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Who Is The Most Important Person In Poker?

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: Aug 26, 2020

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As I’m wont to do during this mess of a situation we find ourselves in, I was recently mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, most likely to avoid doing some things around the house or think about literally anything else. I came across a tweet by Mike Sexton in reference to poker’s voice of the people, Joey Ingram, doing an interview with World Poker Tour founder Steve Lipscomb.

“Outside of the possible exception of the Binions, Steve has done more to grow poker than anyone in the history of the earth.”

I think I take exception to both parts of this statement, but I’d like to discuss some of the points on either side of this argument about Steve Lipscomb in regards to the growth of poker.

Of course, as a founder of the WPT, Lipscomb was fundamental in bringing poker to the masses. The idea of a series of events at multiple locations around the globe with the sole purpose being a produced, one-hour TV show seems quaint now with countless made-for-TV poker tours now in operation, an entire streaming network dedicated to poker, and dozens of people making a living or at least supplementing their income by streaming poker from the comfort of their own home.

It was the first of its kind in that regard and a bold move, especially considering what the heck poker television shows looked like before the WPT came along. Look on YouTube for some of the ESPN-produced WSOP shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s and you’ll be bored out of your mind by the actual poker itself even while marveling at the fact that people actually wore some of those outfits.

The incongruity for those of us who watched the television broadcast of Carlos Mortensen’s win on ESPN in 2001 and heard about an entire tour dedicated to televised poker events was apparent. How could THAT be entertaining enough to produce 10+ hours of content year after year and what channel number is the Travel Channel?

What we didn’t understand is how much of an effect on the poker broadcast hole card cameras would have. What an incredible piece of technology! Instead of relying on showdowns or the confessions of players regarding their hole cards, we could capture them in real time so the viewers could see the drama unfold as it happened.

Will Phil Hellmuth fold the best hand this time? How did Daniel Negreanu name his opponent’s exact two cards? It allowed for the broadcast of non-showdown hands with the same amount of drama. I’m certain I gasped more than once when someone was dealt pocket kings at a final table and the graphic for someone else’s aces popped up on the screen. This is all thanks to Steve Lipscomb who conceived of the tour itself and the use of those cameras.

There’s a problem with this narrative, however. The 2002 World Series of Poker main event completed on May 24 and the WPT was founded on May 27. Hole card cameras, invented by poker player and toy maker Henry Orenstein, were used at the final table of the main event when Robert Varkonyi won! Yes, the tour aspect of the World Poker Tour was novel and something the World Series of Poker definitely used to their advantage as well, but the WPT was second to market on the hole card camera. Sure, their production values were better with a purpose-built stage and lighting, integrated camera table and multiple camera and boom setup, but it’s unclear if Steve Lipscomb had the idea first or if the WSOP did, and if he didn’t bring the idea for hole card cameras to market, was he actually that influential?

Obviously, Lipscomb was incredibly influential and it’s important to note that even if the WPT was second to the camera idea, they did a better job of implementing it and the WSOP didn’t really ratchet up their use of the camera until 2004 when they televised multiple events, including the one I would go on to win, the $3,000 pot-limit hold’em event. (An event that no longer exists.)

Does all of this earn Steve Lipscomb the distinction as having “done more to grow poker than anyone in the history of the earth?” With all due respect to Steve, I think I might have some other candidates, and in the next issue I’ll go into some more regarding some of the people that furthered exponential growth of poker from well before Lipscomb’s time. ♠

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG