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Behind The Scenes At The Poker Lounge With Full Tilt

First Broadcast of The Poker Lounge Tonight on Channel 4 in UK at 12:05 A.M.

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The Poker Lounge in Association with Full Tilt PokerThe Poker Lounge in Association with Full Tilt Poker will be broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 from Tuesday, June 22 (12:05 a.m.) for 10 weeks. Card Player Europe takes an exclusive looks behind the scenes.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Poker Lounge in Association with Full Tilt Poker.

This crack poker production team has assembled a veritable army of fearsome poker professionals, plucked from the highest echelons of the poker world, and has brought them to Cardiff to duke it out in a series of single table tournaments. The format will be familiar to regular viewers of televised poker ⎯ six competitors each put up $20,000, and the last player standing walks away with the entire $120,000, to go along with the satisfaction of having successfully fought off some of the very best players in the game in the process. The series consists of 10 tournaments, each with a unique line-up of players, with weekly broadcasts this summer on Channel 4 delivering the biggest hands and most rib-tickling table talk (of which there is an abundance) right into your living room.

There can be little doubt that The Poker Lounge boasts one of the most exciting player line-ups that has been assembled for a tournament of this kind. The opening half of the series sees 1996 World Series of Poker main event champion Huckleberry Seed face down players like Gavin Smith and Patrik Antonius in one game, while another bout has three-time World Poker Tour champion Gus Hansen square off against Andy Bloch and, among others, Phil “The Unabomber” Laak. Laak’s girlfriend, actress and World Series of Poker bracelet winner Jennifer Tilly, also showed up to compete in two of the series’ tournaments, reaching heads-up play with Patrik Antonius in one of her games.

Antonius is not alone in representing mainland Europe though, with Copenhagen’s Theo Jørgensen arriving to The Poker Lounge fresh from his victory at the World Poker Tour Grand Prix de Paris, where he took home an impressive €638,377 for his commanding victory over that final table (see Jen Mason’s column in this issue for more). Adding to what was already an imposing tournament record, this gave him a lot of momentum as he entered battle in The Poker Lounge, and his opponents were certainly wary of this.

Speaking about him in a post-match interview, 2008 Irish Poker Open champion Neil The Poker Lounge in Association with Full Tilt PokerChanning joked that, “In all the time I’ve played him, actually, I’ve never, ever been on his table where he didn’t go on to either win the tournament, or make the final, winning thousands and thousands of dollars. When I found out he was in my heat, I almost rang in sick!”

A number of British players joined Channing in representing the homegrown talent, with players like 2009 World Series of Poker main event finalist James Akenhead, and Hendon Mobsters Barny Boatman, Ross Boatman, and Ram Vaswani lending their own unique brand of native humour (along with their formidable skills) to the proceedings.

The Poker Lounge’s metaphorical deck contains a few wild cards too, in the form of its online qualifiers, with one joining the five invited professionals in each round. These qualifiers range from established online players like Harrison Kaczka to veterinary bookkeeper Axel Noack, who qualified for just 5,000 Frequent Player Points on FullTiltPoker, earning the extraordinary opportunity to compete against five of the world’s best players for a grand prize of $120,000. Was Noack conscious of the television cameras and whole-card monitors that were staring at him as he was playing? “No, actually, you forget about the cameras after a while. The players are far more intimidating!” Laughing, he adds, “It’s an amazing experience, I can actually recommend it for everyone!”

It’s become the norm in large open tournaments these days for online qualifiers to far outnumber the professional players, but The Poker Lounge turns this back around on the qualifiers, with the pros now outnumbering them five-to-one. However, the professionals know better than to dismiss these qualifiers, with Welsh player Roberto Romanello commenting that, “I always give everyone respect at the table, no matter who they are. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, or how much better you are than your opponent, they’re always capable of taking you out.”

The presence of so many familiar faces at the table affords the players the opportunity to inject some jollity into the activity too. In one match, the participants concocted a rather interesting rule. As Andy Bloch tells it, “We decided to change the game around a little. First, we just arranged it so the winner had to show one card, and then we decided to switch it up even more and make the loser show both cards!” He continues, “I think it did affect people’s play a little bit, because you start to realise ‘well, if I fold, I gotta show my hand. I don’t wanna let them see what I raised with!’”

The televised sit-and-go format adopted by Full Tilt Poker and Presentable Productions for The Poker Lounge has been a hugely successful one ever since the birth of modern televised poker, which came about with the introduction of the now-ubiquitous whole-card camera on Presentable’s own Late Night Poker.

Late Night Poker crashed onto UK television screens over a decade ago, and since then, many professional poker players have developed an affinity for the format, with most having a story to tell about their experiences, and a lesson they learned from those events.

Andy Black, Ireland’s all-time top money earner and Full Tilt pro, has had one particularly memorable battle in the format, “I’ve played in this format once before, on Poker After Dark, and I had all the chips ⎯ I had around $115,000 against Mike Matusow and it was the battle of the blow-up kings [both Black and Matusow famously “blew up” on the road to crashing out of the final table of the 2005 World Series of Poker main event]. I got to $115,000 and he had $5,000, and he beat me. So I have that knocking around in my head, so I’m gonna get that out of my head and think ‘that’s the past, this is the present’ and try and play well.”

Black certainly heeded his own advice, as the awed spectators discovered when he found himself heads up against online qualifier Fabian Quoss. On a board of Ad 8h 7c 8c, Black threw $1,000 into the pot, only to have his bet raised to $4,000 by Quoss. A call from Black allowed both players to see a river of the 8d, which put three eights on the board. A bet of $10,000 from Black was greeted by an all-in from Quoss, and Black had, it transpired, a very tough decision on his hands. After thinking for some time, Black tried to elicit some information from the German, asking, “Have you got any opinions to offer on the situation?” He then muttered, “Only one card can beat me,” almost to himself. It was clear at this point that Black’s hand contained an ace, which gave him a full house, eights full of aces, and the only card that could deny him the pot was the last eight in the deck. After a lengthy session in the tank, he let go of his hand, discovering after the match had concluded that Quoss did indeed have the eight.

Andy BlackSpeaking after the game had finished, Black outlined the thought processes that led to this pivotal fold.

“It felt like he had an eight, the way he’d been playing; he had been turning over hands mostly, and he didn’t seem to be making too many bluffs,” he explained. “The bit that clinched it for me was that, even when I called on fourth street, when there was two eights there, I thought he had three eights, but I had to call anyway. So I sort of decided on fourth street that I thought he had the eight, and obviously I can call one bet, and then the final thing I did ⎯ and you’ll catch it on the television cameras, I’m not sure if you noticed this ⎯ what I did was I put myself into exactly his body position, just to get a sense of how would somebody be in that body position. Is that the body position of a man who has four eights or of someone who’s bluffing? I’d decided that he didn’t have the same hand as me, so it was he either had the eight or nothing. I felt very sure and very confident, so I decided to make what turned out to be a very crucial fold.”

Black wasn’t the only player to whom Quoss posed a serious dilemma either. Earlier in the same match, Gavin Smith ended up similarly entangled in a pot with him. Preflop, Smith raised to $1,100 from the cut-off with Kd 9d and Quoss called with Qc Tc. Both players saw a flop of Qd 9c 3c, and Quoss led out, Smith raised to $4,200, and his opponent reraised all in. Smith pondered over his response for some time, eventually making the call and putting himself at risk. “Fabian made a bet that I thought he’d make with a lot of different things”, said Smith, after the hand. “I made it 4,200 and he moved in, and I really thought he had clubs. He only had $8,700 left, I thought there was a real chance that he had a nine as well and I could have him outkicked.” A 4d on the turn brought some hope for Smith in the form of a flush draw, but the river was no help, leaving Smith with no choice but to make the long walk to the studio door.

The format employed by The Poker Lounge is one that has proven itself a favourite of both spectators and players, and it certainly seems to have longevity on its side, with this series being just the latest in a long line of similar tournaments that have delivered in both entertainment and ratings time and time again. The players have their own insights to offer on why this is the case. “Well, I think that people want to see things down to a winner, and they also want to hear interaction with players, so something where there’s a lot of chat is good,” suggests Roland de Wolfe. “Here, you’re going to get players like Erick Lindgren, Huck Seed, and Patrik Antonius, and people want to see them rather than people they’ve never seen play before.”

From the perspective of the players, Andy Bloch thinks the time investment required is part of the attraction, “Most tournaments, you buy in for whatever amount, and most of the time you lose all your money, you don’t get any time on TV, and you don’t know how long you’re going to be playing. Here, you know you’re gonna be done in half a day, win or lose.”

Whatever the reasons, The Poker Lounge is sure to satisfy the summer television poker appetite of even the most feverish poker fan, offering all of the excitement, comedy, and drama that we’ve come to expect from any gathering of top-tier players like these.

The Poker Lounge in Association with Full Tilt Poker will be broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 from Tuesday, June 22 for 10 weeks.