BY RUSS SCOTT
NOVEMBER 11, 2008
READERS SPEAK OUT ON WSOP PLAYERS’ POOR BEHAVIOR
Readers from California and Illinois have strong feelings about poor behavior exhibited by high-profile players in this year’s World Series of Poker main event.
* The WSOP on ESPN is one of my favorite reality shows. It’s fun for the masses to watch when the players are outrageous. For instance, Phil Hellmuth’s tirades are good for TV but, I believe, ultimately bad for poker. — Andrew K., Los Angeles.
I think the World Series of Poker is at a crossroads, Andrew.
Plenty is right with the WSOP these days. The main event has averaged nearly 7,000 players for the past four years, the overall prize pool this year hit a whopping $180 million, and this week’s delayed airing of the championship final table — won by Peter Eastgate of Denmark — stirred new interest with the public.
Moreover, officials continue to improve the experience each year for both players and spectators. The Rio is a great venue, events are run more efficiently, starting chip stacks and blind levels are more favorable, and bigger crowds can get closer to the action.
But poker’s integrity and fairness on its biggest stage are being undermined by weak or non-existent adherence to tournament rules. Nothing good can come from that.
For example: Hellmuth’s over-the-top rant at an opponent who did nothing wrong — except win a pot — earned him a penalty trip to the sidelines, but the ruling was overturned by WSOP officials. Scotty Nguyen’s shameful final-table behavior in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event went unchecked by supervisors.
ESPN, and announcer Norman Chad especially, deserve credit for decrying the offenders’ actions on the air. But “good TV” shouldn’t come at the cost of damage to the game. Rules exist to protect every player. Tournament officials should stop selectively turning their heads when elite players get out of line.
You wondered, Andrew, if TV producers encouraged Hellmuth to act up “for their ratings.” I doubt that, but there’s no question that if you or I pulled such stunts, we’d be penalized in a heartbeat.
For 2009, the best WSOP improvement would be tougher enforcement of the rules — for everyone.
* I was re-reading your July 15 post about Tiffany Michelle playing with “poise and dignity” in the main event, and how her deep run was good for poker. Then, TV showed her galling display of a lack of class and dignity. I enjoyed the irony, in any event. — Bruce C., Illinois Quad-Cities.
Yikes, Bruce! I was surprised at her behavior shown on TV, and I probably should take back at least some of those words.
As you know, I was covering that day’s action, but like 95 percent of the media I was required to do so either from the media center (with no audio feed) or outside the ropes. Only staffers from ESPN, CardPlayer and a few other media outlets had access to the tables.
Although I was about 20 feet from her table, I couldn’t hear what players were saying. My description was based on observations, a stand-up interview with her just after she busted in 17th place, and other accounts of her performance. I never got wind of any poor table manners.
The TV coverage showed her eating french fries with her fingers (which can make the cards greasy), making inappropriate comments to opponents, and calling the clock (a 60-second countdown) on a player facing a crucial decision even though she wasn’t in the hand.
On her Web site, Michelle said she doesn’t “make a habit” of calling the clock on opponents. “If it appeared that he was anywhere close to making a decision, I would have stayed silent.” She said he was “Hollywooding” for the cameras.
“I was practicing my right, within the rules, to ask for the clock since I was getting short-stacked and the blinds were increasing. My tournament life was at stake just as much as his,” she said.
Fair enough. “Galling” or not, her behavior likely was affected by days of tense, grinding play and the extraordinary pressure of being the tournament’s last woman standing in an event dominated by men.
I still, however, believe it would be good for poker if a woman won the title — without any embarrassing behavior, of course!
E-mail your poker questions and comments to email@example.com for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
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