I missed Season One, Episode One of the World Poker Tour, though I've seen it since. The reason I missed it was simple enough; I didn't know it was on, and - at the time - I didn't play poker.
No, the first time I watched poker on television was an accident. I'd been watching something else on the Travel Channel on a Wednesday night; the program ended, and the World Poker Tour came on. I thought it might be mildly interesting, because of my general interest in playing cards. It was, and more than mildly: poker pro Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott was playing five others in Tunica, and he was unbeatable that night. The game was No-Limit Texas Hold'em, and I was hooked.
I liked the regular cast of the show, too: Mike Sexton, the former tournament poker pro; Vince Van Patten, of the Van Patten acting dynasty (youngest son of Dick Van Patten, from Eight is Enough; brother of James Van Patten; nephew of Timothy Van Patten, who starred in that ninja show with Lee Van Cleef); and the lovely Shana Hiatt, a Hawaiian Tropic bathing beauty. As it turns out, this cast stuck together for the first three seasons of the World Poker Tour, but Shana Hiatt will be moving on and will not be back in Season Four.
Like nearly every red-blooded guy in America, after a couple of episodes I was walking around saying, "I can be a poker pro!" Early on, the show's sponsors were online poker sites, like Party Poker and Poker Stars. Then beer commercials took over, and soon all my friends were walking around saying, "Smooth, but not rich." The initial response to the show was huge; it quickly became the Travel Channel's number one show, against all preliminary expectations.
Later, I expanded my viewing to ESPN's World Series of Poker. Apparently, they'd been televising previously recorded WSOP events for some time, but I never knew about it. The production values at WSOP were nowhere near what I was used to from WPT, but you did get to see all five days (each day boiled down to a 2-hour segment) of the world's ultimate poker tournament. The first World Series of Poker I watched was the 2003 event won by Chris Moneymaker, who'd qualified by winning an online poker satellite. Greg Raymer, who won in 2004, qualified the same way.
From the point of view of a professional poker player, the phenomenon of poker on television is a generally positive mixed blessing. Tournaments are huge now in terms of payouts. Of course, there are more players, too. And being on television shows others exactly how you play; something which some hyper-aggressive pros, like Gus Hansen, have struggled with.
From the point of view of amateur players, poker on television is great! It's fun, it's exciting, it generates respect for players, and it's educational. The only thing you have to remember is that watching poker on television does not exactly teach you how to be a poker pro. On the WPT, for instance, you're starting short-handed with six players, and going down from there. Plus, as Dan Harrington points out in his recent book, they only show you the hands with the highest entertainment value, not the meat-and-potatoes hands that cause people to be winners consistently.
But back to my earlier point - it's great fun! That's all I ask from
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