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TV cameras bring added pressure for Main Event players

7 Jul 2010

By Dan Igo
LAS VEGAS -- A special aspect of the World Series of Poker Main Event is the fact that as long as you can afford the $10,000 entry fee, there's a chance you'll be a TV star.
Annette Obrestad was the center of attention on the secondary TV table.

Annette Obrestad was the center of attention on the secondary TV table. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Amateurs like Darvin Moon and Dennis Phillips became overnight celebrities due to their time in front of the cameras.

And players seated at the same tables as professionals like Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu can become instant stars, because the TV cameras are always following poker's most popular players.

ESPN also has a number of crews walking around the vast playing area with their cameras and boom mikes, looking for dramatic moments that can turn poker players into instant stars or goats. Many players who are appearing on TV for the first time admit the presence of cameras changes their games.

Steve Wilson spent most of Tuesday playing at a TV table with 21-year-old Annette Obrestad, an emerging poker superstar from Norway who won the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event when she was just 18.

Wilson, a native of Boise, was playing in only his second live event after qualifying in a $1 satellite on Full Tilt Poker. And he, like everyone else, didn't find out his table would be featured until he heard an announcement over the PA system.

"I wasn't happy about it," Wilson said. "Showing people how good or bad a poker player you are nationwide isn't fun."
Gavin Smith competed on the main TV table on Day 1B.

Gavin Smith competed on the main TV table on Day 1B. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Wilson admitted that being in front of the cameras affected his play "a little bit."

"A couple of times I thought, 'Well, that wouldn't look good on TV,'" he said.

Rich Belsky made his first televised poker appearance on the Obrestad table as well. The poker player representative from Las Vegas registered for the tournament 15 minutes before the cards were in the air, and like Wilson, didn't know he was at the TV table until he set foot in the Amazon Room. He also detected a difference in his play.

"I noticed it made me play a little bit more aggressively than I usually play so I settled into it a little bit," he said. "Strangely enough, it made me make the play that was crazier. I even said it one time. I called Annette because I thought she was bluffing with four diamonds on the board and I had two pair. I said, 'I'm either going to look like a hero or a donkey.' So I made the call and she had it."
Norman Chad makes the rounds during Day 1B on Tuesday.

Norman Chad makes the rounds during Day 1B on Tuesday. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Norman Chad, who's been covering the WSOP for ESPN since 2003, says players like Wilson and Beltsky don't have to worry about commentators such as himself giving them criticism. And Chad said he could handle being at a featured table.

"I try to have fun with it and I hope I'm not criticizing their play as much as their shirts," he said. "I look at it like it's just a game. I would not mind (being criticized) because if I can dish it out I better be able to take it. So I wouldn't mind on a table with someone just loading into me. Let them take their best shot."

The two TV tables at the WSOP feature all the fixings of a Hollywood production. There are bright lights. There are moving cameras. There are hole cams. And there are producers everywhere with headsets.

When it comes to choosing who plays at a televised table, ESPN has all the sway. However, they can't simply pick and choose which players they want in front of the cameras.

"As it relates to ESPN, they solely decide who they'd like at their tables," said WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky. "Again, it works the same way. They have to declare before the day starts and take the entire table. They simply tell us they want Table 379 to go to that featured table and they'll take that table and move it."

Therefore, there is a mix of established pros (like Erik Seidel and Mike Matusow, both of whom were at TV tables on Day 1A) and unknown amateurs.

Recent gold bracelet winner Gavin Smith and 2008 Main Event runner-up Ivan Demidov were on the main TV table on Day 1B, which has a more elaborate set-up and includes bleachers and an announcer giving a play-by-play.

The second TV table centered around Obrestad, who was making her U.S. Main Event debut.

ESPN knows there are a thousand players with a thousand stories at the World Series, and most of those stories are found away from the TV cameras.

That's why Chad usually walks around all the tables during days one and two, looking for story angles. It's not an easy task.

"We're missing stuff all the time so it's almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack," Chad said. "There are so many people here but you can't go up to each one of them and say, 'Oh, you have this incredible back story. Are you a convicted felon?' We actually get frustrated because we know we're leaving good stories on the floor."
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