Poker TV Shows
Poker TV shows became really famous, especially in North America and Europe, after poker got super popular. This happened a lot more after they made the “pocket cam” in 1997 (and started using it in the United States in 2002). This camera lets people watching at home see the cards that players keep hidden.
Poker TV shows used to be mostly for a small group of big fans, but in the early-to-mid 2000s, they were closely linked to the huge growth of the game. They might even be the main reason behind it. The World Poker Tour had some success on TV before ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP in 2003 made everything explode.
For years after that, it seemed like you couldn’t flip through channels without finding 2-3 poker shows playing at the same time, no matter what time it was.
Poker TV Shows
Just a few years back, Poker TV shows were fading away. But now, poker fans have something to cheer about. The World Poker Tour is still going strong, new big tournaments are being shown on TV, and PokerGO (which used to be Poker Central) is giving us non-stop poker shows, all day, every day. Here we have curated a list of some of the greatest poker TV shows:
World Series of Poker (ESPN)
The familiar strum of the opening tune has carried the “Grandaddy of them All” from the shabby rooms of Binion’s on Fremont Street to the expansive Amazon Room at the Rio. ESPN’s coverage of each year’s WSOP is still the benchmark for every other TV poker show.
Despite a decrease in ratings lately and criticisms about the commentary (“I think they’re the ‘Ramblin’ Wreck’!”), the WSOP will stay as the most popular TV poker show for the coming years.
Poker After Dark (NBC)
The presentation style of “Poker After Dark” feels more like a high-stakes home game rather than a tense winner-takes-all tournament. According to Phil Hellmuth, players are often more relaxed and talkative… sometimes too much. Speaking of Hellmuth’s outbursts, the clip above shows how the “Poker Brat” compares the show to the “World Wide Wrestling Federation.”
Players take the game seriously (maybe too seriously at times), and the commentary is informative and insightful. “PAD” stands as the top poker show on major TV networks.
High Stakes Poker (Game Show Network)
Although the WSOP holds the glamour and prestige, GSN’s “High Stakes Poker” showcases the most engaging in-game action among poker TV shows. The main distinction of “High Stakes” from other poker shows lies in its demonstration of real cash-game activity rather than a tournament. Players often throw wads of hundred-dollar bills into the pot alongside their chips. The visual impact of witnessing a player toss in enough cash to match half a year’s salary cannot be overstated.
Doubles Poker Championships (Game Show Network)
“Doubles Poker Championship” on GSN stands out as one of the most unique poker shows on TV. Rather than competing against each other, players team up in pairs to win a four-team single-table tournament. This format poses challenges beyond reading a single opponent: each player must comprehend their partner’s moves while also sizing up both members of the opposing teams.
The entertainment value for viewers often arises not just from the exceptional poker skills displayed by the pros, but from the clash of personalities among these strong characters. Imagine Phil Hellmuth, a sore loser reliant on his own abilities, facing meltdowns when let down by a teammate.
World Poker Tour (Fox Sports Net)
Over the past eight years, the World Poker Tour has stood as a cornerstone of TV poker programming. The WPT has churned out more poker content, hosting a new tournament nearly every week, than any other regular poker show. While the commentary might lean towards the cheesy side with Norman Chad, the graphics and presentation in each broadcast infuse the games with a dramatic feel.
The show has hopped across networks in recent years, beginning on the Travel Channel in 2003, moving to Game Show Network in 2007, and later finding its home on Fox Sports Net. However, the FSN format, dividing each two-hour show into two one-hour episodes, has made it a bit trickier to follow the action.
The Big Game
The Big Game brings together top professionals and affluent amateurs for a high-stakes cash game. Its unique format, blending seasoned players with wealthy newcomers, guarantees an exciting watch.
A captivating aspect of the show is the inclusion of the “Loose Cannon,” an amateur player backed by the show’s producers to play against the pros. These types of poker TV shows add an element of unpredictability & drama to the game.
For poker enthusiasts seeking to enhance their game, The Big Game offers valuable insights into the minds of top players. Listening to their analyses and strategy discussions can be an enriching learning experience.
The Shark Cage
The Shark Cage stands out as a distinctive poker TV show that puts a twist on traditional gameplay. It brings together a mix of professionals and amateurs, plunging them into a challenging underwater setting.
The show’s namesake, the “Shark Cage,” is a physical structure submerged underwater. Players eliminated from the game are sent to this cage, creating a dramatic element as they await an opportunity to rejoin the competition.
Under the added pressure of the cage, players must heavily rely on their bluffing and strategic skills to outmanoeuvre their opponents. The Shark Cage offers a unique spin on poker entertainment, injecting freshness into the scene.
Pokerography takes a unique approach to poker TV by showcasing in-depth profiles of poker legends and their paths to success.
This series dives deep into the personal lives and poker careers of iconic players such as Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson. It provides insights into their backgrounds, challenges, and triumphs.
For budding poker players, Pokerography presents a treasure trove of inspiration and invaluable lessons from the pros. Understanding the narratives behind these legends can be both motivating and enlightening.
Celebrity Poker Showdown
Celebrity Poker Showdown seamlessly combines the excitement of poker with the entertainment of celebrity culture. It features well-known personalities from the realms of film, television, and sports competing for charitable causes.
A charming aspect of Celebrity Poker Showdown is its charitable angle, where the winnings are donated to various causes. Celebrities participate not solely for the thrill of the game but also to support these diverse initiatives.
While some poker TV shows emphasize high-stakes competition, Celebrity Poker Showdown cultivates a more relaxed and jovial atmosphere. It serves as an excellent choice for viewers seeking poker entertainment without the intense drama.
Ace in the House
“Ace in the House” on GSN was a brief yet entertaining poker venture that sadly lasted only one episode.
The concept involved the crew visiting various home games across America, bringing in a professional table set-up with hole cameras, a dealer, and a pro player. The winner would claim a $10,000 prize.
The pilot episode featured Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and a cast that could easily fit into an early season of MTV’s The Real World.
What made “Ace in the House” stand out was its vivid portrayal of the contrast between amateur players and professionals, offering potential education to the average Joe/Jane.
As expected, Matusow dominated the first episode, securing the $10,000 first-place prize. It was a clear demonstration of skill in poker!
It’s unfortunate the show didn’t continue longer, considering the pivotal role of home games in the global poker community. Exploring that dynamic could have been quite intriguing.
United States Poker Championship
The United States Poker Championship, hosted at the Taj Mahal in A.C., felt like a counterpart to the World Series of Poker, sharing screen time on ESPN and even featuring Lon McEachern and Norman Chad in the commentary booth at times.
While mostly forgettable, the show did have a few memorable instances, like announcers mistakenly referring to Daniel Negreanu as “Danny” after his 1999 USPC victory.
I Bet You
“I Bet You” might not fit the conventional mould of a “poker show,” but it did showcase poker icons Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak.
The concept involved Esfandiari and Laak engaging in a series of prop bets worldwide, using their own money.
The show was quite enjoyable and highlighted some of the outlandish prop bets that poker pros tend to indulge in when passing time.
From wrangling alligators to racing sleds, lie detectors, sperm counts, and more, the prop bets varied in their entertainment value.
“I Bet You” ran for three seasons on MojoHD, establishing Esfandiari and Laak as two of the most engaging pros for TV audiences.
Considering the abundance of poker TV shows, “Underground Poker” offered a unique approach, featuring Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari, familiar from “I Bet You,” playing in underground cash games across the USA.
The crew filmed real games with real cash at stake, requiring players to consent to being on TV. Every hand played was authentic.
In the pilot episode, Laak and Esfandiari journeyed to New Orleans, participating in several high-stakes cash games. Esfandiari’s triumph with a $22k pot likely marked the episode’s peak.
Regrettably, The Discovery Channel chose not to proceed with “Underground Poker,” a decision that promptly shelved the promising show. It’s a shame because the concept was truly intriguing, featuring the formidable duo of Laak and Esfandiari.
“The Poker Million” stands as an early example of a groundbreaking poker TV show that laid the groundwork for tours like the EPT and WPT, albeit being largely forgotten now.
Launched by online poker operator Ladbrokes in 2000, it boasted a unique shootout format where players competed in heats to qualify for the final table.
Notably, John Duthie clinched the first tournament for £1m in November 2000 before later spearheading the EPT.
The show introduced frequent European poker commentator Jesse May. Despite its significance, “The Poker Million” failed to gain traction like the WPT or EPT and was infrequently held.
Gus Hansen secured the last instance of the tournament in 2010, pocketing $1m.
2 Months 2 Million
“2 Months 2 Million” stands among the few poker reality shows that made it to the screen.
Airing on G4TV, it stood out by aiming to showcase the captivating realm of online poker. The show followed elite players Dani “Ansky” Stern, Jay “KRANTZ” Rosenkrantz, Brian “flawless_victory” Roberts, and Emil “whitelime” Patel as they pooled their bankrolls to pursue a $2m win in a Las Vegas house over two months.
Producers spiced up the narrative by encouraging the Vegas experience: clubs, booze, and attractive company.
Although falling short of the goal, the team still netted $676k. G4 cancelled the show after one season but continued airing episodes in syndication until the network’s closure in 2014.
Interestingly, the show was pre-Black Friday, shot in 2009, posing intriguing “what-ifs” had it been attempted during the online poker exodus from the US.
European Poker Tour (EPT)
Considered the yin to the World Poker Tour’s yang, the European Poker Tour was conceived by Poker Million winner John Duthie.
Debuting in 2004, a year after the WPT, its initial season with seven stops and prizes less than €100k showcased a different approach from its North American counterparts.
What set the EPT apart was securing a significant sponsor in PokerStars, eventually becoming the tour’s sole owner in 2011. This backing catapulted it into Europe’s premier circuit and arguably a global sensation.
The TV production, aired on various networks and streamed on PokerStars.tv, boasted high polish and accessibility. The format mirrored the WPT but with final tables accommodating eight players. Commentators included Duthie, James Hartigan, and Joe Stapleton.
The EPT served as a launchpad for notable pros like Jason Mercier, Liv Boeree, Mike McDonald, and Jake Cody.
PokerStars shifted gears in 2017, discontinuing the EPT for the PokerStars Championship tour.