Norman Chad: “Poker Takes a Lot of Hits, People Still Want to Play”

Norman Chad has navigated an almost inconceivable career in the poker world.

For the past 15 years Chad and co-host Lon McEachern have anchored the transformation of the WSOP Main Event from an old-school tournament into a bona fide ESPN broadcast.

Poker fans from across the globe have tuned in to hear Chad’s jokes about ex-wives, praise for Phil Ivey or various exclamations like “Whamboozled!”

Chad and McEachern make the game simple enough for the most casual player to follow along but exciting enough so they won’t tune out.

Outside of the broadcast booth, Chad still loves to play poker and has a special passion for split-pot games like Omaha-8.

PokerListings caught up with Chad on a break from the $1,500 HORSE event at the WSOP to get his thoughts on the current state of poker, the end of the November Nine and some of his favorite voices in poker.

PokerListings: Let’s talk about your affinity for non-Hold’em games. What do you like about them?

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Norman Chad: 1. I don’t like playing Hold’em. 2. I grew up playing everything but Hold’em.

I was always playing all the other games and they’re just more fun to me. I’m not very good at Hold’em anyways but I’ve never enjoyed it.

PL: What’s your favorite game these days?

It’s between Stud-8 and Omaha-8. When I’m in a casino in LA we play a Stud-8/Omaha-8 mix so those are my two favorites.

PL: You were recently on the $111k One Drop live stream. Is that a difficult transition from produced television broadcasts?

Yeah it’s different. When I’m doing the taped broadcast I can go to the bathroom any time I want. [laughs]

It’s a whole different animal. I enjoy it. We only do Hold’em, which is a problem for me because I don’t know Hold’em. I don’t like Hold’em and I can’t analyze Hold’em. That’s why we bring in people who play Hold’em and know what they are doing.

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“Poker is in a healthy spot right now.”

PL: Do you think poker is in a healthy place right now?

Considering that we haven’t had online poker in the USA for several years now it’s in a much healthier spot than it could be.

Poker takes a lot of blows to the head but people still want to play. It’s in a pretty healthy place, especially world-wide.

The card rooms are doing well enough in the USA and if online was ever legal again we’d have another poker mini-boom.

PL: Do you still think that smartphones and tablets are a problem at the poker table?

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It’s a big problem. Even the game I play in LA has problems with that. It’s not just the younger people either, it’s the older ones who are on their phones as well.

I go up to people and tell them, “Look to your left and look to your right. We are people. We are humans. You can talk to us.”

One of the great things about poker is that it’s a social game. It’s close to golf that way. You can just talk to people you’re playing with and have a good time.

It takes the good time out of the game if everybody’s just going to be on their laptop, tablets, phones and headphones.

I try to get people to not do that.

PL: You’ve been involved with the ESPN broadcast of the Main Event for a long time. What’s something you’d like to see happen in the tournament?

In the old days I would have liked to have seen Phil Ivey win but right now he’s dead to me since he doesn’t even show up for the WSOP at any point.

It always would have been a thrill to me to see Ivey win but I’m also always thrilled to see someone like a Chris Moneymaker or a Qui Nguyen can win the thing.

It’s two extremes.

PL: What do you think of the decision to end the November Nine?

Norman Chad and Jack Effel

Norman Chad at the November Nine.

It should be good for the game. The November Nine had a purpose and was good for the game in its own way. I think most people are not happy with the 100-day layoff.

The November Nine was good for some marketing purposes and the taped telecast leading up to it but to finish it all in the summer now and still have a two-day layoff between the final table is great.

The big benefit also is that we’re now live on ESPN for the whole Main Event. You still get the same three-day final table, it’s just in July.

PL: Do you have any highlights from the November Nine era?

Poker doesn’t seem like much of a spectator sport — people imagine gritty backrooms — so to be in the Penn & Teller theater gave it a whole different feel.

Everyone had like a hundred people in the audience, dressed for the occasion. It felt more like rugby or a College football game. That was a great to have.

PL: Is there anything you miss from the old days of poker?

When I started doing this I had no history in tournament poker but I miss Binion’s Horseshoe. I missed it even when we were still there. It just had the feel of old Las Vegas. It had the feel of gambling.

It also had a little urine smell sometimes but it just felt like old Las Vegas. Gritty gambling. It was downtown.

I miss Binion’s.

PL: You and Lon McEachern are basically the original poker commentators. Do you listen to other broadcasts? If so, which ones do you like?

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I listen to almost all of them. It’s a fairly small community. I listen to the EPT and I love James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton. Stapes does a lot and I love all of it.

I watch the World Poker Tour, not as much as the others, but I’ve always love listening to Mike Sexton. I wish I could have his voice. There’s something about it. It just sounds like poker.

Now I watch Poker Night in America also where Stapes shows up with Chris Hanson. I like that.

Most of the other guys I really enjoy. I also love Ali Nejad and Nick Schulman who have done the Super High Roller Bowl. They both do their jobs better than Lon and I do our jobs so maybe something bad will happen to them. [Laughs]

PL: How much longer do you see yourself commentating on poker? Have you considered retirement at all?

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Mike Sexton has the most “poker” voice?

I have no idea. When we were doing it for the first year I thought that would be it. Then I thought I’d be done after five years.

I mean when we started there was no poker on television. So why would we be doing more? Who’s going to watch poker on television?

I thought I would do it for five years because that’s generally how long I do things in my creative life. Now it’s been 15 years and I’m qualified to do nothing else at this point. [Laughs]

Since I’m still in my 50s I can do it for awhile before having to retire.

PL: Do you still enjoy it?

I still enjoy it. I love doing broadcasts. It’s creative. It’s entertainment. I love doing that.

If we were just doing poker analytics and strategy — I’m out of the booth. I can’t do that and I don’t enjoy watching that.

I enjoy doing it this way. It’s just a lot of fun.

PL: One last question. Remind me, what’s the deal with passing out Starburst at your table?

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Who wants Starburst?

I started the Starburst a few years ago. I used to bring it for a snack. Sometimes these tournaments feel like a cemetery or a morgue.

People are too serious. I found out that when you offer Starburst early on it works like a cocktail. Everybody loosens up.

Generally, in tournaments, I offer people Starburst. I tell them sometimes not to eat them and keep them as a lucky Starburst.

I’ve had people come up to me to tell me they want another Starburst because they cashed last time they got one.

It just makes the table feel better. We should be having a good time.

I’m not a paid sponsor either. Starburst just does the job very cheaply.