Behind the Scenes at the PokerStars.net Big Game
It may not be all that interesting to hear that another televised poker show has just hit the air, but you can rest assured that The Big Game presented by PokerStars.net is far more than just “another poker show.” PokerNews was granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the taping of the show to get the skinny on what’s going down.
Filming took place between May 5 and May 10, 2010, at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa where each day some of the biggest names and best players in poker took to the felt in a six-handed cash-game session. Each session lasted for 150 hands with multiple breaks given to the players and production crew throughout the day. Getting a look at what goes on behind the camera lens was quite an experience.
At any given time, around 30 to 40 members of the production team are situated in two separate trailers where hundreds of television screens capture every possible angle they can. The crew works tirelessly to gather reels and reels of tape capturing all the shots and sounds of the game to later edit it into a week-long series of shows. Within one truck, you have a dozen people staring at the small screens to make sure the cameramen out on the floor are filming the correct people and the right angles.
The crew in the truck wear headsets to communicate with each other and to direct the men out on the floor. Separate stations are set up to view the hole cards and make sure the betting amounts are correct from each player as the dealer relays them via microphone. Those hole cards and betting amounts are entered by the handful of workers in the other truck. It’s a tedious job to punch buttons to enter a card, its suit and precise size of the bets for each hand, but it’s a job that must be done to make the final product worth viewing.
Glancing around the truck, one particular screen drew special attention. The screen showed a handful of statistics on each player including aggression factor, VPIP% (Voluntarily Put Into Pot), three-bet percentage, PFR% (Pre Flop Raise, preflop win percentge, donk-bet percentage, pots won, showdowns won, attempt to steal percentage, fold to three-bet percentage and even more. Someone explained that the show plans to track these numbers for all players involved to build a database with a player’s statistics that can be revealed at all times. This is really going to draw the attention of the more intellectual viewer and those who are the deeper thinkers in the game. If you want to see how many times Daniel Negreanu three-bets Lex veldhuis, the stats will show it compounded over the entire number of hands the two have played together.
On the set itself, numerous men are situated behind cameras to film all the action. Amanda Leatherman is the hostess for The Big Game and she stays on set at all times, often mingling with the players whenever she sees fit. Unlike on most poker shows on television, Amanda is able to interact with the players as much and whenever she wants to. She knows all the players extremely well and has been around the industry for so long that she’s a perfect fit for the job. She’s able to yell over to them from the couch to joke with them, ask them how they’re doing, or even hassle them for playing badly. In fact, Leatherman gave so much flack to the players during the taping of the show that they began calling her “The Shitster” for stirring things up all the time. Having her around and interacting with the players will really bring the show to another level.
Another interesting element of the show is the “Loose Cannon” that PokerStars.net has implemented. The Loose Cannon is a player who has qualified to be on the show and is on a total freeroll to win money. PokerStars.net gives the player $100,000 to play with and if the player wins, he or she keep the profit less the $100,000 that Stars staked them with. With each session being six-handed, one Loose Cannon is implemented at the start. If the player happens to go broke, plenty of alternates were available to take his or her place.
On top of being able to play with some of the biggest-name players in poker and to keep any profits, all the Loose Cannons are vying for an overall prize. The Loose Cannon who wins the most money will score a PokerStars.net passport to the North American Poker Tour. We were told the passport gives the player travel, accommodations and a buy-in to five events on the tour. The winner of this contest also has the option to buy out for $25,000 instead of taking the passport. This will help the players who qualify but can’t take a chance leaving their jobs or family, for example, if they should win.
The action also isn’t totally no-limit hold’em. Preflop, the betting is restrained to pot-limit. Negreanu made reference to this and mentioned that in some shows there are spots when a player raises the action preflop and after a few players make the call, another player squeezes them all out to win the pot with a huge reraise. Restricting the game to pot-limit preflop won’t allow for this, Negreanu says, “You can’t do that on this show because on this show if you reraise, people can still call.”
Phil Laak was one of the handful of players to get a crack at the action and has fallen in love with the structure of the game with pot-limit preflop and then no-limit after. He even went as far as saying, “The World Series needs to have an event like this; it’s the best for poker and allows for the most skill to come out.”
There’s also another twist to the show that could affect things in a big way. Negreanu has implemented a rule by which players are not allowed to wear sunglasses and hoods when they play. They have to be completely out in the open on the cameras at the table, unable to hide undercover.
When asked about the rule and why he wanted to have it implemented Negreanu said, “Here’s the thing. One of the things I like about this show that separates it from others is that you must be able to play poker and at the same time look at someone. You can’t hide behind sunglasses. I like that fact because there’s more drama and it’s better for television.” He went on to solidify his point about the rule being a good thing for TV by saying, “Imagine if everybody wore a hat and sunglasses on TV and a hoody and a scarf, it would be the same as playing Internet poker.” He went on to say that we should try and differentiate Internet poker from live poker as much as possible.
Phil Hellmuth was also on hand discussing how he felt about the use of sunglasses, hoods and hats in poker and he was more for it. Hellmuth uses sunglasses and often wears a hat himself, but he does understand that playing behind or under these objects is a help to a lot of players, especially amateurs. “Maybe I should just play with all these amateurs and no sunglasses or hats so I can read them. It might be better for me,” he commented.
The Big Game debuted last night on Fox, check your local listings for details. You can also watch all the episodes on PokerStars.tv.