The gambling industry has been mighty good to me over the years, providing both an enjoyable passion and steady employment. I’ve worked in many roles in many casinos over the years, dealing a little blackjack here and writing tickets at the sportsbook there. But of all my casino-oriented jobs, the one I’ll always remember most took me to the greatest tournament of them all—the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas.
As a live reporter covering WSOP events, I was tasked with tracking chip counts, recapping big hands, interviewing top players and recent gold bracelet winners. Tournament reporting is a very unique gig, one most folks haven’t even heard of in fact, so strap in to see what it’s like working the WSOP’s grueling daily grind.
Rise and Shine After a Long 16-Hour Shift
To properly introduce readers to the life of a tournament reporter, it’s imperative that we begin with the night before.
Yesterday, having been assigned to cover Day 1 of a middling $1,500 No Limit Texas Hold’em event, I showed up at 10:00 am to prepare for the 11:00 am start time. And with 12 one-hour levels on the schedule, plus an hour long dinner break and several 15-minute bathroom breaks, I was at the Rio casino working until well past 2:00 am.
Fortunately, today’s Day 2 restart for the same event is scheduled for 2:00 pm, so I get to sleep in just a bit today. When I wake up around noon, it’s time to shower up, grab a quick breakfast, and pack my bag for the day ahead.
As a tournament reporter, you quickly realize that leaving the scene to grab essentials — anything from coffee or Red Bull to aspirin or an apple — isn’t really feasible. First of all, the Rio’s massive convention halls where the World Series of Poker is held are located far, far from the main casino floor.
More importantly, however, the demands of tournament reporting require us to stick around even when players are on a break.
I need to walk the now empty room, scanning the tables for prominent players’ chip stacks and updating their counts. Anytime I see a huge stack that I haven’t before, making a mental note of their table and seat number is useful going forward. And by the time that checklist is complete, the supposed break I was hoping to take is done and dusted.
With that in mind, I always make sure to bring a well-stocked backpack with me. A thermos filled with ice water for those scorching Las Vegas summer days. A hoodie sweater to adapt when the Rio’s notorious air conditioning turns the Amazon Room into a freezer. Chewing gum, headphones, a portable charger, and of course, my laptop.
With all of these supplies ready to roll, I make my way into the bright Sin City sunshine and make the short walk from my hotel to the Rio.
Recapping Action While Previewing What’s to Come
Once I’ve reached the tournament area, I head straight for the desk tucked away in a corner of the room. This is where the various poker media outlets covering the WSOP send their reporters to provide immediate live coverage.
While the “Official Coverage” is typically provided by PokerNews, a slew of competing outlets from all over the world send correspondents to work the big bracelet events. This means a mad dash for space at the reporting desk, so I like to show up around 30 minutes early to get the proverbial worm.
Arriving well before the starting time is also useful because live reporters have work to do prior to players taking their seats.
My first task of the day is to write up a brief preview of what readers should expect. That entails recapping the previous day(s) of action, including the names and resumes of those who built top chip stacks, how big name stars like Phil Hellmuth and Daniel Negreanu fared, and any particularly noteworthy fireworks on the felt.
A good Day 2 preview also attempts to predict how things will look when the final table assembles for the pivotal Day 3. You can use historical context like previous champions defending their title, or even interview the unknown amateurs eyeing their elusive first gold bracelet. In any case, you’re hoping to give the reader a bit of insight on what to expect as the day progresses.
With my preview written up and posted to the live reporting page, I can relax for a spell and walk the room.
By this time, most players are mingling around their tables, swapping bad beat stories and anxiously comparing chip counts. I really get a kick out of listening in on these little conversations during the calm before the storm.
Young or old, rich or poor, skilled — or not so skilled — poker tournaments are the ultimate equalizer, bringing people from all walks of life together at a single table.
Whenever I hear a snippet of chit-chat that might make for a compelling post later on, I quickly scribble a reminder in my notebook. A few hours later, I can head over to that table to see if anything juicy has gone down based on the potential storyline I spotted earlier.
One memorable example of this approach involved two perfect strangers who both hailed from India. Despite growing up in a nation home to more than a billion people, these players were both born and raised in the same village. The stars aligned when the random seating draw stuck the pair together, and I overheard them happily comparing notes on all the happenings back home.
Later that evening, having been reminded by my notes to check up on the duo, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were they both still alive and kicking in the tournament, but both appeared poised to reach the coveted final table.
Just like that, I had an intriguing angle through which to frame my Day 3 coverage, and all because I paid attention to seemingly meaningless small talk while walking the room.
Cards in the Air and Feet to the Fire
Once the tournament director gives the announcement—telling the assembled army of dealers to “get the cards in the air!” with a flourish—the real work begins in earnest.
Now, I’m walking up and down the long corridors between hundreds of tables, using both my eyes and ears to hopefully spot an interesting story in progress. First and foremost, I’m there to cover hands which are important to the tournament’s eventual outcome. Thus, any clashes between big chip stacks or famous pros deserve attention.
Let’s say I spot former WSOP Main Event champ Chris Moneymaker in the field. He’s doing well so far on Day 2, schmoozing the amateur players while slowly bleeding their stacks dry. Readers are always interested in how household names like Moneymaker might fare, so I stick around to record his every move during a nine-hand “orbit” around the table — and I do mean every move, too…
While covering a tournament hand, live reporters must capture every detail and data point in real time.
What did Moneymaker raise to when opening the action? How many players decided to call and see the flop? Which cards did the dealer deliver on that flop? How did the betting action proceed on the flop, turn, and river? Who showed down the winning hand? Was the losing hand revealed or mucked? How many chips does Moneymaker have now?
Mind you, all of this information must be accurately jotted down in real time. The players who paid $1,500 to compete for a gold bracelet certainly aren’t going to wait around while you write, so fast fingers and an eye for detail are crucial skills.
Once I have all that locked away in the notebook, it’s time to hurry back to the reporting desk and write up my post. This process lets me flex my creative muscles here and there, as I try to weave a compelling story out of the chip counts and card ranks.
After posting the entry to the reporting page, I’m up and back it within a couple minutes tops. On this trip around the floor, my goal is to check up on at least 20 well-known pro players to see how they’re doing. An empty seat almost always means they’ve been eliminated. If I spot a familiar face who’s still around, I might ask them how they earned their new chips in between hands.
All the while, I’m doing everything I can to digest a steady stream of new variables. Chip stacks rise and fall. Star players come and go. Seemingly dramatic storylines get snuffed out, while players who I barely noticed before emerge as contenders for the crown.
As the clock ticks away, I post dozens and dozens of updates to the reporting page, culminating in a final recap post that tries to tie everything together.
Then, I’m off to the hotel for a short cat nap before getting back to playing poker again bright and early tomorrow morning.
Reporting from the sidelines of the WSOP is at once thrilling and terrifying. These players are engaged in high-stakes warfare, competing fiercely for their share of the prize pool, not to mention the gold and glory attached to victory on poker’s grand stage.
Knowing this all too well, serving as a fly on the wall and watching their every move isn’t as easy as it might sound. With that said, I wouldn’t trade interviewing world-class pros and recreational players who made their dreams come true for anything in the world. Many jobs feel like work, but live reporting has always been a passion that I happen to get paid for.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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