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Poker Blog established in 2003 as the first stop for poker news, poker stories, and bad poker advice.

August 5, 2004

Paging Lex Luthor

by Otis

For a long time, I called myself a traditionalist. In one extreme period, I referred to myself as a Luddite. Eventually, I coined then settled on the best description of my philosophy on sport, gaming, and life in general:

I'm a neo-purist.

That means I don't like artificial turf. That means I think the addition of the three-point line, while deviating from tradition, added an element to the game that now is indispensible.

That means I think we should dance with who brought us. If for some reason said dancing partner wants to learn a new dance step, then so be it, but it better be a good dance move and not some silly cabbage patch dance.

That is a long way of saying the following:

Manufacturing poker villain personalities for the sake of better TV is a road that will do nothing but eventually make the game as enjoyable to watch as most of the reality shows on TV now.

For an abbreviated discussion of the topic, make sure to take a look at the comments section of CJ's live blog of the most recent WSOP ESPN broadcast. There is decided dissention about the place poker villians hold in the game of poker, and by extension, televised poker.

Witness: Steve Fishman, after a lengthy round of high-fiving, after-thought handshakes, and declaring his "Crew" the ring-leaders of a poker coup d'etat, takes the Nestea Plunge onto the felt.

Witness: Poker Brat, Phil Hellmuth, declares that if it weren't for luck, he'd win every game of poker he played.

Witness: Phil "The Unabomber" Laak runs behind the dealer in mid-hand to get a glimpse of the river card before his opponent.

Witness: Every point-and-poke, fist-pumping, suckout scream that you see on almost every televised broadcast.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the current trend in professional sports. You know the one. It's the belief among certain "superstar" players that their talent, and more importantly, their personality should be respected more than the game itself. From sock-Sharpie autograph signings to end-zone cell phone calls, there are players out there who honestly believe the game is more about them than it is about...the game.

Sure, it's no new thing. There was the Ickey Shuffle. There was the Superbowl Shuffle. Shoot, the Babe even called his dinger in the days before reality television created characters ad naseum.

But, here we are, on the cusp of a poker revolution. It's a players revolution. It's an Internet revolution. It's a television revolution.

Here we stand on the summit. We can go down either side of the mountain. It is here that players and television producers will be forced to make a decision. Do we go down the road of Survivor, The Mole, The Casino, and Big Brother? Or do we treat poker with the respect that we treat other legitimate sport?

Now, it's not an easy prospect to grasp. First, there is the argument that even legitimate sport has personalities. The media cover those personalities. Players create those personalities.

That said, the following fact must be recognized: Television has been covering legitimized sport as long as TV has existed. It has already established tried and true ways to cover sports in a way that offers respect that games deserve. That's already established.

Poker, however, while already established as a game, is maturing to TV in the environment that gave us some of the worst reality television ever created. And that's a dangerous place if poker hopes to legitimize itself in the public eye.

Intelligent viewers realize that, despite lacking actors, more than 50% of reality television is manufactured. Storylines are devined with clever editing. Non-actors or their producers mold personalities that aren't necessarily true. In the end, it's entertainment, however false and misleading it may be.

And it is in this environment that poker and reality TV clash and beg the question: Do we cover poker as sport or do we cover it as reality TV?

I suspect it is no secret that I believe the media should cover poker just like the networks cover sporting events. That doesn't mean the media has to ignore personality. That doesn't mean it can't be well-produced and interesting. However, I suspect there is a tacit agreement among some players and some TV producers: You play the role of a villain, and we'll make you famous.

Further, I believe poker has its real personalities and its manufactured personalities.

Personality-creation does not mean the people themselves can't actually play poker. Most of them are World Class Players. It just means they are paying as much attention to being a celebrity as they are being a poker player.

Here are some comparisons of some of the more pronounced personalities of the game (and I invite anybody who actually KNOWS these people to affirm or deny the following is true):

REAL: Scotty Nguyen--> Odds that Scotty would still be using the word "baby" and tossing back bottles of beer if the cameras were turned off. 100:1. Total WSOP Bracelets: 4

MANUFACTURED: Phil "The Unabomber" Laak--> Somebody tell me that Laak always wore that damned hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses before he got on TV, and I'll take back my manufactured label. Otherwise, it sticks. (Note: I find Laak likable and would probably want to party with the guy, but when he's playing poker, I'd rather watch Total WSOP Bracelets: I think the number is zero. Correct me if I'm wrong.

REAL: Men "The Master" Nguyen--> "The Master" seems to never shut up when he's playing on TV. I bet if you ask any rounder in Vegas, they'll tell you Men doesn't need a lav mike to talk. Total WSOP Bracelets: 6

MANUFACTURED: The Crew--> These guys are a reality TV producers wet dream. Brash, well-bankrolled, and bawdy. They know the more they act out, the more famous they become. Total WSOP Bracelets: I believe the number is a collective three.

REAL: Daniel Negreanu--> It seems Daniel plays the role of villain more off-camera than he does on. His recent public blow-up with Howard Lederer and Annie Duke seems in stark contrast to Daniel's on-camera performance. Total WSOP Bracelets: 3

MANUFACTURED: Chris Vogl--> The anti-personality. I delcare him manufactured because I believe his "I'm a dignified, non-gambling, only-in-it-for-the-money Brit" to be a load of BS. Total WSOP Bracelets: 1

REAL: Chris Ferguson --> Sure, Chris has gotten his fair share of ESPN attention for his card-throwing ability, but if James McManus is to believd in Positively Fifth Street Ferguson was a quite a character even before television. Total WSOP Bracelets: 5

MANUFACTURED: Phil Hellmuth--> This was a tough one, because Hellmuth was obviously a World Class Player and World Class Personality before TV poker. Nonetheless, he's been doing nothing but playing to the cameras for two years. "Hey ESPN, I'm about to fold pocket kings pre-flop!" Stll, not to be ignored...Total WSOP Bracelets: 9

Please feel free to add your REAL and MANUFACTURED in the comment section.

Don't get me wrong. There is a role for personality in poker, perhaps even more so than in traditional sport. Amarillo Slim had it locked up two decades ago.

But--at the risk of using a painfully trite phrase--let's keep it real.

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