Televised poker certainly played its part in my development as a player and enjoyment of the game. Like many I would watch in fascination the original series of Late Night Poker, but more recently found the all-in fest of the WPT captivating. I loved the table talk and crazy moves from the likes of Laak, Hansen, Negreanu and Hellmuth in the first few seasons. I even have the box sets of the first few years of the tour.
But I must admit that my love of shows like the WPT waned for some time. Not because I didn't love watching poker or because they were in anyway poorly made. In fact to this day I can't walk away from a hand when the money has gone in the middle and there are cards to come, whether it's a 10p/20p home game or the WSOP Main Event I want to see if someone sucks out. The reason I stopped watching was that they became samey. There is only so many times you need to see ace-king v pocket queens.
Then a magical hand occurred where Gus Hansen hit quad fives on the turn and won a $500,000 pot from Daniel Negreanu. It became a Youtube classic and launched cash game poker as the future of cards on the small screen. Ask most poker players, whether they are cash game players or not, and most will tell you that High Stakes Poker is their number 1 show.
Recently I have stumbled across another rough diamond, the PartyPoker Poker Den: The Big Game. This surely is the UK equivalent of High Stakes Poker, much more than the Million Dollar Cash game on Sky Sports, because it depicts a seedier side of the cash game with much more entertaining (and explicit) banter at the table. The backstage shots of them all playing pool for money and Mad Marty Wilson counting cash in the backroom make it all the more authentic.
I also like the fact that this is a $20,000 max buy-in game. Unlike the crazy nosebleed stakes of High Stakes Poker, this is what I consider to be real cash game poker, the sort of thing you would expect to see at the Vic on any given day.
I would urge TV producers to take note of the increasing popularity of cash game poker, and for that matter the increasing popularity of cash game poker in general. Cash game poker is poker in its purest form and here are just some of the reasons why it makes sense to make more shows like the Poker Den and High Stakes Poker:
One of the problems with tournament poker, from a TV perspective, is that televised final tables often are full of unknown players. They are clearly skilful players, future stars in fact, but netherless the attraction of a lot of these shows was that the Iveys and Hellmuths of this world were once regular fixtures at the final table.
Anyone can sit down at a cash game, which means you can pick and choose who is invited to play in the TV games. You can even tinker with the seating plan so that Tony G is to the left of Hellmuth and sit back and wait for the fireworks. Every week High Stakes Poker turns out a table that has the poker fan watering at the mouth.
By the end of a tournament, even the craziest of players is more solid with their hand selection. Big cards and big pairs will usually win you the title when the blinds get high. But in a cash game the flexibility to play a mediocre hand and turn it into a monster is there. You'll often see an 8-way pot with everyone happy to play 8-2 out of position; as a result, you see some crazy action.
If there is one negative point about TV poker, is that it can wrongly imply that a poker tournament is a series of coinflips and the champion is the person that wins the most 50/50s. High blind poker can often make very skilful players look average when they are shoving their chips in the middle with king high. By contrast, a cash game should never get in that situation and the deep structure allows the players to make big moves and even bigger lay downs, to prove why they are the world elite.
The table talk in a cash game is always a lot more entertaining than in a tournament. Tension is high during a tournament and, much like a gruelling boxing match, everyone is very respectful of each other when it's over for them. Cash game poker is much more like a home game, and some of the table talk is relentless.
Who didn't love the Phil Hellmuth vs the rest of the table banter at the start of the last series of High Stakes Poker? Or the 7-2 game where Phil showed Mike Matsow a $100,000 bluff? Mike Matusow's abuse of the rest of the table is always fun, as are Negreanus well timed needles at his expense. Likewise the uncensored table talk in this series of the Poker Den has been very entertaining and watching the Devilfish completely unable to bite his tongue after a string of bad beats has been hilarious.
Ed note: Play against the most famous names in poker when you join Full Tilt Poker