A Couch Potato’s Guide to Poker on TV!

I love Poker. I love to play it. I love to read about it. I love to watch other people play it, especially on TV. It’s an inexpensive way to learn from the pros. You can see what they do in real-world situations, not just what they say they would do in their books. Watching Poker helps improve your game. You can learn pot odds, combinations, order of hands and many other basics as well as advanced, psychological strategy such as tells.

I watch a lot of Poker on TV. Yes, I do. Apparently, the networks are taking notice of the TV-viewing public. A lot of us are crazy for Poker. In this article, I’m going to discuss several, TV series that are still running now, that I highly recommend and regularly watch.

1) Celebrity Poker Showdown. This is on Bravo, usually on Thursday nights. Poker Pro Phil Gordon and comedian Dave Foley (Kids in The Hall, News Radio) are the moderators for this light, fluffy show featuring celebrities such as Alex Trebek, Ben Affleck, Rosie O’Donnell and Camryn Manheim. Some of the celebs are really very good. Of course, there is also that wonderfully evil moment when you can watch someone on the D-List or above sink on the river.

Phil gives expert commentary. There’s a short film each week in which the basics of No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em and the betting rules are explained. It’s entertaining TV even for newbies, pros and the star-struck alike.

2) The World Series of Poker. ESPN is currently showing episodes of the 2005 WSOP. The other night, I saw Johnny Chan win his record 10th WSOP bracelet in the Pot Limit Hold ‘Em event. It was awesome. He beat out Phil ‘Unabomber’ Laak to take the lead against Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth, who were both present during the match, for the all-time record bracelet wins. Hey, don’t feel too bad for Mr. Laak. His girlfriend, the beautiful Hollywood actress, Jennifer Tilly, won the Ladies’ Event at the WSOP this year.

A week or two prior to that, I got to see Josh Arieh, a very good player who doesn’t get too much airtime (yet), play – and win – the Omaha tourney. It was great to see Omaha Hold ‘Em played on TV for a change. I loved it.

Even if you’re not a poker junkie like I am, you can appreciate the epic nature of the World Series of Poker with its international field featuring the best of the best – and a few Cinderella stories thrown in for good measure.

3) World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel. Travel the world from your chair and watch pros play in the World Poker Tour. They play in exotic locales such as Aruba and Paris. Host Mike Sexton is so knowledgeable about the game that he makes up for his co-host Vince Van Patten’s shtick. The man tries to give nicknames to any hand combination possible. Some of his groaners include:

QQ – Siegfried & Roy or Paris & Nikki (Hilton)

55 – Sammy Hagar (after the song, ‘I Can’t Drive 55’)

Rounding out the commentator group is the lovely Shana Hiatt. She interviews the pros and showcases different aspects of the poker-playing lifestyle on each episode. The WPT hosts names like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Howard Lederer and more. It’s a veritable who’s who of Poker and it comes fresh and new into your home each week.

These aren’t the only Poker shows on TV. ESPN has a drama called TILT starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) and Eddie Cibrian (Third Watch) which is a fictionalized version of a poker pro’s dirty and dangerous life.

E! Entertainment Network, beginning on St. Patty’s Day 2005, aired several episodes of E!’s Hollywood Hold ‘Em Game. Laura Prepon, of That 70s Show, produced the show and starred in one of the episodes with her live-in love Chris Masterson (Malcolm in the Middle) and some friends, including Chris’ brother and That 70’s show star, Danny Masterson (Hyde). Other episodes had Mila Kunis (Family Guy, That 70s Show), Macauley Culkin – yes, that Macauley Culkin. He’s Mila’s beau – and Shannon Elizabeth. I haven’t seen it on recently; but, I desperately hope that it comes back. It was pretty good poker and Phil Laak was the dealer/mentor/host.

The Game Show Network has Poker Royale. This is a 6-person tournament that runs for several weeks. There are several elimination rounds, then a finale. The first had all pros. It was men vs. women. The men won each individual match; but, the ladies, led by Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harmon and Cyndy Violette took the final – and decisive match. The second installment had Celebrities vs. Poker Pros. I found it to be a watered-down version of Celebrity Poker Showdown. I missed Phil Gordon and Dave Foley, gotta admit. The third installment, which is currently airing, is the Comedians vs. Poker Pros. I didn’t find this one too fun or funny; but, I’ve had other things to do lately.

Actually, I dropped watching that because the Fall Season picked up; and, well, I’d rather watch the Poker Superstars Invitational on FSN! This is awesome. It’s a turbo tourney – the blinds go up really quick and the play is fast – featuring Johnny Chan, Carlos Mortensen and other luminaries. It’s action-packed, high-stakes poker that goes by in the blink of eye.

If you can’t find a good online or home game, why not sit down and watch one on TV? Chances are – there’s one on the television right now. Go. Watch!