Going global - poker on the TV
Over the past decade or so, the hole cam revolution has triggered the burgeoning growth of televised poker. Poker first arrived on the screens in the UK in the form of Channel 4's Late Night Poker, and has since become a phenomenon across the Atlantic through popular shows such as High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark. The introduction of the hole cam gave a new dimension to televised poker, adding tension and giving viewers a window into the minds of poker pros.
Hall of famer and PartyPoker ambassador Mike Sexton was instrumental in bringing televised poker to the US by negotiating a deal with ESPN for the screening of the World Poker Tour. Chris Moneymaker's rags to riches WSOP Main Event story in 2003 initiated the poker boom, and since then broadcasters have jumped at the chance to bring viewers televised poker.
Rigorous editing of filming sessions means that fans get to witness all the exciting moments. The influence of network giants such as PokerStars and Full Tilt means that televised poker is a massive marketing industry. Websites compete for commercial slots in between programs, and are eager for pros to represent them and advertise their respective logos.
Televised poker relies on more than just the hole cam for its success. Players such as Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and Gus Hansen have become almost cult, celebrity icons, and fans are genuinely interested in following their careers. Attractive presenters such as Amanda Leatherman and Kara Scott, coupled with Hollywood actors including Don Cheadle and Jennifer Tilly taking to the felt add elements of glamour and showbiz respectively.
Several poker pros have a real presence in front of cameras, whether it's Phil Hellmuth with his foul mouth tirades, Tony G and his obnoxious berating of opponents, or Daniel Negreanu and his chirpy thoughts on the state of poker. The poker community has grown so much off screen through forums such as twoplustwo that members become gripped by the chance to see real pros in action. Fans were clamouring for a sight of 'Isildur1' on the television screen before he unveiled himself as Swede Viktor Blom.
Undoubtedly the biggest draw of television poker is the chance to see monster pots and staggering amounts of money change hands. Pots frequently spiral above the $500k mark on GSN's High Stakes Poker, and live coverage of the WSOP 'November Nine' marks the $10 million crowning of a new world champion.
Not all poker shows are as captivating - the UK Party Poker Heats on Channel 4 for instance adopt a standard, rather mind-numbing SnG format. The most iconic show, which for six seasons was hosted by the witty Gabe Kaplan, is GSN's High Stakes Poker. It has provided us with a whole host of stellar moments, from Hansen and Negreanu's quads over full house battle, to Barry Greenstein's $1 million clash with hotshot Tom Dwan.
The charismatic charm of gambler Sammy Farha, exuberance of Daniel Negreanu and relentless betting from Tom Dwan have served to capture the hearts of poker aficionados. To the disappointment of many fans, Kaplan relinquished his role as presenter for season seven, and members of Team Full Tilt were omitted from the line-up as PokerStars assumed sponsorship. Poker After Dark is second to HSP in the popularity stakes, offering a blend of SnG's and cash games along with themed shows, such as 'Nets v Vets' and 'Ladies Night'.
Arguably the most competitive cash game, the Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game, is based in Europe, and attracts household names such as Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan and Patrik Antonius. To watch tournament poker, viewers can tune into WPT coverage with Mike Sexton and Vince Patten, as well as ESPN's annual coverage of the WSOP.
Novelty shows, such as PokerStars's 'Big Game' where a series of amateurs square off against pros in a contest to secure the most profit, have also blossomed. In fact, most live poker outside of Bobby's Room at the Bellagio and the high stakes games in Macau is covered in some way or another. Even national tournaments, such as the GUKPT in England, receive coverage.
In order to generate more interest, televised poker needs to focus on high stakes cash games. The problem with tournament poker is that it cannot be streamed live, and so viewers inevitably know the results before watching the action. Observing how the new generation of hyper-aggressive internet whizz-kids, including the likes of Isildur1 and Dan 'Jungleman' Cates adapt to live scenarios will be of particular interest. If and when the poker boom reaches Asia, televised poker will reach a whole new level.