Jeff Platt makes his living interviewing some of poker’s most talented players. Before he was interviewing the poker world’s best, however, it was his job to interview one of the most successful, and intimidating, coaches in basketball history on a regular basis.
The Texas native graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism, and he currently uses that degree as a sideline reporter and commentator for some of poker’s most high-profile tournaments and broadcasts.
After finishing school, Platt started his career in Mississippi working as a sports reporter for a local CBS affiliate. Then he went back home to Dallas to take a job covering the Mavericks for ESPN Radio. The third stop in his sports reporting career brought him to a local TV station in San Antonio, where a majority of his time was spent covering the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.
“You can imagine that about 90 percent of the work at a TV station in San Antonio is going to be following the San Antonio Spurs,” said Platt. “To go to all their games, to travel with them, to follow them around during the playoffs… it really was just an incredible opportunity.”
Interviewing poker’s best on live television might be a nerve-racking experience for most, but compared to asking Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich questions every day over the course of the season, asking Daniel Negreanu about how he played a particular hand is a walk in the park.
“To ask questions to Pop night-in and night-out was a terrifying experience, but I think I grew as a reporter because of it,” said Platt.
For those that don’t follow the NBA, Popovich is known for his intense demeanor with the media. He won’t tolerate anything that he deems to be a stupid question or comment. And he’s not shy about letting the reporter know it as well.
Platt was well aware of Popovich’s reputation and decided to learn the ropes a bit before diving in with a question. He wanted to make sure his first impression on the five-time NBA champion was a good one.
“I think it was my third game covering the Spurs,” recalled Platt. “My first two games, I just wanted to sit back and see how things operate, especially in a post-game setting with Pop. I was way too scared to ask any questions the first or second game. But I knew if I was going to be there a while, I would eventually have to ask him a question.”
During that third game, Platt made sure he paid attention to every detail, in hopes of crafting a quality question for the post-game interview.
“I’m watching intently. I’m taking notes. I’m ready for it,” recalled Platt.
In that third game, one player on the Spurs scored 18 points in only 20 minutes of playing time. Platt decided that he would be the topic of his first question to Popovich.
“It was a super-productive, super-efficient performance [by that player]. We get into the post-game press conference and I’m holding this boom mic with both arms. My hands are shaking. I’m so terrified and someone had asked about his performance on the defensive end,” said Platt. “And Pop was talking about his defense, I was just like, ‘Okay, this is it. This is my time. It’s the perfect time to jump in.’ I was so scared, but I just had to get this question out of my mouth.”
His first encounter with Popovich didn’t have the ending he had hoped for.
“I simply asked, ‘What made him so efficient on the offensive end tonight?’ Which I thought was a perfect question. He did it off 10 shot attempts,” said Platt. “I get the question out, I’m feeling good and I’m waiting for his answers. And I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. He is leering at me for a good five seconds or so, which doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but imagine the moment. There are 20 reporters in the room, Pop is in a dead stare at me after I’ve asked the question. I’m clearly done with the question. Finally, he says ‘I don’t know how to answer that’ and then he turns around and walks away.”
Despite the initial experience with Popovich, Platt said that he eventually ended up having a “decent relationship” with the head coach, and became a better reporter because of it.
“You just learn to ask better and better questions,” said Platt. “And I think that helped me in a tremendous way throughout my journalism career.”
Platt knew he wanted to go into sports broadcasting from a young age. Like most guys, he had a love for sports since childhood, but knew early on in his life that his chances of playing professionally were nonexistent. If he wanted to stay around athletics, he was going to have to find a different route to do it. Broadcasting was the route he chose. But then came the 2003 World Series of Poker, which sparked a new passion for Platt.
Platt’s group of friends in high school watched Chris Moneymaker win $2.5 million and they started a weekly sit-n-go tournament. From there, his love of the game continued to grow. He played in Los Angeles cardrooms during his time at USC, and made semi-regular trips up to Oklahoma casinos to play when he was home in Texas.
“I wish I had some fancy, creative, one-of-a-kind story for you, but it was simply the Moneymaker boom,” said Platt about his poker beginnings.
Eventually, he grinded his way up the ranks and was taking shots at a couple $1,000 and $1,500 buy-ins at the WSOP once he was old enough to do so. During the 2014 WSOP, Platt finished runner-up in a $235 daily deepstack event for $31,913.
The score was enough for a family friend to put him into the $10,000 WSOP main event. Platt went on to finish 203rd for $44,728, the second-largest score of his career. At that point, Platt hadn’t begun working in the poker yet. He was still a fan and in his own words, a “barely above average recreational tournament player.”
“I can remember vividly sitting down for the first hand of the 2014 main event and it wasn’t quite the level of nervousness that I experienced talking to Greg Popovich, but it sure was close,” said Platt. “And it was just every single hand, every single day, meant so much to me.”
Before the 2014 main event, the biggest buy-in that Platt had ever cashed in was a $365 buy-in at a WSOP Circuit stop at Choctaw Casino in Durant, Oklahoma. This buy-in was more than 27 times bigger than that. With that amount of money on the line, and all of the prestige that surrounds the tournament, Platt’s emotions swung just as much as his chip stack.
“I’m going to use a basketball analogy here,” he said. “Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle always said in the playoffs ‘When you win a playoff game, you’re on such a high, you feel like you’re just not going to lose one again. And when you lose a playoff game, you’re on such a low that you feel like you’re never going to win one again.’ And I kind of relate that to the main event.”
“When you win a hand, you feel like you’re on top of the world and you feel like this is your tournament. When you lose a hand, you’re just crushed. It’s pure devastation mode. You think that you’re about to get eliminated. So it’s just a wild roller coaster ride of emotions. It’s a ride that I still think of constantly to this day.”
He followed up the initial experience with another, deeper run in 2015 when he finished 60th for $113,764, the largest score of his career.
“I remember walking into the Rio every single day, being interviewed by Kara Scott, knowing when the cameras were at my table,” he said. “Witnessing the bubble in the 2015 main event because I was at the table, spinning a short stack up like crazy, and my best friend surprising me to come sweat the action on the rail.”
Platt never had any plans of turning into a full-time poker grinder. He loved his career in broadcasting and realized that there was an opportunity to merge his love of poker and broadcasting together.
“I feel like a couple years ago, I had this somewhat cliché light bulb moment,” said Platt. “I knew that I had a passion for broadcasting and I knew that I had a passion for poker. I simply thought to myself ‘What if I could merge these passions in one outlet?’”
With back-to-back deep runs in the most-watched televised poker tournament on the planet, Platt had made a couple connections with the production crew. Following his 2015 cash, he kept in touch with producer Dan Gati.
Platt sent Gati an email “every four or five months” just to remind him that he was alive and interested in any possible broadcasting opportunity that might pop up with the company. A couple years went by and then Platt had the chance he was looking for.
“I was able to audition with Dan and Mori in December 2017 when my contract in San Antonio was coming up in March 2018,” said Platt. “After I auditioned, they were like ‘Oh, good job,’ and I felt pretty good about it.”
Poker PROductions, the company that produces WSOP broadcasts, contacted Platt in March, just before his contract expired in San Antonio. He wasn’t guaranteed a full-time job, but the company told Platt that they would use him at least sparingly.
“I figured ‘You know what? Let’s go for it,’” said Platt. “I didn’t really want to re-sign in San Antonio for another three years or so. I wanted to take a chance and take a shot. I decided to move out here to Las Vegas, and here we are.”
Now Platt works as one of the broadcastesr for several Poker PROductions live streams and also worked as a sideline reporter during the 2019 WSOP, where he would have to interview poker pros on the spot after they busted from a tournament.
“I was doing the $50K Poker Players Championship. Of course, running deep in that $50K was Phil Ivey,” said Platt. “And because of my past experience dealing with Pop, it didn’t bother me to approach him and ask any poker player questions, even if I knew he would be short with me.”
Ivey busted in eighth-place for $124,410 and declined Platt’s interview request, but even a complete rejection was easier to deal with than asking a bad question to the Spurs’ head coach.
“He did so in an extremely nice way,” said Platt about Ivey’s rejection. “He said, ‘Maybe some other time.’ Now we haven’t actually got to that other time yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but I immediately thought of Pop.”
In his most recent excursion as a player, Platt took his seat in an episode of the Poker After Dark reboot. Platt played during “Seat Open Week” where he competed in a $25-$50 no-limit hold’em cash game with Brandon Cantu, Mike Matusow, Justin Young, Barry Woods, Brandon Schaefer, and vlogger Trevor Savage.
Thanks mostly to winning an $18,000 pot with A-K against Cantu’s pocket kings, Platt left the game a winner to the tune of $21,950. In a way, playing in the cash game brought up similar feelings to when he played in the WSOP main event.
“I kept using the word surreal to describe my experience on Poker After Dark,” said Platt. “It wasn’t just surreal because of the stakes, or because of the money that was in front of me. It was surreal to me because I’ve watched Poker After Dark since it was on NBC back in 2007 and certainly since it relaunched on PokerGO in 2017.”
Platt would not normally play in this big of a game, and sold off enough action to where he felt comfortable. If he lost, so be it. He didn’t lose. He played the biggest stakes he’s ever played and walked away a winner.
“It was certainly the biggest pot I’ve ever played in my life by a mile,” said Platt about his hand with Cantu. “I flopped an ace. Easy game.”