Table Talk: Can The NBC HU Results Be Good for Poker?

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The title indicates a little feistiness on my part this week. Since I finally kicked the worst part of this cold, I suppose my opinionated side has come through the sickness better than ever. Or worse, depending on your opinion of my opinion. Regardless, let’s share a glass of Riesling (it’s afternoon as I write this) and talk poker.

Live tournament poker is picking up in various corners of the world. The last week took players to the Aussie Millions for its Main Event, and even a few for its $250k buy-in tournament, and to Atlantic City in the United States for the World Poker Tour Borgata Winter Open. Both big tournaments boasted large fields and recognizable poker faces, many of whom are hopping planes to head to the European Poker Tour stop in Deauville this weekend. And those are only the most well-known events, as other smaller series are thriving in France, the United States, and various other countries.

One of the big events that wrapped over the past week was in Las Vegas. It was the return of the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, a 64-player invitational poker tournament that features some of the best in poker, combined with cash game pros, celebrities and poker greats. Last week, I discussed the pros and cons of choosing such a field by various means, and the fact that the top players in the world don’t always produce the best television. The fact that NBC was willing to take another chance on poker, without the benefit of poker advertising from online sites, was a positive for poker in general.

*SPOILER ALERT!*

There is always a debate about whether the final table or heads-up match of a televised tournament is good or bad for poker. Personally, I believe it’s an overplayed discussion, and it took place on social media and in poker blogs after Phil Hellmuth and Mike Matusow played the best-of-three heads-up finals. Mike Matusow won, claiming it was a long overdue win, and this was his time for victory.

Some claimed that the clash of poker titans like Hellmuth and Matusow will be great for poker. Both are very well-known in poker, albeit for their often boisterous and opinionated outbursts at the tables, as well as away from them. Both players often claim to be underrated, overdue, and the best at what they do. And they are both names that even the most casual player is likely to know because of their frequent appearances on poker television.

I contend that the final match between those two players is not good for poker. Hear me out, though, as I’m not saying it’s bad for poker. I simply believe that the audience for the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is going to tune in for poker or not. They may only recognize Jennifer Tilly and Doyle Brunson and tune out after those matches are over. But those who are set to watch the entire series would do so if Hellmuth and Matusow played, or if it was Brian Hastings versus an unrecognizable qualifier. If they’re invested enough in the results, they’ll watch it through no matter who plays.

The ratings will be the primary result of television production and the time slot. If POKER PROductions puts together a quality show – and there is no reason to believe otherwise – then viewers will enjoy it and stay tuned in to the end. The time slot for the show makes a difference, too, as it shouldn’t clash with any other major sporting events. And should the broadcast dates escape any major breaking news or other world-shattering events, the show will stand on its own.

Might there be a few viewers who will tune in solely for the final heads-up match between Hellmuth and Matusow? Sure. However, that number won’t likely make a dent in the ratings. Will watching that match-up and seeing Matusow overcome challenges to win bring more players to poker? Possibly, but no more than the guy down the street who cashed in the WSOP-Circuit event. Simply put, the NBC Heads-up results will not spur a boom for poker.

It will be fun to watch. Fans of either or both of those two players will relish in their banter and enjoy seeing those familiar faces battle it out on the felt. It will be worth watching, and I’m sure going to set my DVR to record it. That said, I would have recorded it no matter who made it to the finals. And I hope the ratings are outstanding.

Lo and behold, my weekly two cents. Thanks for indulging me once again. Now that I’m feeling better and feisty, I may need to order another bottle of wine. Cheers!