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Celebrity Poker Showdown
By Paul Kammen
February 26, 2005

What:  A weekly two-hour No Limit Holdem tournament of celebrities who play for their favorite charity.  The winner of each game moves on to the  "Championship Game"  at the end of the season,  when a larger prize for charity is given.  Commentators for the event are actor/comedian Dave Foley and professional poker player Phil Gordon.

When:  Tuesday evenings on Bravo at 8 Eastern and 7 Central. Also on repeats numerous times throughout the week.

A few years ago,  when looking for poker on TV,  one was hard-pressed to find anything.  I remember being ecstatic that ESPN was running an airing of the 1997 World Series of Poker one night in 2002.  I quickly set my VCR timer,  with the belief I would have to cherish this poker on TV until another re-run of an old World Series or movie with poker in it showed up on cable.

Those of us who love anything to do with poker remember those days,  when the WSOP re-runs were the best we could hope for,  and then it was just an hour-long coverage of the final table.  Things,  of course,  have changed.  A few weeks ago while on the stairclimber I have a love-hate relationship with,  I used the remote button to go back and forth between two poker tournaments on Fox Sports Net and ESPN. You can imagine my delight when ESPN expanded their World Series of Poker coverage this past summer to include the other events,  including two stud events and even razz.  It doesnít take an expert to tell you that poker is huge when a network can broadcast a razz tournament and still get good ratings.

There is a sea of poker on TV out there.  Most of the games feature pro players and have a lot in common.  But a unique show on the air right now is Celebrity Poker Showdown,  airing on Bravo.

As the name suggests,  Celebrity Poker Showdown features celebrities playing poker.  But who wants to see rich people play in an exhibition event that requires no effort to make it to the final table,   to win more money for themselves?  If it were just that,  the show probably would not be worth watching.  However,  each celebrity plays for charity.  The winner of each game comes away with $20,000 and is given a silver coin,  signifying he or she won that event.  All winners return at the end of the season to compete for $100,000 to be given to their charity and a gold coin as the prize.

Why are people tuning in? Celebrity Poker has several good things going for it.  One is a great set of commentators.  Phil Gordon,  whom you will often see playing in a tournament on another channel,  is one of the gameís top players,  and gives good insight on each hand.  Phil will chime in with how he thinks a hand should be played,  what a player should do,  and he's quick with the numbers.  But if Phil's partner on the show were another poker pro, the show would not be so entertaining.  The audience of the show isnít tuning in to see only expert poker play and commentary on how to improve their game.  Many watch just for the the celebrities.

Phil gets some great facts on each hand for the viewer who would like to know how the hand should be played, and plays an effective foil to co-commentator Dave Foley.  You may remember Foley as the supervisor from Wisconsin who got no respect on News Radio   or one of the Kids in the Hall.  Foley came on in the second season,  replacing Kevin Pollak (A Few Good Men)  who was entertaining as well,  but not as hilarious as Foley.  Foley makes great one-liners.  In one episode,  after watching a player win a huge pot,  Foley said, "And thatís about what I spend each month on Zoloft."

The producers also land entertaining celebrities for each show.  Most of the televised poker tournaments feature guys in sunglasses playing with chips,  studying their opponents,  not saying much of anything.  Celebrity Poker Showdown is anything but that.  The players interact with one another each hand,  and have fun with the audience as well.  My personal favorite was David Cross  (Arrested Development, Mr. Show)  who came on one episode in a bathrobe,  and on another dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses,  parodying the professional player Phil Laak, known as "the Unabomber," for the way he dresses for tournaments.

The show also features a  "Losersí Lounge"  where eliminated players can interact with Foley and Gordon,  and make comments as they watch the remaining players duke it out.

On a newsgroup I post on,  most of the commentary on the show has been negative.  "The play is so horrible,  I canít watch!"  is a typical comment.  Most of the play is indeed sub-par.  There are occasional exceptions;  Norm MacDonald  (Saturday Night Live) played a solid game and is a serious card player,  and actor Ben Affleck is a fantastic card player,  actually winning the 2004 California State Poker Championship.  While I do agree that the play is not the best,  I disagree with some of my fellow poker geeks who do not like the show.  I find the show very entertaining,  and as the ratings show,  many others do as well,  which is why the show is now in its fifth season.

The bottom line:  If you're looking for good tournament tactics on moving up in your next No Limit Holdem tournament,  this is not the show for you.  If,  however,  you're looking for a good alternative to the poker shows with the pros,  or just want to relax and have fun  (or stair-climb) for a couple hours,  Celebrity Poker Showdown is well worth it.


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Paul Kammen is an avid low-stakes poker player from the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He has played regularly at the Canterbury Card Club since it opened in 2000, playing primarily in low stakes Stud and Holdem games.  Since then,  he has played at various other casinos in Minnesota and Las Vegas,  and also plays regularly at the low-stakes tables on PokerStars.  He is the author of two books on poker, How To Beat Low-Limit 7-Card Stud Poker  (2003,  Cardoza Publishing) and How To Beat Seven Card Stud Eight-or-Better  (also available at ebookmall.com)  and available soon in print.

 

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