Even after 13 years, filming the World Poker Tour at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa is still like catching lightning in a bottle for producer Adam Strohl.
"You wait, and then all of a sudden, a huge hand happens, and if the cameras aren't rolling, you missed it. So it's better to overshoot in our mind, because when you sift through it at the end of the day, you get rid of 11 hours of footage, but there's that one hour that's gold," Strohl said.
During the past week, at least 50 tables and more than 1,000 players have filled the Borgata's Event Center to play no limit hold 'em for World Poker Tour Borgata Poker Open.
At Monday's filming, Strohl said, "All this footage will be cut down to one act's worth for the first episode of this tournament. We have three episodes per tournament. This will be the first act of the first episode, because we felt it was interesting to tell the stories," Strohl said. "There are so many good stories throughout of local players, professional players that take their shot."
During the course of the week, the players were winnowed down to the final six, but the number of cameras multiplied to 17 for the finals, which will take place at 1 p.m. today. A limited number of seats will be available for free for the public to watch the finals.
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Strohl has been coming to Borgata at least once a year for the past 12 years since season two of the World Poker Tour. The show's 14th season, which includes the episode being filmed this week at Borgata, airs in the spring. The filming has been taking place from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. each day.
Players are no longer allowed to smoke in the poker room, but they can drink alcohol. Alcohol makes some people more talkative, which is better for the TV product, Strohl said.
The players are overwhelmingly male. Some of them wear glasses and hoodies to conceal their reactions from other players. The biggest change since the World Poker Tour first started is that some players now use tablets and smartphones while they play. There are still players who talk to each other during a game, but you see more and more with cords hanging down from their earbuds as they listen to music.
The Event Center is a great room to film a TV show because it is a big, open space, which allows for plenty of room between the tables for the film crew, Strohl said.
"On top of that, the walls are not blank. There is a lot of nice woodwork and lights, so in addition to great space, we always have a nice background and a lot of depth of field, which makes our footage look a lot better," Strohl said.
For the players, being in front of the cameras is a special challenge.
Darren Elias, 28, of Cherry Hill, found that out last year when he was named the winner at the World Poker Tour stop at Borgata and won $843,000. Elias returned this week to defend his crown.
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The first time the camera is on you when you are playing, it can be a little unsettling, Elias said.
"It's definitely nerve-wracking. After a while, you get used to it. I've been doing this for a living for almost 10 years now, and it doesn't bother me anymore," Elias said.
Spectators at Borgata today and television viewers will see long-time commentator Vincent Van Patten, a poker player himself, who was on site Monday.
Van Patten, who said his late father actor Dick Van Patten was conceived in Atlantic City, has more time to explore southern New Jersey than the players have. Last year he visited Cape May, and he has been to the White House Sub Shop on Arctic Avenue.
"The players are getting better and better," he said. "Name players aren't making the final tables as much. Unknown players are striking gold."