A reporter is only as good as his facts. Get the facts wrong, and everything that follows makes the reporter look foolish.
During the February 25 broadcast of the Poker Road Radio "B Team" program Court Harrington, Bryan Devonshire and Jimmy Fricke took me to task for a few sentences -- six total out of everything that I wrote over five days -- that I wrote near the conclusion of the NAPT Venetian Main Event. Normally I'd let it roll off my back. Everyone has opinions and far more people criticize poker coverage than praise it. It's not the first time someone has taken a shot at me and it surely won't be the last. The problem this time is two-fold: (a) PokerRoad is poker media, so the B Team's comments pack more punch with me than the comments of a random player, and (b) the "facts" cited in support of my woodshedding by the B Team were completely wrong. Because of those two things and because the B Team calls me out personally by name I feel the need to set the record straight.
Fricke opens the topic by saying that he thought I "acted very unprofessional in the report". Devonshire then chimes in by saying "Isn't F-Train the dickwad that wrote all the bullshit a while ago, the one about Daniel being busto or something? That one article that was completely hypothetical that was not based on fact?" Fricke says he's not sure but Devonshire continues with, "The one that was supposed to be a joke and nobody got it and got all pissed. I think it was that same person."
Rule number one of character assassination: if you're going to smear someone's name you damn well better be 100% certain of your facts. The article that Devonshire is referring to (which is no longer on PokerNews) was written by Dutch reporter Frank Op de Woerd, aka "webjoker". It was a series of completely unsubstantiated claims about several poker personalities, including a claim that Daniel Negreanu was busto. Op de Woerd later said the claims were intended to be tongue-in-cheek. The problem was that nobody got the joke.
The article caused quite a flap at the time and was a real black eye for both PokerNews and Op de Woerd. I, on the other hand, had absolutely nothing to do with it. I didn't write it, I didn't green-light it, I didn't have my name on it, and in fact I was as surprised as anyone to see it on PokerNews.
Here's the problem from my end: unless JoeListener KNOWS that Devonshire is flat-out wrong, in JoeListener's mind I'm now in an extremely negative light. It gives JoeListener a wildly incorrect, extremely negative and unflattering context about me for the segment that Fricke's going to delve into.
the first big pot the guy shoves the river of K-6-5-4-10 or whatever. With K-9. And Sam tanks forever and calls with like fourth pair. And the reporter says something like "He couldn't have thought that his pair of kings was good but apparently he was as happy as can be as soon as his opponent mucked." For one that seemed kind of retarded to me.
Pause the tape. Here's what I actually wrote: "Marchese couldn't have felt good about turning over Ks9h for a pair of kings. But it turned out that was the best hand -- Stein showed Jd5d for just a pair of fives."
There's a huge difference between what I wrote and the way Fricke presented it. I can sort of understand what he's trying to get at. K-9 is fairly strong in that spot because if Stein had a bigger king or a hand better than a pair he probably wouldn't have check-called all three streets. However, Stein hadn't made many river mistakes to that point in the tournament. If you're Marchese and Stein calls, you have to wonder what Stein's calling such a huge river bet with, don't you? And at that point one pair -- even a strong one pair -- starts to look weaker. To me that's one of those bets where you're not really sure if you want a call or not.
I admit that the two sentences quoted above are sloppy writing on my part. I'm not proud of it but it happens. The need for speed when covering final tables often means the product is not going to be as polished as people would like it to be. But by mis-quoting those sentences Fricke grossly distorts them to the point of completely demolishing their obvious context.
Back to the broadcast. Fricke also takes issue with a few short sentences I put in the wrap post after the final table was over but again he gets them wrong. He calls it "unprofessional" for me to have written in the wrap post "Sam Stein simply doesn't like to fold so he exploited his opponent's big weakness and liked to make big value bets on the river because he was willing to put all his chips at risk." What I actually wrote:
But one thing we noticed about Stein was that he just doesn't like to fold. Marchese used that tendency to his advantage to get maximum value for strong but vulnerable hands during the heads-up portion of the final table. It was Marchese's willingness to put all of his chips in the pot that proved Stein's undoing. Stein tried to make two massive hero calls against Marchese but each time Marchese showed up with the goods.
Anyone watching that tournament for five days couldn't help but see that Stein liked to play lots of pots and he liked to play them to lots of streets. Whether he was the aggressor or the caller, Stein did not easily go away on the flop or even on the turn. That was his tendency. Marchese's willingness to adjust his bet-sizing when he felt he might be value-betting and when he felt Stein was unwilling to fold helped Marchese attain the victory.
I'm told that the NAPT live webcast announcers noticed the same thing that I did -- which was that Marchese seemed to be making overly large bets when he had any kind of made hand as compared to his bet sizing during other heads-up hands. To me that's playing to your opponent's tendencies and apparently it was the same to the NAPT Live announcers. That's not to say that the NAPT live webcast announcers were "right", but I don't see the B Team taking the NAPT Live announcers to task they way they took me to task.
Fricke then adds that I didn't "give credit to how good a player Sam Stein is by saying that kind of shit". But the paragraph isn't about Stein at all. It's about Marchese and trying to give Marchese some credit for his victory. Just a few minutes earlier in the broadcast all three of Fricke, Devonshire and Harrington said that Stein "punted" on the heads-up portion of the final table. Stein made mistakes. Nobody is going to argue that. But the B Team doesn't give any credit to how good a player Marchese might be. They seem to suggest that the only reason Stein lost is because he faltered at the finish line.
Differing people can have differing views about where the credit (or blame) for a victory or loss should go. If the B Team feels it was more Stein's loss than Marchese's victory, they're entitled to that opinion -- but that doesn't make me "unprofessional". Especially not when the basis for applying that label is a gross mis-characterization and mis-quoting of what I've written, along with a mis-identification of something that I didn't write. Those facts are so simple and easy to verify, but Devonshire, Fricke and Harrington didn't do it.
In my wrap post at the end of the tournament I drew a handful of brief conclusions based on what I witnessed in the tournament room for five days. Devonshire suggests that as a tournament reporter I should just stick to "the facts". I disagree. I believe that my job as a tournament reporter, at times, is to bring people into the room with me. If I reduced all of live reporting to a series of flat hand histories, few people would read the coverage. It wouldn't be interesting. Some context is required to capture the reader's attention. Generally the best spot for that context is at the beginning or end of a tournament day -- which is where the paragraph that offended the B Team was written. The B Team may not agree with me but there's not a color commentator in any industry that doesn't have detractors.
Fricke opened the segment by complaining that I was unprofessional. Devonshire closed it by saying, "F-Train, fuck you. You're a poker fish and a reporting fish." I guess he's entitled to his opinion. But if he's going to spout off on a radio program he could at least get his facts right. Then his listeners can form opinions for themselves on the basis of the truth instead of whatever distorted version he, Fricke and Harrington present.
I've always been a big fan of PokerRoad but the utter unprofessionalism of this short segment -- not to mention how it's just flat out wrong -- has deeply disappointed me.