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Televised Poker

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Jul 01, 2007

When televised poker started in Europe, most of the professional players at that time were rather sceptical about it. The fact that the holecards were shown and that all viewers could see the hand selection of the pros, the patterns of their play, and any tells that they might give away was enough to convince many of these pros that participating in televised events was just plain silly. Their logical viewpoint was, "Why on earth would you want to expose your poker game for free to all of your potential opponents?" This was because, indeed, usually there was no added prize money, and as before, the pros still had to pony up the buy-ins themselves.

The pros were right about one other thing - because showing the holecards did have a major impact! Just ask John Duthie, who before the Poker Million was "just another solid player." Heck, even after he won that event, his opponents still gave John credit for having played his usual, solid game. But after they had seen the TV broadcast and some of the amazing bluffs that John had been able to pull off, I guess not a single person would even dream of Duthie as being "solid" anymore. If anything, they now refer to him as "the man who robbed his way to the title."

Slowly but surely, players began to see the benefits of televised poker. The exposure - and as a result, the potentially lucrative sponsorship deals - started to gain their interest. And, indeed, the growth of the number of poker TV shows and the number of sponsored players went hand in hand. This growth was such that nowadays, many high-profile players don't want to enter any kind of event unless it is televised.

But does that mean that these TV shows are in fact good? Well, in my view, not really. Many of them are simply a show of a few all-in hands, a so-called expert for a bit of commentary, a co-commentator who tries to be funny even when there is no real need to be, and, to top things off, a female presenter who wouldn't dream of voluntarily watching a poker hand. Fortunately, the European Poker Tour broadcasts seem to be an exception, and they have reached a more than acceptable quality level, with a decent balance between what the experienced viewers want to see and what interests those who are a bit less into poker strategy. Yet, many "rip-offs" in various countries are just fluff, and the many celebrity poker shows or the invitationals that are organized especially for TV usually don't have the tension, excitement, or simple quality to maintain the viewers' interest for more than just a short time.

The few (specialized/high-stakes/analytical) poker shows that are in-depth and of high quality are often broadcast on the Internet rather than on TV. However, I think that in order to maintain the popularity of poker, we also need sufficient high-quality poker shows on television (for instance, the TV show that our very own Ola Brandborn hosts in Sweden, or the Dutch TV show Poker Uncovered). If we continue to dummy down and keep making poker look like a game that "anyone can play" and that doesn't require all that much insight or finesse to be successful, in time the perception of the viewers may be that poker is not much more than just a bunch of sunglasses and headphones, big-boob women, trash-talking players, all-in coin flips, and bizarre bluffs. And this is an image that (at least in my view) we shouldn't want to portray - as it will considerably limit the long-term success of poker as an exciting yet serious game.