Antonio Esfandiari Receives Criticism for ESPN World Series of Poker 2016 Commentary, Others Come to His Defense

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Antonio Esfandiari joined Norman Chad and Lon McEachern in the ESPN booth during the WSOP Main Event final table this week. He added an expert perspective, being a high stakes player. Chad and McEachern play poker, but only in between their high-profile hosting duties. Whereas Esfandiari is obviously a no-limit hold’em specialist.

Antonio Esfandiari received some criticism for his commentary during the WSOP 2016 Main Event final table on ESPN.  (Image:  f5poker)

But some poker players weren’t too fond of his commentary. In fact, some suggested his analysis was outdated, and others encouraged ESPN to seek a different poker pro next year. Connor Drinan is one who didn’t care much for Esfandiari’s spot on the ESPN broadcast.

“we get it Antonio, you love the continuation bet,” he sarcastically posted on Twitter during the broadcast.

“Drink every time he says ‘I like leading here’,” Sam Greenwood responded, also laced with snark.

“or ‘checking the turn shows weakness’,” Drinan shot back.

Many poker players had similar things to say about Esfandiari’s commentary. He was often criticized for what some considered to be stating the obvious.

OMGClayAiken Gives Constructive Criticism

Phil Galfond, perhaps the best pot-limit Omaha player of all-time, wasn’t quite so harsh in his assessment of Esfandiari. He gave some constructive criticism and advocated expert commentators in the booth during televised poker events.

“I believe some thinking needs to be done about how to adapt poker broadcasting to the way the game is [played] these days,” he posted on Twitter.

“There’s a fine line between good/factual hand analysis & framing things such that the players can either make the ‘standard’ or ‘bad’ play,” he continued. “I really like every single person on the broadcasting team as announcers/analysts. I just think the approach should adapt to the game,” Galfond said.

Galfond is far from a casual poker observer. He’s one of the most accomplished online pros ever and teaches others how to play the game. So, his opinion may differ from a casual poker fan, who may not prefer hard analysis. And for ESPN to get the ratings it desires with WSOP coverage, the network must attract the casual fan as much, if not more, than the hardcore poker pro.

Poker Announcers Over the Years

Chad and McEachern have handled the commentary for the WSOP since 2003. They are popular figures in the poker community, and bring both dry humor and expertise to the game.

There has been a mix of professionals, comedians, and career broadcasters who have worked as television poker analysts over the years. Chad got his start in broadcasting writing and commentating on sports. WPT announcers Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten were both poker pros before taking the gig.

Players such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Esfandiari all got into poker announcing after having success on the felt. And then there are announcers such as Gabe Kaplan, Ali Nejad, and Kara Scott, who may have landed their gigs as much for broadcasting talent and personality as their poker ability.

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