The Smart Money

In the best media decision of the last 12 centuries, Miller beer bought a chip and a chair in the World Series of Poker. How better to reach the all-important 21-64 youth market than to sponsor this grueling 36-day sporting event? The replays on ESPN2 attract a bigger audience than the original broadcast, which is not so much a broadcast as updates on poker Web sites in computer-geek sans serif type like this:

5:55 p.m. Just before the dinner break, pro Al Krux from Syracuse New York goes all-in with 10-2 unsuited against amateur furniture store owner Sam Eleison from White Plains New York, the chip leader, holding a pair of Johnnies. Flop comes 10-10-2, and Al’s claque goes wild.

The World Series of Poker will be played, shot and edited in June and July for later viewing—much later viewing. Kind of like if the World Series of Baseball became the January Classic because it was only ready for prime time 60 days after Red Sox first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz got the final out and ran off with the ball that ended the 86-year Ruthian curse. But poker is interesting not so much for who wins as how they win, so the ad infinitum delayed replays work. (Ads infinitum, too, as commercial time on some of the poker telecasts seems to be running even money with the playing time.)

At last count, seven TV networks are playing out this hot hand: one-on-one poker superstars (NBC); men versus women (Game Show Network); the World Series of Poker (ESPN2); celebrities (Bravo); the World Poker Tour, with commentary by part-time poker player Mike Sexton and part-time actor Vince Van Patten (Discovery Channel); real-time tournaments that let you kibitz the fold-fold-fold lulls between the all-in heartbreaks (Fox Sports Network); New Yorkers versus Bostonians at the Turning Stone casino on an Oneida Indian reservation in upstate New York (Yes Network). This last is my favorite, as the noir lighting and sullen, coffee-housing players most resemble the last of eight annual Partners’ No-Limit Hold ‘Em $25 buy-in tournaments that MVBMS Euro RSCG held December 2001 in the basement of the Peking Duck House at 28 Mott Street, just south of Canal.

Miller wasn’t searching for a new medium when it went for the World Series of Poker, just new programming in an old medium. It lucked out that such clever players as Men “The Master” Nguyen—he of the sudsy spit-take in last year’s World Series that was replayed in everything but stop action—and Scotty Nguyen not only celebrate with a beer or four afterward, but like having a few tastes as the cards unfold through the flop, the turn and the river.

If Miller or anybody is searching for a new medium—one in which the impossible is achieved: each advertisement is a welcome relief instead of a potentially annoying interruption—I suggest the search include Hoboken, N.J., at the terminus of the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) trains. This venerable subway line, the first in the world to go under a major river, holds within its circa-1908 tubes the first new medium since the Pentagon ordered up the invention of the Internet in the late ’60s/early ’70s.

You pay your fare, hustle down the stairs and beat somebody to a seat. Train pulls out, and you look out the window, expecting to see, well, nothing. Nothing except the almost century-old walls, not quite growing stalactites but perhaps sporting some leftover Mike Quill “No contract. No work” placards, a fatted rat or two, a trackwalker having his petit dejeuner or a full-time resident tunnel person waving as your car passes.

Then you see it.

It’s the handiwork of Joshua Spodek, 35-year-old holder of a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University and founder of a company called Submedia. Unlike the poker table and ad-agency copy departments, where idiot-savants abound, the world of doctoral candidates in astrophysics is open only to savant-savants. Spodek first took his degree and went off to help construct an X-ray observational satellite, a possible step to the fulfillment of the Lucasian prophecy if not the Reagan one.

What is it you see? The most welcome commercial ever observed—what amounts to a 15-second movie on the dank subway tunnel’s wall. I actually saw three subway riders smile, breaking all previous workbound-commuter records. Using light and slats, Doc Spodek brings walls to life as you pass, no matter what your speed, even if you’re on the F train making its ponderous way from Roosevelt Island to Sutphin Boulevard, on to Jamaica-179th Street.

On the Submedia Web site, its tunnel vision boasts of astronomical recall stats, all of which are believable. Invested in the company are John Bernbach, son of Bill (whose agency once delighted BMT platforms with “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” posters enhanced by Howard Zieff stills of unlikely Jewish rye-bread fressers), and Martin Puris, Upper East Side straphanger and co-creator of the BMW brand more than 30 years ago.

They are forward-looking investors if they anted up on the basis of Josh’s original model of paper, balsa wood and glue. Not exactly like Warren Buffet entering a Hold ‘Em hand with Aces wired. More like “Mad Dog” Beck venturing his capital into a pot with unsuited connectors like J-10 in which a Q is gloriously part of the flop, a K comes, bearing hope on the turn, and then, of course, the transcendent Ace hits on the river. As the more voluble dealers say at Foxwoods, Tunica or Gardena: “Broadway!” The nuts, in other words. That is, if some hoople didn’t hang around and catch a flush, a boat or quads while you’re sitting there chug-a-luggin’ your self-congratulatory beer.