WSOP Final Table Coverage and Shooting Antonio

By: Tim Napper

There is a saying about tournament poker: it involves hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. When you are playing a big tournament, it certainly feels like that. After the initial excitement of sitting down at the table at the start of the day, in front of a fresh stack of chips, extravagant dreams of riches and glory running through your mind; well, after that it can be a real grind. Patience and discipline are the most underrated of poker attributes, but they are the ones that help the serious player battle through a 12-hour day at the tournament table. They are also the attributes that help the psychological ruptures caused by those moments of sheer terror – the all-in bluff, the call for your tournament life, waiting on the dealer to turn that river card as you try to fade your opponent’s flush and straight draws.

But that’s just playing the game. Watching – well, poker is hours of boredom punctuated by moments of interesting all-in hands or the occasional big bluff. And this is with the assistance of the ‘hole card cam’ that enables the viewer to see everyone’s cards from beginning to end of the hand. So to my mind, as a rule, poker has a good highlight reel, but sucks salty balls as a spectator sport.

So it was with some surprise to me that ESPN decided to show every single hand of the final table of the World Series of Poker almost live (there was a 15-minute delay). Every raise and take it, every limp and fold, every sit-and-think for several minutes when making a decision on an important hand. They even had a clock for how long the player was taking to make a decision. Nice. So I can know I’ve spent exactly 8 minutes staring at the tubby ginger Ben Lamb while he ponders a decision. Added to this you couldn’t even see the hole cards until the end of the hand. So viewers were in the dark, watching the long grind of a final table. As a spectator sport for the amateur poker player, I can see the novelty dimming very quickly.

As a poker tragic, I loved it and watched the entire telecast. I learned a lot as well about how some of the top, most aggressive young players go about their game. But I’d recommend against having the same sort of coverage next year. Save the hand-by-hand for an internet live feed and leave the highlight real for the mainstream audience. Nothing against the telecast; it was fine, as were the commentators. Phil Hellmuth did surprisingly well; Lon McEachern is a veteran and rarely put a foot wrong over the entire show. Antonio Esfandiari irritated as always and deserves to be shot for doing the same shtick for the past 8 years. I mean really. Say “weeeeeeeeee” again Antonio, say it again. BANG. Bullet strikes hip; Antonio screams, clutches shattered hip, “Ahhhhhh oh lord it’s just a saying don’t shoot me again”. Sorry Antonio, but it’s a scientific fact you deserve to be shot in the hip bone.

As to the final table itself. It was a high-standard affair from an impressive set of players. The unfolding dynamic of the table from 9 handed down to heads up was fascinating. From a tight, fairly unimaginative, even timid game at the start of the day (though with an 8 million dollar difference between 9th and 1stprize difference, you could understand why) to a table where the aggression slowly built and built to the point four-handed where Ben Lamb and Pius Heniz were blasting every hand (or more precisely, Heinz blasted the table and Lamb blasted Heinz), Giannetti was playing back at the right spots, and Martin Stasko, the Czech sphinx, waited and waited and waited for his moment. And it came.

I wanted Stazko to win. With his plaid shirt buttoned to the top, the fractured English, he had that unassuming look of a chess champion, or perhaps some bucolic serial killer (the former is true, by the way – he is a highly ranked chess player). Dressed the same as Stasko, his cheering fans looked like a bunch of farmers from Eastern Europe. One of the things I like about Stasko is that he has that ‘everyman’ personal history that can attract new players to the game: a champ of the local darts scene, he took up poker at the age of 30 and ended up doing so well he quit his job as a foreman at the automobile factory. Now that’s a good story for poker. He and his crew were a refreshing change from the standard final table fare and you couldn’t help but want to see him take it down. And, quite frankly, a run of stereotypical 20-odd-year-old university drop outs winning the Main Event is starting to get a bit tedious. We need more average Joes getting involved in the game. But, Stasko had a damn good crack, and his second place finish may get a few more chess champions, beer swilling darts players, and maladjusted serial killers to the poker table.

But the eventual champ, Pius Heinz, played an entertaining match. He looked quite intimidating with his hoodie up the entire final table, blasting away at his opponents with a never-ending spray of bluffs and big bets (although at the end when he took the hoodie off it became clear he was hiding some early signs of male pattern baldness). He seems like a good champ and despite his age, it’s likely his victory will be good for poker. He is Germany’s first Main Event champion and hopefully it will spur popularity in the game the same was as Joe Hachem’s did in Australia.

Overall, what we also saw in Vegas for the 2011 World Series of poker was, despite the US Government’s move to ban the online game, despite the scandal around Full Tilt Poker and the continuing uncertainty all over the world for the online version of the game, live poker is looking as healthy and as popular as ever. 75,672 participated over the 58 events of the World Series, coughing up a total prize pool of 192 million. Both of which were records for the tournament. This enduring and growing popularity of poker gives me some confidence that no-matter the stupidity of legislators that want to ban the online version of the game, the future is looking bright.

Tim Napper is a freelance writer, poker player, and regular contributer to