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World Series of Poker, Day 5

ESPN plans to turn sharks into stars of reality TV

Posted: Thursday July 14, 2005 4:11PM; Updated: Friday July 15, 2005 1:41AM
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Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey, who finished Wednesday in second place, is the epitome of quiet cool.
Front 9
The gray-haired man standing at the rail had a look of contempt on his face as Mike "The Mouth" Matusow celebrated ... more
Front 9
The folks at Full Tilt Poker were handing out candy bars yesterday, thus making it possible to subsist at the Rio ... more
Front 9
On Tuesday, 23-year-old Adam Friedman of Gahanna, Ohio, had a day he'll never forget at the WSOP. more
Front 9
It was just before 12:15 a.m., with only about 34 minutes remaining in Day 2 of the World Series of Poker's main event. more
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About halfway down the endless hallway that snakes from the main casino of the Rio to the Brasilia Room ... more

The gray-haired man standing at the rail had a look of contempt on his face as Mike "The Mouth" Matusow celebrated yet another head-to-head victory. "I think it would be terrible if Matusow won it," said the old-timer.

The youngster, who looked barely of legal age, disagreed. "I think it would be great for the sport if he won it," he replied.

"I'd rather see a little humility," said grandpa.

Beginning next week and extending all the way through November, ESPN will air two hours of World Series of Poker coverage each Tuesday. The WSOP will play more like a TV series -- with recurring characters you get to know -- than it will a live sporting event.

And, while the guy who has accounts on Bodog.com and PokerStars.com already will know the outcome of the $10,000 No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament (a.k.a., the main event) because he cares, ESPN is hoping that the casual sports fan will get sucked into this the way they might Lost or Desperate Housewives. When and if these people do, ESPN will have the serendipitous fortune of building up two polar opposites as the favorites.

Entering Thursday, the Mouth was the chip leader. Matusow is colorful, garrulous and often obnoxious. He's Around the Horn subtle, if you know what I mean. The cameras may not love him, but the audio booms do.

He honestly seems like a good guy, but you wouldn't want to lose to him. On Wednesday he took out an opponent who went all in with a better hand than he had. When the turn gave him the winning hand, he raised his arms in the air and exclaimed loud enough for the folks over at the Bellagio to hear, "I'M A SUPERSTAR!"

Then he launched into one of his favorite poker ditties, "Poker, poker, it's all skill; start with the best hand and work uphill."

Matusow recently got out of the klink after serving time for a drug felony.

It'll be interesting to see how ESPN handles that sub-plot. Or his 40-minute penalty for profanity last Saturday. Still Matusow, the Barkley of Binion's, will receive no shortage of air-time in the coming months.

Then there's Phil Ivey. Whereas Matusow looks perpetually unkempt, Ivey, a four-time WSOP bracelet winner, is smooooooooth. He's only 29, good-looking and he plays with the panache of Derek Jeter. A dominant player, Ivey finished Wednesday in second place. I have yet to hear him speak a word during play. Ivey looks sharp, plays sharp and acts sharp.

There's room in the WSOP, and on ESPN's airings, for both Matusow and Ivey of course. And the contrast between them will make for good television.

Considering all the big names whom ESPN had hoped would make it further -- Phil Hellmuth, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson -- the folks in Bristol must be happy to have a potential battle of opposites taking shape.