Norman Chad is one of those guys you can speak to for an hour without realizing the time. After having a lengthy discussion with the “Couch Slouch,” it was easy to tell that his television persona is no different from his off-camera reality.
The long-time ESPN World Series of Poker (WSOP) commentator and sports columnist let me pick his brain on topics ranging from Phil Hellmuth’s table manners to WSOP television ratings.
When he picked up the phone, it was clear that Chad was a bit under the weather with something that sounded contagious.
But his head was still clear enough to allow for his usual easy and direct assessment about his own Texas Hold’em commentary abilities when he first got the ESPN gig.
“(When hired by ESPN) I was a recreational poker player, but had no Texas Hold’em experience,” Chad said.
More than a dozen years later and Chad admits he not only still doesn’t play much of the world’s most popular poker game, he thinks a poker game where “only two cards are dealt to each player” isn’t all that much fun to play.
“I only play (Texas Hold’em) in charity tournaments,” he told me.
So how did a man who doesn’t play much or feel great passion for the game land a gig broadcasting a Texas Hold’em event?
“I’m one of broadcasting’s biggest frauds,” he joked, and then gave a more accurate explanation. “From a TV standpoint, there are many ways we can present poker.”
On His Poker Game
Chad doesn’t play Hold’em much, but he is a regular Omaha/8 and Stud/8 grinder at Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles, which is near his home.
“When I’m in town, I play at least twice a week, sometimes three times. My wife prefers I play three times,” he jests.
Does he have game?
“If you asked half the players at the table, they would tell you I’m good. If you asked the other half, they would tell you I’m a donkey. I’m probably somewhere in between. Assessing my own No-Limit game, if you put me at a table with eight Franciscan monks that have just a little poker knowledge, I wouldn’t fair very well.”
Chad claims to be a “better than average” Omaha/8 and Stud/8 player, but not one of the top Los Angeles cash game pros. He plays at Hollywood Park Casino because poker rooms such as Commerce and Bicycle Club, which are bigger name rooms, don’t offer the games he likes to play.
“I don’t make big moves. I mostly play ABC poker and don’t go on tilt.”
Norman Chad On Lon McEachern
Norm is known to the sports audience as the “Couch Slouch,” a column he writes which is published weekly in major newspapers such as The Washington Post. But to the poker community, he is the goofy, entertaining voice of the World Series of Poker, along with his co-host Lon McEachern.
Are Norm and Lon close buddies away from the broadcast booth?
“Our relationship is platonic. We see too much of each other during the poker taping. We get along very well. The half of the year we aren’t taping, we don’t see each other much, but we remain in contact.”
His previous two marriages didn’t last long, but his professional relationship with McEachern has been a rousing success.
“It’s the longest relationship I’ve had with anyone other than my dogs. We get along very well, but it’s good we have time off.”
That exceptional chemistry has led to a long-time partnership between the WSOP and ESPN, but will it continue long into the future?
“The contract between ESPN and (Caesars Entertainment) is for two more years, through the 2017 World Series. I can’t give you an honest answer for that. Things change in television, so after two years, anything can happen. I don’t even know what (Caesars) is thinking,” admits Norm.
Did WSOP November Nine Ratings Suffer Without Negreanu?
Daniel Negreanu came up just short (11th) in his quest to make the 2015 November Nine. The general consensus is Negreanu’s presence at the final table would have spiked television ratings. But Chad doesn’t agree.
“I’m actually in the minority on this, and I love Daniel Negreanu, but I don’t think his presence would change the ratings at all. I’ve always believed people are tuning in for other reasons than star power to poker.”
Norm pointed to Phil Ivey’s appearance at the final table in 2009 and said ESPN’s ratings weren’t any higher that year when compared to others.
Producing the WSOP
Chad and McEachern don’t have much say in the production of WSOP episodes each year. In fact, many of Norm’s lines are written for him.
“In the first few years, I would take a few notes, but I would do it off the top of my head. Now, I script most of it. Once in a while, the producer will help me with it. He will make suggestions for me to say a line or two here and there. I told him a few years ago I’ve run out of things to say, so he helps me.”
After providing commentary for a game that is somewhat repetitive, it’s easy to understand why even a brilliant writer such as Norman Chad would run out of material.
Is Hellmuth a Poker Ambassador?
Phil Hellmuth has long been a polarizing poker figure, but many don’t care for his antics, including Norman Chad. When asked whether he considers the Poker Brat to be a poker ambassador, the commentator spoke candidly.
“Hellmuth, by this point, should be the greatest ambassador, but he’s a slow learner. And I like Hellmuth. But the way he has acted when taking a bad beat is indefensible. I love being around him away from the table, he’s a delight to be around. But you can’t be an ambassador when you act the way he does.”
Chad appears to have a love-hate relationship with Hellmuth. On the one hand, he speaks highly of Phil’s kindness away from the felt. On the other, he loathes the 14-time-WSOP-bracelet-winner’s childish act when taking a bad beat as well as his somewhat narcissistic behavior.
“Hellmuth could be out to dinner with [President Barack Obama] and he would make the conversation about himself,” says Chad wryly.
He did have one thing nice to say about Hellmuth, though. Chad’s favorite poker players to watch on TV are Phil and Daniel Negreanu, because “they carry the broadcast with their personalities.”
The Real Ambassadors
With Hellmuth off the board, Chad shared his list of who would make the five top poker ambassadors ever. That list included some interesting and a few surprising names: Negreanu, Jason Somerville, Linda Johnson, Doyle Brunson, and Mike Sexton.
He gave high praise to each poker legend, but none more so than “Kid Poker.”
“Before he turned 30, he understood everything,” Chad said of Negreanu. “He understood why if you’re at the poker table, there’s a reason to be nice to the other players. He understood that it’s a business. Most poker pros don’t understand that. Daniel understood that it has nothing to do with the cards you play, and everything to do with everything else. He was a pioneer.”
Doyle Brunson has also made a great impression on the poker commentator.
“When people see him, they think of poker. He takes everything in stride. I get a warm feeling any time I see Doyle smile. His presence alone makes him a great poker ambassador. I got the pleasure of playing with him for an entire day during a WSOP event. He came up to me during a break to tell me I played better than he expected.”
So they’re basically the polar opposite of Justin “stealthmunk” Schwartz?
“I gave Justin the benefit of the doubt [during the 2015 WSOP television coverage]. His behavior, at best, was a little out of line. At worst, it was way out of line. Justin is a really smart guy and I give him the benefit of the doubt, because I think he’s had a rough patch for a good portion of his life. Still, I wish he would clean up his act at the table.”
Schwartz won $411,453 and finished 14th in the Main Event, but refused to shake hands with Joe McKeehen when the eventual champ busted him on a sick cooler.
That kind of behavior is something Norman Chad would like to see “whamboozled” from poker.