Updated: December 1, 2012 6:15AM
We had a Tigers fan among us when we walked into the pub where Notre Dame-Oklahoma and other college football games were on the flat-screen TVs.
“Can you put on the World Series on one of the TVs?” asked the Tigers fan of the bartender.
“World Series of what?” he asked in all sincerity.
There was a time when the Fall Classic dominated the sports consciousness — but the Tigers-Giants World Series was the lowest rated of all time, with an average of 12.7 million viewers tuning in at any given time.
Even without a Chicago factor, I still tuned in for a few postseason games here and there, but over the last month, I’ve been more interested in the World Series of Poker than the playoffs and the World Series of Baseball.
One might even argue poker on ESPN makes for better television than baseball on Fox.
The real World Series?
I’m not saying I think poker is a more entertaining sport than baseball. (And poker is a game of skill, regardless of what the United States government thinks.) But in 2012, I was more invested in watching the World Series of Poker Main Event and a few other WSOP tourneys on TV than the baseball playoffs, up to and including Game 4 of the World Series.
Let me count the ways.
Gender and generational equality. We’ll probably never see a woman or a 57-year-old man playing major league baseball. Young men dominate the poker world, but there are a number of female players and older guys capable of winning. In this year’s Main Event, Frenchwoman Gaelle Baumann and Norwegian waitress Elisabeth Hille finished 10th and 11th, respectively, out of 6,598 entrants. (That both women are movie star gorgeous was an added bonus for TV.) Each took home $590,442.
Meanwhile, 57-year-old Steve Gee made it to the Final Table and finished 9th, earning $754,798.
Drama! Hille and Baumann were eliminated by Hungary’s Andras Koroknai, who finished 6th in the tournament, grossing $1.64 million. On Day 4 of the tourney, Koroknai was the beneficiary of one of the most controversial rulings in WSOP history. He had gone all-in and Baumann had called — but Koroknai thought nobody called his bet and he “mucked” his cards, i.e., tossed them into the pile. Baumann held pocket Kings and was almost certainly the favorite in the hand. Officials decided Koroknai would lose only $60,000 in chips. Instead of being eliminated, Koroknai survived long enough to deal the fatal blow to the very opponent who could have knocked him out.
Back stories. At this year’s final table, we had two former roommates, a recovering drug addict, a loud-mouthed goofball from Texas, the aforementioned “villain” from Hungary, a guy whose wife just had a baby and a 21-year-old kid from Arizona who nearly lost his life when he was struck by a car. As usual, ESPN told those stories and more with compelling features. Sure, the baseball players often have their own amazing stories, but everyone on the field for the World Series of Baseball has already won the life lottery of becoming a major league baseball player.
Crazy money. Each of the San Francisco Giants will get a little over $300,000, while every member of the Tigers will get about $250,000. In the WSOP Main Event, the winner gets $8.5 million. Each of the final seven becomes an instant millionaire.
Last summer, the WSOP was home to the “Big One for One Drop” tournament, with a $1 million buy-in per player. Antonio Esfandiari took home the first-place prize of $18.3 million. For one tournament.
Sideline reporters. I’ll take poker’s Kara Scott over that guy with the look-at-me bow ties any day.
Personal interest. You watch the World Series and you marvel at the 100 m.p.h. fastballs and the amazing bat speed of a Miguel Cabrera. Those guys have super-hero abilities.
You watch the World Series of Poker and think: I can do that. Though my playing time was very limited this year, I still had the chance to go head-to-head with Phil Hellmuth, who has the most championship bracelets in poker history. I’ve been in hands with at least a dozen other bracelet winners. And just a couple of weeks ago, I finished 5th in Event #4 of the Bellagio Festa al Lago tournament after Vanessa Selbst, a.k.a. the best female player in the world, hit a two-outer on the river to knock me out. (Basically that means I was a 95 percent favorite before the last card was revealed, and Vanessa got lucky. She’s also 10 times the player I’ll ever be.)
I’m never going to stand at the plate and take my swings against Justin Verlander (thank God), but every time I watch the World Series of Poker, I can at least talk myself into believing I’ll be at that Final Table of the Main Event or some other big tourney one day, making the right plays at the right time.
It’s like Fantasy Football with a chance of the Fantasy coming true.