I have to be careful what I say. There are certain things that I can't express an opinion on as they would jeopardise my role, but as someone who has been blogging for longer than most, I feel morally obliged to comment on the recent commotion regarding Daniel Negreanu's blog about the WSOP updates.
The anonymous article on Pokerati was of particular interest to me as someone who has been blogging since 2005 and attended the World Series every year since. There were some points I agreed with and some I didn't. Whilst I'd suggest Daniel Negreanu doesn't owe the poker media an apology - he, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinions, and to express them in any way he sees fit - I would agree that Daniel can be a little careless in what he says.
At the start of the World Series, PokerNews were experiencing some technical difficulties that were making reporting increasingly difficult. As I understand it, it wasn't a simple server issue or a lack of preparation, but more intricate problems that the software developers were finding difficult to fix. The increased traffic, timing and lack of openings for downtime inevitably made things problematic.
There was also some confusion as to how to present chip counts. Initially, Harrah's fed us the entire list of starting players and I remember thinking at the time that this could prove troublesome as it would mean that hundreds (thousands, even) of names would remain static in the chip counts page throughout the day. This would give readers the misconception that we intend to follow a large amount of those players, when in fact it's not physically possible. Effectively, it gives them ammo to fire criticism at the reporting when, in fact, we are providing the same volume of chip counts as normal. It gives the illusion that we're doing a bad job.
During the early years of Pokernews exclusivity at the World Series, there was a wide range of reporters, some good, some not so good. However, over the years, the weaker employees have been filtered out to leave us with what I consider to be the some of the best writers in the business. Facts and figures are all well and good, but these guys can also set the scene, make you feel like you're at the World Series, and that takes a certain ability that is severely underestimated in the industry. Writing up a hand might sound like the easiest job in the world, but when you've been sat in the Amazon Room for 12, long hours, your brain numb from counting chips and witnessing countless cards hit the felt, trying to make the latest hand of Seven Card Stud High-Low between two stoic players sound interesting feels akin to climbing Everest. But the current batch of PokerNews staff can do this, and they make it look easy.
In many ways, being a blogger is a thankless job. It's like being a football referee. If you make a mistake, people are quick to jump on your back, yet they never praise you if do something right, race across the room to observe a hand, work through the break so you can count chips, or even go on a personal journey to hunt down some random player that a reader has requested. Do poker players never make mistakes? How would they feel if we criticised them when they made an ill-timed bluff or foolishly stacked off with an inferior hand? Live blogging is, after all, a free service. When I started following poker, there were no updates. To find who won an event you had to ask someone who was in the casino at the time. These days, everything is handed out on a plate, and people have become complacent with what is, in essence, a hell of a service. But no matter what you provide, or how good the service is, when it's free, and people can hide behind their computers, they'll always be hungry for more, and show no hesitation in expressing their dissatisfaction and greed.
Despite the talents of the reporting team, when something goes wrong that is out of our hands, it's still our names that are on the page. We are, in effect, responsible to the ignorant eye. When someone is bashing the refresh page frantically and wondering why there hasn't been a report for 20 minutes, or why his favourite players' chip counts haven't been updated for a while, he's not going to know, or care, about the 'behind the scenes' issues unless he sees an error page. He's going to assume that the reporters simply aren't doing their jobs.
Similarly, when Daniel reports to the public, "PokerNews normally does a really good job with everything they do, but what in the world is up with the chip count coverage at the WSOP this year? They have a page for it, but clicking on it would be a complete waste of your time because not only is it rarely updated, it's also nowhere near accurate," it's going to enforce in the minds of his loyal fans and readers that the PokerNews staff simply aren't up to scratch. Daniel is a great poker personality who has done a massive amount of good for the game, but because of his position and popularity, people hang off his every word, so even throwaway comments on Twitter can be highly influential. Having said that, I do appreciate Daniel emphasising that he wasn't referring to the reporters in a later video blog, but he needs to clarify what he means when he makes the initial post.
Personally, a chip count doesn't mean much to me until the last few tables when the money is big and viewers have a genuine sweat. At this point, I'm all for making chip counts and eliminations the most important part of the story - the money is close, the tension is high, the blinds are getting bigger and every hand is crucial. But, before then, what difference does it make if someone has 10,000 on Day One? Before we've even typed up that number it could have changed. Poker is so volatile and the fields so big that that number might as well be in Greek - it just means so little. In a perfect world, I wouldn't post any chip counts on Day One - I wouldn't waste my time. I wouldn't post any hands either, unless they were particularly interesting in terms of analysis. What I would do instead would fill the whole day with what is known as 'colour posts' with the occasional recap of how someone's day has gone (ie. a collection of brief hands and chip fluctuations rather than isolated incidents).
To me, the most interesting aspect of the World Series is not who has what chips or how someone raised from late position and then took it down on the flop, but the players themselves. The World Series is such a spectacle that draws so many different characters into one room that they would be the subject of my reports, not the cards on the felt. What would you be more interested in? Tiffany Michelle's irrelevant chip count midway through Day One of the ladies event or the fact that Shaun Deeb has controversially decided to enter the event in drag; that Joe Bloggs knocked out John Doe in the PLO event or that one table down sits Jay Heimowitz, a man who nobody recognises despite his six bracelets and the fact that he's been playing in the World Series for 35 of the last 36 years; Daniel Negreanu's chip count or that someone in the room just stood up their chair and bellowed, "I don't care if I get a penalty. Ship it motherfucker"? I know what I'd rather read about: the colourful characters, the quotes, the stories, the prestige and so on, but they require more than just a passing comment. I want to write actual history, not numbers, and Day One is a great opportunity to do so.
However, the truth is that the audience prefer the latter. I'm not sure why, but it's what garners the most traffic, and that's what blogging is about. After all, it's a business, and my thoughts are merely part of an idyllic world that seems miles away. The reason why I collect chip counts after a couple of levels is because that's my role. I'm here to do a specific task, and it's one that attracts traffic, so that's exactly what I'm going to do, and although I have my personal preferences, I'm happy to do what I'm asked. I love being at the World Series, especially at ringside, and blogging for PokerNews provides me with that unique opportunity. I may be too busy chasing after chip counts and hands to regale you with all the wonderful stories that crop up, but at least I get to witness them for myself, and first-hand.
This blog entry is therefore a message to the audience, and those who follow the World Series of Poker. PokerNews are, in the end, merely responding to demand, and it’s a demand that you as an audience have created. Poker is about so much more than someone's chip count and whether or not it's up-to-date on Day One, yet the modern world has made us information hungry, and simply interested in facts, figures and irrelevant news that circumvent around a select circle of players who have been tagged as important due to a 'celebrity' status. If you, as the reader, allow yourself to become encapsulated by this, then that's all the updates will ever be and the colour of the event will eventually be sucked out for good. This would be a shame, as the World Series has so much more to offer, and I'd love to report it.
May 23: My Old School Teacher
May 31: Welcome to America; Let the Institutionalising Begin
June 1: Pleasure & Pain
June 5: 100% British Beef
June 9: Alphabetti Spaghetti & Giant Meatballs
Sites/blogs I read:
blonde Poker 'Feed Your Wild Side' Thread
Hard Boiled Poker
Riding the F Train
Tao of Poker
Wicked Chops Poker
Sites/blogs I would read if they weren't in a foreign language:
Las Vegas, Off the Record