Having spent the last 7 weeks here in the desert, I can tell you with certainty the best way to watch the final table of the 2006 World Series of Poker will be in the comfort of your own living room. ESPN pay per view will be carrying a live feed of the final table of the main event of the World Series of Poker this Thursday. Coverage starts at 5pm Eastern.
Sure, if you bought the pay per view, you would miss the energy of being in the room for poker's greatest event. However, having been in the room for many of the bracelet events this year, comfort and sightlines are not exactly the strength of the poker 'stadium' being built for this huge event.
It remains to be seen if poker has enough legs as a "sport" to support its biggest day with a pay per view event. The TV ratings thus far for the 2006 WSOP airings have been roughly consistent with those of last year. So far, ESPN has aired six episodes from the 2006 WSOP. It should be noted that all of the airings thus far are from the circuit events, not the actual WSOP. The six circuit events averaged a 1.0 rating, or about 860,000 households. This is slightly down from last years WSOP viewings, which drew a 1.1 for a similar period, but it should be noted that last years airings were preliminary events for the actual WSOP, and not the circuit events.
By far the most interesting factor to this years 'experiment' with live pay per view for the Final Table is that the viewing audience at home (just like the viewing audience at the Rio) will NOT be able to see the hole cards. Clearly, this is the right thing to do from a poker perspective, as with $12-13 million on the line for first place, not to mention all the ancillary income that will come from being the World Champion, any element that might allow the smallest chance of some cheating, or collusion should be eliminated from the equation.
Still, the vast majority of casual poker viewers around the country who have grown up on ESPN's edited telecasts of WSOP events, or the World Poker Tour, or any of the televised poker being shot today have always seen the hole cards when watching poker. After reading as much of the fine print as I could find on the ESPN website, I could not find a any statement saying that you won't be able to see the hole cards. Whereas this might be a given to those of us in the poker industry, I have to assume some of the more average poker fans out there are going to be blindsided, so to speak, by this. I put the over under on calls to the Pay Per View provider saying 'I can't see the hole cards' at 30%.
Having spent the better part of the last 7 weeks in or around the Amazon ballroom at the Rio soaking up the 'atmosphere', I do believe that the best viewing experience for the final table will be through the ESPN pay per view. To find out more, simply go to ESPN.com, and put the word 'poker' into the search box. The cost is $24.95, and most pay per view providers should be carrying this.
Ed Note: It's a fact that you are cooler if you are playing poker in Europe. European Poker Tour satellites are up and running now at Poker Stars.