For any old school poker railbird, last Sunday was a fun night. Streaming live on WSOP.com were Phil Hellmuth going for his 12th bracelet and Phil Ivey, who was absent for last year's entire WSOP, going for his 9th bracelet in simulataneous events. What drives fans of poker are when big name pros go deep, adding drama to the event's conclusion regardless if you root for or against the particular pro. Although I bounced between the two streams, Ivey's table held more interest for me because it was loaded with established pros like Shaun Deeb, Hoyt Corkins, Matthew Marafioti, Ali Eslami and eventual winner Andy Frankenberger.
As the nearly live streaming coverage doesn't reveal the hole cards, much of the action and drama is provided by the commentary team. Host David Tuchman typically invites a number of the young lions of poker to help contribute analysis for the viewers. On this night, he was at a wedding and Bart Hanson hosted Ivey's Pot Limit Hold'em final table with poker pros Tom Marchese and David Sands.
I usually find the commentary quite informative, as Tuchman or in this case Hanson elicits stories and strategy insight from his guest poker pro commentators. On this night, I found the commentary took on an overly negative tone. Both Tom and David found continual fault with most plays at the table, including Ivey. They derided what they saw as the overall passivity of the table. Any limp or check/call was dismissed despite its usefulness with certain stack sizes and blind structure. Unlike most other final table commentary I've seen this year, I found it so unbalanced and distracting, taking away from the listening experience.
Every day I read hundreds or thousands of top poker players tweets. I've been part of a respected poker training community for the past six years and for several years wrote in the industry. The Sunday poker commentary tone reminded me of what I call the hubris of the mighty. A certain breed of young, serious and successful poker players convince themselves there is only one way to play winning poker and then denigrate any player or play that deviates from those commonly accepted methods. I understand that these players have worked very hard to improve their games and play poker as optimally as possible, but in my personal experience observing the poker world the last 6-7 years, I've found that there are many attributes that contribute to being a winning player; strategy, discipline, adaption, reading opponents and a certain amount of luck regardless. Just this year, I've read or heard comments from the likes of bracelet winners Brian Hastings and Matt Matros that gave tremendous credit to the notion of "running well" (read luck) to take down their victories.
Put another way by former online cash game legend and repeated WSOP attention magnet, Prahlad Friedman, known for deep runs, questionable raps, and his encounters with volatile players "Poker is more luck then pros think and more skill than non pros think."
In the absence of hole cards and highly edited action and analysis I really appreciate the speculative analysis that the poker pros do on the WSOP broadcasts, but after watching Sunday night's broadcast I would urge them to take a more balanced tone when evaluating the play at the table. There is no one way to win at poker. Each must forge their own path.