EPT9 Deauville: A televisual feast

Poker is endlessly evolving, a statement that goes for life both on and off the tables. As the players figure out new strategies almost by the day, the administrators off the felt seek innovations to make their product stronger, both to those who might be tempted to ante up and join the fray and those who watch from the comfort of their homes.

Live tournament streaming--ie, uninterrupted, unedited and live coverage of poker--is one of the most significant innovations to come to the game in recent years. It allows the armchair aficionado the opportunity to see how the tournament game is really played: every hand is aired, be it an all-in coup that eliminates a superstar or a raise from the button that steals the blinds.

It is broadcast in real time, with real table chat, and you only see the cards if the players either choose to show them or are forced to by a showdown. You, the viewer, can get as close to the action as it is possible to get without stumping up €5,000 to pay for a seat of your own.

"The live stream shows a continuing effort to deliver poker to its hardest core fans, who can't get enough of the game," said Joe Stapleton, the EPT Live commentator. Stapleton was speaking about an hour before going live with the latest broadcast from Deauville -- now available on PokerStars.tv. "You get to see all the action all the time," he said.

The first ever live tournament stream in Europe came from Dortmund in March 2007. That was season three of the EPT, and armchair fans were able to watch Andreas Hoivold win €672,000 after beating a field of 493. Tournaments have moved on from then, as has the live coverage, and the event in Deauville this week represents another landmark in poker broadcasting. The main event here will be streamed live every day for the entire week of the tournament, starting today, Day 1A.

During previous years, the cameras and commentators have only arrived when the tournament is at its business end, typically days five and six. But from now until the end of this season, you will be able to watch from the get go, which will offer an even more comprehensive overview of proceedings.

"It's important to show the story of the tournament, from the start of the event to the final table," said Louise Penrose-Smith, head of production for PokerStars. "We want to introduce the personalities from the very start."

The technological magic is weaved by Volcano City, an independent production company based in Edinburgh, Scotland, who send a truck-load of equipment ahead of them before jetting in to set up on the eve of the event. English commentary comes from Stapleton and James Hartigan, who typically travel to the events and then spend the week in a broom cupboard doubling for a commentary booth.

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Commentary conditions at EPT Sanremo. (It's better here.)

But the pictures are also distributed around the world, where commentary is added from numerous other sources in countless languages. Pictures from Deauville will be screened everywhere from China to Belgium, Portugal to Canada, while it is also possible to embed the player on your own website, absolutely free. See....


Later on this week, the High Roller event begins in Deauville and plans are afoot to allow viewers to choose which event they would rather see covered on EPT Live. It will be a toss-up as to what will make the most compelling viewing: the final table of the High Roller or the Main Event, and the option is there to make the decision on the fly.

Choices will come to define this year's EPT coverage. By the time we get to Monte Carlo in April, EPT Live will have come to resemble the kind of coverage offered during the recent London Olympics, where viewers will be given a broad overview of the entire ten-day festival. The feature table(s) will not only host action from the hold'em events (typically the Main Event, High Roller and Super High Roller) but also from the many other variants being played at the festival, including Omaha and (maybe) open-face Chinese.

There will also be Team Pro masterclasses hosted live for broadcast, featuring the likes of Daniel Negreanu schooling Stapleton and Hartigan, among others. There will be interviews and competitions--and the poker may well be "cards up", meaning you can even peak behind the poker face.

"You know when you watch the Olympics, you might watch 20 minutes of the long-jump, then some swimming, then some track or the weightlifting? It's going to be like that," said Penrose-Smith. "It's exciting. Everyone is really excited about it."

You can interact with the commentators by emailing nuts@pokerstars.tv or tweeting at them using the hash-tag #EPTLive. At time of writing, PokerStars Blog's Rick Dacey is with Hartigan and Stapleton in the booth. And if that doesn't get you listening, I don't know what will.

Follow all the action from the tournament floor on the EPT Deauville main event page. Follow EPT Live on PokerStars.tv. Follow the leader. Follow the bear.

Howard Swains
@howardswains in European Poker Tour