If you tune into the PokerStars Twitch channel this Thursday at 12 p.m. PT, you’ll see a unique new home game from host Jason Somerville and the team at Run It Up.
Chris Moneymaker, Joe Stapleton, and RIU crew member Jesse Fullen will occupy three of the table’s four seats. The final seat will belong collectively to the audience, who will decide by vote what actions to take based on a number of options presnted by Somerville. And all the money on the line goes to charity.
“We’re truly giving the audience — all those chat experts I’ve heard from over the years — a chance to test their skills and see how they do in a real poker setting,” says Somerville.
Somerville calls the show “Chat Plays Poker.” And if it’s anywhere near as popular as he expects it to be, you’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the near future.
Preparations to make Chat Plays Poker a reality began early this year. Because the game requires chat to vote on its decisions in real time, a delay was out of the question. That made broadcasting from a casino impossible due to legal restrictions, so a home game set had to be built.
Once the set was constructed the other pieces of the puzzle, like voting mechanisms and the placement of point-of-view cameras for chat’s avatar at the table, fell into place. By the time our own Howard Swains visited the RIU studios in Las Vegas this summer, testing was in full swing. From there it was on to adding fun new features like a printer above the table that displays messages from chat, and a text-to-speech function that allows chat members to make a donation and speak directly to the players.
During this process, Somerville saw something he says he’s never witnessed in all his years on Twitch: an overwhelmingly positive audience response.
“I’ve streamed a ton and I’ve seen even the most positive things get responded to negatively. I’ve seen almost zero negativity about this idea,” he says. “People think it’s awesome. During all the testing we’ve done, people involved have been like, ‘Wow, this is so much fun!'”
Somerville sees Chat Plays Poker as particularly appealing to people interested in poker who may not feel comfortable playing on their own money, or have a game available to them, to join others and play.
“As the host I can describe the benefits and drawbacks to each option and leave chat with the decision. And depending on the answer I can give feedback, so if you’re just there to have fun and click buttons and try to win, that’s great. But if you take it as a training vehicle, you’re sort of getting to play along with me. And I think that’s an opportunity that hasn’t existed before in poker.”
Right now the focus is on producing the most entertaining possible product, but the setup that makes Chat Plays Poker possible will also allow Somerville and RIU to branch out into new territory for live poker content.
“We have a ton of ideas,” he says. “We could broadcast a variety of different game types. I’m trying to keep it more basic than collegiate-level poker here, but theoretically there’s nothing that stops us from doing Chat Plays PLO or Chat Plays 8-Game. Nothing stops us from doing more advanced shows for someone whose goal was to be purely educational. We have a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do with the actual product.”
Those possibilities extend beyond game variety and into audience variety. “Imagine a Brazilian host who speaks Portuguese, with Portuguese-speaking players — I think that would be amazing to bring to audiences who has never seen anything like this before.”
It’s exciting to think about, but for now the focus is Chat Plays Poker.
“We’re going to try to smash that and then there’s a lot of branches we can take if it’s as successful as I think it will be,” says Somerville. “Creating an entertaining and somewhat educational broadcast has always been what I’ve strived for at RIU, and I think we’ve hit a bit of gold here with this concept.”
WSOP photography by pokerphotoarchive.com