Televised Poker needs a Modern Makeover

Steve Ruddock : March 27th, 2016


A lot of people are working on improving poker, and in particular televised poker, in order to make it more entertaining to the casual viewer. While we’re seeing a lot of changes to the fundamental structure of the game and what types of poker play is shown (Super-High-Rollers and hand-picked cash game lineups), there is less being done on the production front, as televised poker shows (while more polished than their predecessors) are essentially using the same format they did a decade ago. Even the GPL is focusing more on visual changes (The Cube and standing players) more than the production.

Considering the trend towards near-real-time poker at the expense of edited down episodes, it’s harder for poker to capture the casual viewer, who, doesn’t have the time or desire to watch hours of poker, and after 15 years of poker TV has “seen this movie before.”

What I’d like to see are more changes on the production side of things.

Much like watching an NFL game or watching Red Zone, I want the viewer to have the capability of watching what’s important to them, and considering the static nature of a poker table, and the streaming capabilities that are improving every day, the changes I want should be within our reach either now, or in the near future.

here is how I would counteract this and make live streamed poker more engaging to the casual viewer, and hopefully bring in some sponsors who would add money to the prize-pool.


Switch table view

I like the idea of the viewer being in control of the camera angle that appears on screen, and this is something that is already being used in different sports. NFL Game Pass subscribers are able to switch between the standard game film and the All-22 camera angle coaches use to breakdown film, and if you’ve ever been had the opportunity to sit in a luxury box to watch a sporting event you are probably familiar with this as well, as the monitors in the luxury box often allow you to choose which of the arena’s camera angles you want displayed.

Because it’s always in a fixed position, there are quite a few possibilities to choose from for a poker table, and I could envision a situation where in addition to the moving camera, straight overhead or dealer view, fixed cameras could be strategically placed just above and behind each player that would allow a viewer to watch the action from the perspective of different players.

Customized hole card view

I’d also like to see more options when it comes to how much information is available (or better said, not available) to the viewer when it comes to hole cards.

My three hole card options would be:

  1. Display all
  2. Display a specific player’s cards (play along with the player)
  3. Reveal hole cards at the conclusion of hand

This would require two commentary teams, one for people who are watching the program with hole cards, and another for viewers watching the program with no hole card information, or playing along with a specific player.

This would be the change that would most likely pull me back in to watching poker on TV.

PiP hand replayer

With more and more people watching programs online and/or at their convenience rather than in real time, I think it would be a huge benefit to have an option where a viewer could go back and replay a hand in a pop-up or with a picture-in-picture like feature.

Trend lines

I’m not a fan of ultra-informed commentary or educating viewers with nuanced strategies and statistics, but I would like to see poker programming add certain information viewers can access if they so choose.

Much like engaging a HUD over your online poker table, it would be cool to see an option where the viewer could enable different statistics such as:

  • chip count trend over last 10 hands;
  • average raise and bet size;
  • and even “advanced” statistics like VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot), PFR (pre-flop raise), and 3-Bet percentages.

Final table clock

Finally, to really bring viewers back to poker, especially if we’re going to be watching the game virtually live, with little editing, we need to make the game more watchable.

Golf has the ability to switch between groups on the course in order to avoid down-time, but in poker, where we only have one or two feature tables, we don’t have this luxury.

My solution is to add a clock, but not the typical shot clock people often crow about the game needing; I want a Fisher Clock.

The problem as I see it is not the occasional five minute tank, the problem is when a player takes 30+ seconds on every decision they make, no matter how clear cut. Two or three of these players at a tabled makes poker unwatchable.

There is only one way to eliminate this, and that’s with a running clock on each player.

A Fisher Clock starts each player with x amount of time, and after each action adds x amount of time to their time bank. For example, each player starts with one hour of time and is given 10 seconds after every turn. So, a player taking 1 minute on every decision will quickly see their time winnowed away, and forced to speed up their play, but (and this is the important bit) will always have 10 seconds to make a decision). On the other hand, a player acting promptly will likely only see their initial hour of time touched when they have a real decision to make. Obviously, the starting time and the added time can be tinkered with.

Essentially a Fisher Clock rewards prompt play, and punishes slow play as slow-acting players would lose the capability to tank if they really needed to.

One note on this: A lot of players say you can’t (or shouldn’t) change tournament rules midstream, and that adding a clock at the final table is fundamentally unfair, but there is precedent for a TV/final table rules changes.

Players on Day 1 or not at the feature table of the World Series of Poker Main Event don’t have their cards recorded, and the final table players suddenly have their cards shown on a 30-minute delay.

The World Poker Tour used to have a final table dress code.

Basically, the idea that a poker tournament can’t add a clock at the final table is simply wrong, and not without precedent. As long as everyone knows this going in it’s perfectly acceptable.

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