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Apr 16, 2014

Should Poker Tournaments Sponsor Entertaining Amateurs?

By RTR Dennis

Aaron EPO

Aaron EPOHere's an off-the-wall suggestion for making poker more entertaining: why don't poker tournaments choose and sponsor entertaining people who might not otherwise have the bankroll to play in major events?

Before you immediately nix our idea for the downsides that it presents, just stay with us for a second. Everybody this year keeps coming up with thoughts on how poker could be more entertaining. Joe Hachem came to the conclusion that WSOP Main Event champions, as well as young successful pros, need to be more sociable and do better at engaging amateurs. He believes that many high-profile players are only concerned with making money, rather than being interesting enough to help the game grow.

Sam Grafton came up with an intriguing counterpoint for this in his blog, writing that it's the television producers' jobs to highlight what's interesting about players - not the players' jobs to change their personalities. This makes sense because you want pros acting natural, rather than forcing rants to be like Phil Hellmuth or wearing a cowboy hat like Doyle Brunson just for the sake of good TV.

Both Hachem and Grafton make good points on the issue of what poker needs to do to engage more recreational players. Now, on to the reasoning behind our idea...

Let the Entertainers entertain
If a WSOP champion is quiet by nature, they aren't going to change their entire personality around just to appeal to general audiences. It would be unnatural and seem weird to viewers. So why not consider getting some entertaining amateurs and/or underground players and let them fill this role?

There are plenty of interesting poker players already. But what we're suggesting is that live tournament organizations like the WSOP, WPT and EPT hold auditions (video or in person) for local players whom they'll give free seats too. This way, you could get more entertaining players who might otherwise not ante up the buy-in.

Maybe this process could be similar to what PokerStars did when they chose the "Loose Cannon" for the Big Game. Except there'd be little to no playing involved, and auditions would be wherever the tourney stop was. Once the players are chosen, television coverage would spend time focusing on some of them, especially those who make good runs.

Of course, there'd still be a significant amount of coverage dedicated to the well-known pros who've earned their time in the limelight thanks to excellent results. Plus, we don't suggest that tourney organizations pick a bunch of Tony G or Mike Matusow-types. These guys are great for TV by themselves, thanks to a combination of career accomplishments and wild antics. However, we don't need unknown, home-game players coming in and trying to steal the show. Instead, just pick some guys with interesting backstories and good on-screen personalities who could make things interesting.

The Other Side
We're not going to pretend that our suggestion doesn't have holes. First off, some pros might take exception to no-name players grabbing screen time just because they're fun to watch. Furthermore, grinders who buy their way into events could be offended that amateurs are getting a free seat just because of their personality.

Another problem is that somebody could appear entertaining during an audition, only to freeze up and not say much during the actual tournament. They could also go the other way and be too outrageous during the event, annoying everybody at their table in the process. Finally, at least one or more of these players needs to make a solid run in the tournament. After all, you don't want to focus TV coverage on an unknown player who busts out in the first level just because he made a few witty comments.

In the end, we don't think that sponsoring exciting players for one or more tournaments is the cure-all to attracting more amateurs. But it wouldn't hurt to splice in a few more average Joe's whom general audiences can identify with. And this might be a way to help manufacture the next Chris Moneymaker that the poker world keeps hoping for.