As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, poker players are hungrier than ever to get back into live poker action, and poker fans are just as hungry to start watching great poker being broadcast and played. Tournaments are returning all over the world, including marquee tournament series, and capturing the attention of folks looking to spend some money and try to win big. One of the first such marquee poker tournament series to return focuses on the high rollers, and that’s the 2021 U.S. Poker Open.

Just ahead of the beginning of festivities, we spoke with PokerGO President, Poker Hall of Famer Mori Eskandani about the company’s plans to get back into full scale production of live events. Shifting back into high gear isn’t as simple as pushing a button, and in this brief Q&A we learn what sort of effort it takes behind the scenes for one of the greatest live event production companies in the world to get back to top speed.

U.S. Poker Open Mori Eskandani

Even in the midst of the pandemic, PokerGO was the rare company still able to produce live events, albeit on a limited scale, with High Stakes Duel, Poker After Dark, and High Stakes Poker. After such a lengthy hiatus from regular activity, what does it feel like to be revving your collective engines and be back to a full production schedule?

You know the saying, “if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere,” is somewhat similar to what we went through during the pandemic. We were able to produce shows during a very difficult time by doing an enormous amount of preparation and coordination. If we could do what we did during the pandemic, one might only guess what this team is capable of doing with the COVID-19 restrictions going away. We are all looking forward to a very busy schedule for 2021 and beyond.

It’s one thing, as a production team, to want to produce live poker events. From the player standpoint, they’ve mostly been limited to online poker. What sort of response are you seeing from the high roller regulars? Are they itching to get back to the tables and play live poker again?

Absolutely. We already had a couple of high roller events breaking records at ARIA Resort & Casino during the past few weeks. I would wager that this trend will continue with every major tournament that we have coming up from the U.S. Poker Open in June, to Super High Roller Bowl in September, and expect this year’s WSOP to set all sorts of new records!

As fans, we see a schedule of 12 events being broadcast over 12 days, and say “wow, that’s awesome; can’t wait to tune in and watch!” From a production standpoint, however, I imagine that entails a LOT of work and some really long hours each day. Can you take us through what type of effort goes into the production behind the scenes to ensure that things run smoothly from day-to-day?

Preparation is by far the main component of a successful live production. We have been producing WSOP for over a decade which stretches over 45 days. Producing our majors such as U.S. Poker Open, Poker Masters, or PokerGO Cup will be easier than the WSOP for our team. Even so, the preparation for the shows starts weeks before with our scenic and lighting, technical, and production groups coming together and planning every step of the way to a final rehearsal the day before the event to ensure smooth production when the cards hit the air.

What are some of the little things that the viewers don’t see or notice – especially because production works so hard to make it look seamless and smooth?

Preparation for the shows starts months in advance with the structure, choice of events, dates, and other miscellaneous items related to hosting the event. There is also a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make sure the streaming runs seamlessly. Shooting the actual poker playing has become second-nature to us, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before it’s seen by the public.

Most of the events on the schedule are No Limit Hold’em events, but there’s also PLO, the Big Bet Mix, Short Deck, and 8-Game. Are there any major or minor differences in filming and broadcasting the non-hold’em events? By now you’re used to it, I imagine, as you guys broadcast everything…. But what sort of back-end prep work needs to be done to switch from Hold’em to non-hold’em event broadcasting?

For the director, there are subtle differences, and of course for our graphics team there are big differences. Our director has to cover pre-flop differently for PLO than NLH because the deal is longer. For short deck, we have to be ready for bigger hands and more action. It’s manageable but requires a slightly different mindset from game to game.

In the past, live events filmed at the PokerGO studio have been open to the public. With pandemic restrictions now falling by the wayside, will it be possible for (a limited number) of people in Las Vegas to watch the events live in studio? Or is in-person fan attendance not yet on the table?

I don’t think we have any plans yet to make these events open to an audience. The tournaments are open in the sense that anyone with a buy-in can play, but given the current COVID-19 situation, plus the layout of our studio, I don’t see a live audience happening for the 2021 U.S. Poker Open.

2021 U.S. Poker Open schedule