Norman Chad is a sportswriter and a syndicated columnist hosting a weekly sports humor blog “The Couch Slouch” on washingtonpost.com. He is most famous for his commentary on ESPN poker broadcasts, including the World Series of Poker and The United States Poker Championship, which he has hosted since 2003 together with Lon McEachern. Chad’s charisma and engaging sense of humour have made him one of the most beloved and respected personalities in poker. He gave us some of his valuable time on Friday, and joined us for an AMA
Thanks for doing this AMA! I’ve been a fan of yours for years! I’m curious about whether or not you and Mr. McEachern get to pick the hands that you discuss during WSOP coverage or if ESPN or some other entity picks them for you. I’m also wondering if the two of you write your own material for each hand that you mention or if a staff of others does. Finally, I’d like to know if you were a writer before you became an announcer or a commentator before an author?
Norman: Lon and I do not pick the hands — this is done by producers far wiser in poker ways than either one of us. And we do not have a staff of writers. Lon has a cup of hot tea — or, if there’s no tea, a shot of bourbon — and he’s rarin’ to go. I just walk in showered and shaved, and I’m ready to go. I was a writer before I ever did any broadcasting, so I[m probablty better at typing than talking.
he’s a kid with a dream…
Norman: I’m actually more of a kid with a recurring nightmare that one day I’ll be living under a bridge, about 200 yards from the Kardashian compound.
Hey Norman (or Mr. Chad, whatever),
I vaguely recall you hating on Hockey for some reason. This has somehow stuck with me for several years. Why the hate? It’s a great sport. To help convince you of this, here is a picture of your buddy Lon McEachern watching a hockey game with Jonathan Duhamel:
Okay, I couldn’t find the picture. But it happened..
Norman: I do not hate hockey — I like to make fun of the fact that the NHL has never drawn a lot of TV viewers in the U.S. Taped poker — TAPED poker — traditionally draws a larger TV audience than a live NHL game.
Who’s funnier, you or Gabe Kaplan? Why Gabe Kaplan?
Norman: Gabe Kaplan is funnier — he’s a professional standup comic and a world-class entertainer.
I’m a guy with a dog, two ex-wives, four remotes and 75 reasons not to get up before noon.
Norman, from being around so many pros for so long, is there a trait that you’ve noticed that may separate them from the others? I don’t mean the outliers like Galfond or Isildur -they are just out of this world, but more of an average Joe pro.
Norman: The trait that sustains the best is: Keeping an even keel at the table. Never get too high or too low; controlling your emotions. One of the best ever at this is the fella considered maybe the best poker player of his generation, the late Chip Reese.
Norm love your work. You manage to make Lon tolerable.
Is there any chance we’ll see more coverage of non hold em events going forward on ESPN?
Out of all the non ME/Big One tournaments we could have seen last year, why was the National Championship selected? Will we see it again this year?
Norman: At the moment, ESPN has no plans of showing anything but no-limit hold ’em. I am a big advocate of showing the other games — particularly PLO — and I used to argue for this at our meetings, but they stopped inviting me to those meetings because they were tired of hearing me prattle on about other games. I think it’s better for the long-term health of poker that people play many of the disciplines, and I think it would help if we televised the other variations. (Yes, even razz.)
Why do you think the WSOP has such a big impact on poker players all around the world? There are other series featuring great Main Events and many other tournaments, but are not even near to achieve what WSOP does!
Norman: There are many other terrific poker events, but there is only one World Series of Poker. It has the tradition, it has the respect of the poker community, it’s the unifying force that brings everyone in the game together; in tournament poker, WSOP bracelets, final tables and cashes are the measuring stick most use to determine the best. The WSOP is like the Grand Canyon — there are many other fine canyons you can spit into across America, but there’s only one Grand Canyon.
How did you get to be a WSOP announcer, and is that something you’ve aspired to do or just kind of fell into?
Norman: It was an accident that I began broadcasting the WSOP. It was like a piano falling out of the sky, and instead of crushing me to death, it landed right next to me — and, lo and behold, I can play the piano! I had been doing some other work for ESPN in 2002, when they decided to expand its WSOP coverage for the first time. They were bringing in an outside production company with no poker background to do the WSOP, and ESPN — thinking I had more poker experience than I did — asked me to consult with the company to help them figure out how to show poker. After several months of conference caklls and e-mails and the like, a producer then called and asked, “Ever consider doing poker commentary on TV? Because you make us laugh on the phone all the time.” And I said, sure, I’ll do it, figuring it was a one-and-out deal. Then — boom!!! — Chris Moneymaker wins, online poker takes off simultaneously and suddenly everyone’s watching poker on TV.
Norman, what do you make of Rafael Nadal’s inroads into online poker? What kind of “spin” should his poker competitors expect?
Norman: I’m a big fan of Nadal, but I suspect I’ll get tired of him collapsing to the floor every time he hits a gut-shot on the river to scoop a big pot, live or online.
Thanks for being on the forum! A couple of questions:
1) Do you have any voice warm ups before presenting? (Think Will Ferrell in Anchorman “Unique New YorK” haha)
2) What is the most satisfying part of your job?
3) Who are your top 3 poker players?
Norman: My only voice warmup is to say, “Good morning, Lon” (and then hope he doesn’t want to get into a conversation).
2) The most satisfying part of the job is when we finish a show, because they’re harder to do than it looks and I know I can go home then and enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich with some Ruffles.
3) My top 3 poker playes are Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth and my first ex-wife; boy, she was impossible to bluff.
Are you currently married? In the following hysterical post you say that your marital batting average is .333 and that you’ve been divorced twice. So I’m guessing you are, but thought I’d ask anyway. I couldn’t think of another question right off the bat…
Also, do you really give people $1.25 if you use their questions in your column? How did you come up with that amount per question?
I think you are one of the funniest, cleverest people around, by the way. Thanks for doing this, man!
Norman: Yes, I am currently married, a third and final time. I believe this one is “Till death do us part,” even if that means one of us kills the other.
I do pay readers of my newspaper column $1.25 (in cash) when they get a question published at the end of my column. It was just a quirky amount that I liked the sound of, though it means I’m constantly digging into couch cushions looking for quarters.
Being a man with an amazing sense of humor, do you find it hard to keep a “poker face” during a poker tournament?
Which brings you more satisfaction: commentary on poker broadcasts, writing or playing poker?
Any poker players you really admire?
Norman: I don’t have a “poker face,” I have a “face for radio.”
My biggest problem at mostb poker tournsments — besides finishing in the money — is getting people to have a better time. It’s often a somber group. What the heck? WE’RE PLAYING POKER, let’s have a good time!
To paraphrase Phil Hellmuth, I feel blessed that I love to comment on poker broadcasts, love to play poker and love to write. I’m also blessed any morning I wake up with a regular bowel movement.
Best thing you bought with poker money?
Who is your favorite comedian?
Do you often play poker with friends? or do you prefer to get away from poker and poker related issues when you are with friends and family?
Norman: I once paid for my first wife’s second year of law school with poker winnings; she left me shortly thereafter.
I once paid for my second wife’s new car (VW Jetta, I believe) with poker winnings; she left me shortly thereafter.
My third wife’s on her own.
So many comedians I admire, well-known and unknown. All I ask of you all is this: If you buy a comedian dinner once a week and buy a newspaper every morning, the world would be a better place.
Hey funny man…You’re the BEST !!!!
Do you think poker has a sense of humor?
Difficult question, asking for a creative answer If we were to mix Seinfeld, WSOP and CNN into a blender…what would we get?
Norman: If you mixed Seinfeld, the WSOP and CNN into a blender, you’d get George Costanza playing Wolf Blitzer $25-a-point Open Face Chinese while co-anchoring the new CNN nightly news.
What’s the wackiest, most unconventional thing you believe in? I was once abducted by aliens…do you believe that?
If you could invite any five people, living or dead, over for dinner, who would you invite and why? What would you want to discuss with them? What would you serve for dinner? Can you cook or would you need a caterer to prepare the meal?
In your opinion, who is the best poker player ever? Who is the best player currently?
If you could handpick a table of poker players that you’d like to see compete against each other, who would you select and why? What game would you want them to play?
Norman: I believe the Earth is flat.
Hey Norman, how come you dislike showboating so much? What about showboating in a light-hearted manner? I’m wondering if it’s more-so the arrogant approach of it that bothers you?
Norman: Re: Showboating. I’m just a big proponent of winning with grace and losing with grace.
As Hevad Khan would now agree with me, shouting out BULLDOZZZZZER and waving a chair over your head is not “winning with grace.”
(Not that it wasn’t entertaining.)
Norman, what do you think of yourself as a poker player (I know you make fun of your poker skills a lot)? But seriously, do you think you would succeed as a pro if you gave it a shot?
Norman: If I tried to succeed as a poker pro, I’d be standing outside of 7-Eleven with a half-empty Slurpee cup inside of six weeks.
I am an above-average recreational poker player; I could not make a living playing the game.
And if I were forced to play only hold ’em, I’d be filing Chapter 11, or 13, within 90 minutes.
I’m horrific at hold ’em. I’m okay at most of the other games.
Who in your opinion is the most fun player to watch/announce for/harass now a days? Who has been your favorite all time?
Norman: I’ve always joked about kicking back 10 percent of my salary to Phil Hellmuth, because his unique, unspeakable table comportment makes it so easy to make light of him.
It’s always easier doing any broadcast in which Daniel Negreanu is playing: He engages in a lot of great table talk, meaning Lon and I (blessfully) need to speak less.
Who’s your favorite female poker star right now?
Norman: I wish we had more of them; there’s no reason in the world that half of all poker players can’t be women and half of the best can’t be women.
Anyway, as always, I only wish the best of things to happen to Jennifer Harman.
(Jen and Vanessa Selbst are the only two women in history with two WSOP bracelets in open events.)
How did you and Lon end up working together? How long have you worked together as announcers? Do you two work together on things other than the WSOP? Are you two friends or just coworkers?
Norman: Lon and I had never met before working together at the 2003 WSOP. We’re more thsan just friends, but I can’t discuss that here.
Lon was hired by ESPN as part of a government experiment to place unusually tall people in compact areas.
As for me, one day I was at Radio Shack buying batteries — I believe I was fourth in line — and someone from ESPN came in and asked if anyone in the store had any interest in broadcasting poker on TV. At that exact moment, I was scratching my right shoulder — and they thought I was raising my hand. They hired me.
Are you going to play in any WSOP events this year? If so, which ones and why those events?
Will you/have you ever played in the Main Event?
What pros do you think will go deep in this year’s Main Event? Any favorites for making the final table?
Would you bet that a pro or an amateur will win the ME in 2013?
Norman: I have never played in the Main Event and have no plans to do so.
I have played in three WSOP events this year (with no cashes), and will play in one more — the $1,500 stud/8 on June 21.
In my non-illustrious WSOP career, I have cashed three times in 25 events, including a final table in 2012 (Event 42, I believe).
Hey Norman, do you play in the “Norman Chad Poker League”? Did you have a hand in creating that league or was that simply a group of guys who love you that much??
Has writing always been a cherished skill of yours, or was that something that you came to later in life? Curious about that moment where you decide “This is what I want to do with my life.” Have you had any moments like that or have you simply been rolling with the flow of life?
Anyway, you make poker a whole lot of fun to watch, thank you for your unique style of commentary!
Norman: I do not play in the Norman Chad Poker League. Apparently, it’s just a group of guys who love me that much — but not SO much that they’ve ever sent me money.
I’ve been writing my whole life, because, frankly, I can’t do much of anything else (though I’m pretty good at RACKO).
Why can’t you win a Stud tournament?
Norman: YOU try winning a stud tournament, pal.
Have you ever done stand up comedy?
Norman: When I graduated college, I tried to make my living doing just that.
As it turns out, there is a fine line between “stand-up comedy” and “stand-up tragedy.”
Norman, who does your $1.75 go out to in this thread?
Norman: 1. It’s $1.25, not $1.75.
2. I have to save all my $1.25s to play the $1,500 stud/8 WSOP event in one week.
– Who is your favorite player to comment on? (Please don’t say Hellmuth.)
– What do you do outside of talking about people playing terrible poker?
– You’re given $100 Billion. After you take all your vacations, buy all the fun toys, etc. What do you spend your time doing?
Norman: 1. You won’t let me save Hellmuth, so I won’t.
2. Outside of talking about people playing terrible poker, I like to play terrible poker and bowl 142 games.
3. After all the vacations and fun toys, I would spend the remaining $99.98 billion on an alarm clock that never wakes me and a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s Super Fudge Chunk ice cream.
Do you travel a lot? Where is your favorite destination for work purposes? What about for leisure?
Do you think online poker will ever be managed by the federal government in the US? Do you think the feds are just waiting for the states to get things going before they step in and take the industry over? Do you think online poker is in better hands with individual states or the government?
Norman: I’m in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. most of the year.
My favorite places to go are San Francisco, Paris, New York City and any bowling alley offering a buck-a-game promotion.
Have you ever agreed to a prop bet? If so, what were the terms and who was it with? Did you win?
Norman: I believe my second marriage was the result of a losing prop bet (for her).
Where do you think the Mayans went wrong when calculating the day the world was supposed to end?
Norman: The Mayans did not take into consideration ‘reverse pot odds.’
How often do you play poker? Do you every play in home games just for fun?
If the government asked you to secretly reveal personal information about some of the high profile poker players that you know, would you do it?
Have you ever thought about running for public office?
Norman: 1. When I’m home in Los Angeles, I play poker at Hollywood Park or the Bicycle Casino probably twice a week.
2. When the government calls, I always let it go to voice mail. If it happens to be the Internal Revenue Service, it goes straight to SPAM.
3. Yes, I wanted to run for public office a number of years ago, but then the old Soviet Union split up.
Hi Norman Chad.
What would be your dream job?
Norman: My dream job would be to chase runaway mercury from broken thermometers at a well-paying hospital.
I know you’re a huge fan of Stud and Omaha, but why do you prefer those games over Texas Holdem?
Norman: For some reason, I don’t have a Texas hold ’em “muscle.” Hold em’s a lot about reading people; heck, I have trouble reading a menu.
I just have a better feel of “where I’m at” in stud and Omaha, particularly the split-pot versions.
You, sir, have done an enormous service to the game of poker and the poker community in general – I don’t think the game would be where it’s at today if you were not one of the commentators during these past WSOP’s (sorry Gabe) – so thank you.
My question is do you write all your own material? And how much is ad libbed vs scripted? Thank you for doing this Mr. Chad!
Norman: I write (or create off the top of my head) at least 95 percent of my stuff.
In the early years of the broadcasts, I used to wing it more. As I’ve gotten older (and my mind has grown wearier), I now think about stuff and prepare more than I ad-lib.
In either case, it helps that I was raised outdoors.
Hey Mr Chad,
As a budding poker journalist with aspirations to do both more interviews with top pros, and to provide live (and pre recorded) voice over commentary to Poker Events, I was wondering what you would suggest as a route to this?
Also, Congrats on the WSOP cash this year!
Norman: Well, I slept my way to the top, but I can’t recommend this in general — bad hours, and you’re always playing out of position.
That’s a wrap, folks!
This has been a lot of fun, but it’s time for me to go watch all my “Mary Tyler Moore Shows” on DVR; I’m back up, like, 85 episodes.
Thanks for the great questions and thanks for all the kind words.
With that, Norman left the FTR forum, probably in search of a Stud game somewhere in Vegas. We thank him for his time, wit, and generosity. Hopefully we’ll see him back here sometime soon.