In this edition of our ongoing Ask the Poker Experts series, we approached multiple veteran poker media members to share their views on what makes a good live reporter. With tournament poker coming back strong in the wake of the fading pandemic, so will live reporting. In particular, there will certainly be opportunities for new folks to break into the business as demand for live reporting ticks up.
I’d like to thank (in alphabetical order) Tim Duckworth, Yori Epskamp, Chad Holloway, Dan Ross, and Will Shillibier, who kindly agreed to take part in this panel and share their advice. I’m certain that Cardplayer Lifestyle readers will find their answers intriguing and instructive.
QUESTION: What makes a good live poker reporter?
I personally think two things make a great poker live reporter, and they both have to do with the players themselves.
My first taste of live tournament poker was at EPT Barcelona in 2014 where I did some work for the PokerStars Blog. I remember walking through the tournament floor alongside Marc Convey and being astounded not just by his knowledge of the players, but their knowledge of him.
Similarly, at the EPT Grand Final in 2015 I shadowed a certain Chad Holloway. I remember him telling me of a time that Daniel Negreanu had called out to him across the tournament floor to draw his attention to an interesting hand that was in progress.
These incidents showed me two things. Firstly, that player knowledge is everything. And secondly, it can be beneficial to build relationships with players in order to become a better live reporter.
Many live reporters start out as fans of poker and end up staring across tournament rooms wide-eyed at players that up until that moment they had only seen on TV. Some can only dream of reporting on one of their poker heroes, let alone getting to interview them afterwards.
But you won’t always have a field of Negreanus to report on, at least when you start out. One of my first solo live reporting gigs was at the beautiful Casino de Marrakech. I can’t say that any of these players had appeared on any episodes of Poker After Dark, but that was irrelevant. These were the players I had to report on.
And when I returned to Morocco in the years that followed I began to recognise faces. I think this is one of the most underrated live reporting skills. You won’t be able to rely on seat draws, ID cards or even players understanding English when you ask for their names!
This ability slowly builds up over time and I can’t tell you the satisfaction of recognising the new chip leader in a WSOP side event because you reported on them six months ago on the other side of the world.
Every casino has regulars, as does every tour. That’s why PokerNews often ensures the same reporter frequents the same event or tour repeatedly, in order to build up that player knowledge.
This brings me on to my next point, and it concerns recognition going the other way.
Just like journalists cultivate contacts, good live reporters get to know the players they’re reporting on. Now this doesn’t mean that you’re going to become best friends with every poker player you report on, but you never know when one of these relationships might come in handy.
A player may be able to alert you to a big pot, explain action in a pot you might have missed or, if you’re very lucky, give you their bustout hand.
Without the players themselves, live reporting would be nothing. So I think it’s very important that live reporters keep them at the centre of their minds.
Will Shillibier is the Executive Editor at PokerNews. Since 2015 he’s traversed the globe live reporting on marquee poker events and tournament series both for PokerNews and for the World Poker Tour.
Live reporting of poker tournaments is a vital cog in the poker industry – it all depends on how it is viewed. In my opinion, it has always fallen under an umbrella that includes marketing, advertising, and promotion. Live reporting is the tool to help promote a tour’s brand (such as the WPT or WSOP) and promote the property (Seminole Hard Rock or ARIA Resort & Casino).
Poker players look at live reporting from a slightly different aspect of it being a log of opponent hand histories that they can use to their advantage when the opportunity arises. A small group of poker players understands that live reporting is another avenue for their “brand” to be pushed to their audience.
Being a live poker reporter means that you are often criticized for simple mistakes but rarely praised. Consequently, this is why a lot of pressure falls on people who jump into the world of live reporting.
So, what makes a great live poker reporter? When it comes to writing posts, you must be willing to learn and ask questions. Firstly, learning and adapting to the style the company that is employing you wants you to follow – AP Style, past or present tense, etc. Secondly, you must be willing to ask questions when you’re unsure of the answers. I have often leaned on more intelligent and more experienced writers to check if something is correct.
When it comes to the actual job of being on the floor finding hands, the most important thing is to keep your eyes open. Outside of a dealer announcing, “All-in and call,” there is no siren to alert a live reporter of a great hand worthy of a write-up. If you keep moving around the tables looking at the action, you’ll often be able to catch something worthy of a write-up.
My strategy when on the floor is always to be hyper-observant and to pump out posts – I’m not saying that quantity over quality is the right approach – but I’ve never heard a player say there are too many live update posts. So, when I’m walking the floor, I’ll start jotting down a hand to see if it develops, and in the downtime of the hand where players are thinking, I will grab some notable player chip counts. I may walk a section for 10 minutes and find three marginal hands but will have also grabbed 15 chip counts to update. That way, the live updates blog will keep ticking over, and a natural flow of the tournament will be captured by day’s end.
Finally, come to work with a positive attitude, excellent work ethic, and dedication to the job. Live reporting days can be long, but with the right attitude and working beside a great team member, the day will fly by.
Tim Duckworth entered the poker industry in 2007 as a live reporter. He traveled the world covering live tournaments as a freelancer until 2020 when he became PokerGO Content and Live Reporting Manager. He is also a Cardplayer Lifestyle contributor.
One of the most crucial qualities for a successful live reporter is a sense of urgency. Reliable and consistent updates are the lifeblood of any live-reported poker event. If the blog sits stagnant too long without an update, the audience grows impatient and tunes out.
When training new reporters, I always stress urgency and for them to think of live updates like the “balloon game” we all played as kids. You know, the one where you take turns hitting up a balloon so it doesn’t hit the ground. If you’re not fast enough and the balloon hits the ground, you lose.
In the analogy, the balloon is the blog. Every update you post is hitting the balloon back up in the air. You’ve bought yourself some time with the audience, but the clock is ticking and the balloon is already starting to fall back to earth. You need to go out, find more information (i.e., a hand, chip counts, story, pictures, etc.) to pass along to readers. It’s realizing and respecting that sense of urgency, knowing that the “clock is ticking,” that helps makes a great live reporter.
Here are some other qualities I think make for a great reporter:
- Ability to Construct a Narrative – Every tournament has a story. Did the favorite win or an underdog come from behind? Was it a dominating performance or a comeback for the ages? Getting in tune with the tournament you’re covering and unearthing “the story” is a skill you hone with experience.
- Stamina – Live reporting is not as easy as it looks. It’s often long hours on your feet running around looking for action. You’re beholden to the tournament clock, and depending on how the tournament plays out, you could be working long hours.
- Cool Under Pressure – Live reporting can be stressful. If you’re easily stressed out, experience anxiety, and buckle under pressure, it’s probably not for you. On the flip side, if you’re willing and able to go with the flow and roll with the punches (i.e., be patient when inevitable issues arise such as subpar internet connectivity), you’ll be fine.
- Attention to Detail – If your job is to go out and gather information to relate to others, you’d better be sure the information you’re sharing is accurate. This means being sure of the action, cards, betting amounts, etc. If you’re not sure, DO NOT ASSUME. Either piece it together, ask for someone to fill in the missing pieces, or if all else fails, just write the update with the information you have explaining to the reader why the rest is missing For example, if you pick up the action late in the hand and are unsure of what happened prior, you might write something like: “We caught the action on the turn with 125,000 already in the pot when Player A bet 50,000 and Player B moved all in.”
- Have Fun – Poker reporting can be intense, but it’s also supposed to be fun. Oftentimes you’re watching the best in the world ply their trade. Not everyone gets that opportunity. Enjoy it, take it in, and learn from it if you can.
Chad Holloway is PokerNews’ Head of Live Reporting North America. The former Media Director for the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT), Chad has written and produced content within the poker industry for more than a decade. Chad, a co-host of the PokerNews Podcast, also won a bracelet in the 2013 World Series of Poker Casino Employee Event as well as the 2019 RGPS Industry Championship.
There’s a handy ABC out there that neatly describes a live reporter’s key qualities: (A)ccuracy, (B)alanced, and (C)onsistency.
You need to have a keen eye for detail to be a great live poker reporter. If you look at the best reporters, you’ll notice they’re constantly eyeing chip stacks, boards being dealt, watching mannerisms of players; you name it. They’re always on the lookout for the next piece of information to add and scribble down everything.
It’s imperative you get the action right as a live reporter: if you write down the wrong card or mess up the bet sizing, it could change the entire complexity of the hand. And if you contribute a dicey remark to the wrong player, well…
Never assume or write down things you haven’t seen. Was it really a three-bet pot or did someone perhaps put in a funky limp-raise? Write down what you see with your own eyes, and note where second-hand info is coming from.
Pacing is a key quality of a reporter and comes with experience; don’t blow your steam in the early stages when the latter hours are often the most important ones. Know when you have to be “on” and when you can cool down a bit.
Being balanced is being accurate without overdoing it. Ballpark a chip count after a hand, don’t spend minutes counting a stack down to a 25-chip. Don’t spend 30 minutes on a single live update; yes, it might be Pulitzer Prize-worthy, but you’re losing your audience — that’s what counts.
Make the blog colorful and mix it up. Did you just write three hands in a row? Go out for a stroll and do a large chip update. Is it early on Day 1 and it’s hard to find action? Pick a notable, follow him/her for an orbit, and get creative. Perhaps it’s time to upload some pictures?
Arguably the greatest quality of a live reporter is consistency. A reporter needs to have a sense of urgency and always keep the audience in mind. They’re often solely depending on your updates to know what’s going on in the tournament and with their favorite player. If a blog gets stagnant for too long, the audience tunes out and/or gets agitated.
Great live reporters are able to keep that constant flow of updates going. They know what’s needed next to provide the audience as much of an accurate snapshot of the tournament as possible and keep them glued to the coverage.
The best live reporters are consistent. They show up every day, provide a consistent stream of updates, deliver the snapshot, perform under pressure, and don’t compromise tournament integrity.
In summary, being a live reporter is challenging, but there’s no greater joy than watching the best in the world performing their craft right in front of you. Add the travel perks to it and it’s one of the greatest gigs in all of poker!
A former professional poker player hailing from the Netherlands, Yori is PokerNews’ Head of Live Reporting EU/ROW traveling across the globe to cover the biggest poker tournaments in the world including the WSOP. In 2020, due to the effects of COVID-19 on the live poker scene, Yori moved into a senior editor role and has been leading PokerNews’ transition into full-scale online live reporting.
Knowing when to NOT bother a player during a tournament is critically important. Don’t jump in to ask specific details right after someone loses a huge pot, or is trying to text friends about winning that big pot. We joke as well about the ‘no neck’ rule for when to approach a player on a break or walking away from the tournament area.
- When you see a player walking around with their head up, smiling and looking around, that means they have chips, they are playing well, and they are open to a question or two.
- When that player’s head is down and they are typing away furiously on their phone, they are texting friends about hands – quite possibly telling a bat-beat story, and you don’t want to hear those – so hold back for a bit.
- When the player is walking alone, shoulders hunched up around their ears and you can’t see the player’s neck, that player has just busted out of the tournament so don’t approach. No neck = no chips = no talk.
There’s always a place for hand histories with poker tournament reporting – especially after the money bubble is popped and the payouts are climbing – but being able to tell a player’s story within a quick blog post is always entertaining for the readers. Taking the time to learn a bit more about a player makes the writing more fun to both read and produce.
I have the benefit of doing full-series reporting for a number of poker rooms around the US, covering everything from large buy-in main events down to $100 O8 for the house’s Recs-n-Reg’s. This gives me time to get to know the everyday players in the poker room, learn more about them and find time to tell their stories. I think this is a huge benefit to the poker room, for it gives their Rec’s-n-Reg’s the same exposure as a traveling pro. This makes the house player feel as though the room really cares about them, they matter as much as a pro, and they have a great deal of fun sharing the blog posts on social media with family and friends.
More than anything else, have fun with your writing. No matter the topic, it is easy to tell when a writer does not enjoy what they are writing about. The text is uninteresting, boiler-plate information the reader doesn’t want to waste their time with. Be precise, get to the point, but don’t be afraid to have some fun with the words. Learn who you can get away with poking a bit of fun at, and that player will have a great time reading what you wrote about them. There’s a time and place for this type of writing, but it does make for entertaining reading.
Dan Ross is owner of Hold’em Media, including the nation’s only Poker Podcast Network at Hold’em Radio and also a team of tournament reporters with Hold’em Media Live. He’s been providing poker tournament updates for more years than anyone cares to count.
Did you enjoy this panel discussion? Have you got any burning poker questions you’d like answered by some of the game’s top coaches, players, media personalities, tournament directors, or industry experts?
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