Columnist claims ESPN “Ruined Poker”

Over the years, ESPN has proven to be a leader in mainstream poker coverage. And many players thank the fact that the worldwide sports leader continues to dedicate hours of programming to a game which isn’t accepted by everybody. However, a widely read column by Argun M. Ulgen claims that ESPN has done nothing but ruin poker and efforts to legalize the online version.

Through a wordy piece that required me to look half the adjectives up on, Ulgen presents an overall picture that ESPN’s glamorization of all-in moves and lack of strategical analysis is killing the game. More specifically, he thinks that the network’s WSOP coverage shows poker as anything but a game of skill. In turn, this is exactly the type of thing that gives politicians fuel to keep federal online poker regulation down. Here’s one excerpt from Ulgen’s gripe:

Antonio Esfandiari – another brilliant broadcaster from ESPN’s live 2011 coverage – has a marginal role in this year’s telecast. He, along with close friend and poker pro Phil “The Unibomber” Lak, now has a small two minute segment on the show in which the two – with requisite colorful exuberance – hurriedly break down some of the key elements of a just televised poker hand. Esfandiari’s analysis is but a sliver of the remarkably accurate discussions he presented in ‘11; it’s but quick, specialized segment in the show.

After 10 years of coverage, ESPN still fails to routinely provide basic information of each hand, which usually starts well after key bets have been made. The infographics predominantly focus on cash prizes and the Tournament Leaderboard as opposed to even the most basic skill elements: position, blind levels, and stack sizes. All this in spite of a wealth of opportunities to accurately capture poker as an entertaining and complex game without pandering to gimmicky reality TV style broadcasting.

So is the lack of strategy talk on ESPN really killing poker and preventing politicians from recognizing it as a skill game? Or is this fun, light-hearted presentation more conducive to attracting millions of casual players to poker.

Well, based on the growth that the game’s experienced from 2003 until now, I tend to go with the latter thought. And while that growth has slowed and the US federal government still shuns poker, it has little if anything to do with ESPN.

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