has. It had to, whether or not I or the others like it. The floor gets more skewed with every player that's eliminated. The tables grow fewer and fewer, but the media count remains the same, and the effect is like a big web, ever tightening, ever constricting.

Yet it can only tighten so far. Big bucks determine who runs the show, and ESPN's ponied up the biggest chunk of all. So when they say everybody else gets out, Harrah's and the WSOP Tournament staff makes it happen. It's also the same principle that keeps an overtall butt pimple like Phil Hellmuth inside the ropes without any media access whatsoever, and he spends long periods doing nothing but wandering between tables where other big stars reside, hamming his way in front of the lens.

You are a wonderful poker player, Phil, and congratulations on winning your tenth bracelet. But this is these other players' turn, so quit stealing their limelight, you ass-hatted clown.

Fat chance of that. ESPN wants him there for the schlock factor, a backup plan in case these tables end up having a pack of nondescript characters who can't bear the cameras' weight. "Camera Five, cue the brat."

That's the way it is on poker's biggest stage. According to plan, and on schedule.

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