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Monday, June 26, 2006
WSOP Begins Today
The World Series of Poker begins today. Most ESPN watchers have seen only the “Main Event”, which does not begin until July 28. Someone in Bristol must read the Sports Law Blog, because three weeks after I complained about the delay between the event and its appearance on ESPN, the network announced that it would offer the August 10 final table of the main event live on pay-per-view. This is an interesting development, since the pay-per-view broadcast will be unedited. Some observers have expressed concern that a live unedited broadcast – particularly if players’ “hole cards” are shown on TV – might allow players to obtain information about the recent moves made by their opponents (by having a friend at home call in that information).
The success of broadcast poker – on ESPN and numerous other channels – has inspired the network to consider other “pseudo” sports. Darts, billiards, and even spelling bees, have appeared or will appear on the network, although such events likely don’t and won’t attract much of a following or generate as much buzz as poker.
ESPN is not the only “sports” medium in which non-athletic events have gained traction. A few years ago, supporters and fans of another high-strategy card game, Bridge, began to seek recognition of that game as an Olympic Sport. The supporters believed they’d have better luck getting the card game recognized as a Winter event, given the already-crowded summer schedule. In 1998, the Bridge-as-Olympic-Mind-Sport movement gained an influential supporter, the President of the International Olympic Commission, as the New York Times reported here. However, efforts to get Bridge at the Turin Olympics stalled after several players failed drug tests.
During the Athens Olympics, a tongue-in-cheek web site surfaced, arguing that poker should qualify as an Olympic event. It turned out that the site was part of a cleverly disguised ad campaign for Full Tilt Poker, designed to evade restrictions on broadcast advertisements for gambling sites.
But would a more serious poker-in-the-Olympics movement succeed? Ignore for the moment the question of whether poker is a “sport.” The Olympics aren’t just about “sports,” in the classic ball-on-grass sense. Competitions with greater mental than physical components are now recognized as legitimate Olympic events (one web site explains, “Some examples of mental sports include: archery, canoe/kayak, equestrian, fencing, sailing, shooting, and table tennis”). If Bridge has a case for inclusion, why not poker? Of course, Poker is perhaps a game with less of an international following than bridge (or at least, the Texas Hold ‘Em form dominant in this country in the post-Moneymaker era).
For regular (spoiler warning) coverage of the WSOP tourney, I’d suggest the Poker Prof’s Blog.