Poker on TV – Boom and Bust
JackpotCity online casino takes a look back at the heyday of televised poker and the greatest poker shows of the “poker boom”, as well as a few local offerings.
What happened to all the TV poker?
What happened to all those celebrity poker shows and poker tournaments we used to be able to watch on mainstream TV? Just fifteen years ago, there was a wealth of televised poker to watch on the major channels in the United States and United Kingdom. In Australasia, we had our own celebrity poker shows around 2007 too. But not anymore. What happened to all those poker shows? JackpotCity online casino thought it was time to find out…
A short history – the poker boom
Poker was popular on TV during the “poker boom”. The poker boom was a period from 2003 until 2006 when poker and its variations were, well, “booming”, all over the world. During the boom, the number of poker players more than doubled each year, with most people playing Texas Hold’em poker. Even kiwis were tempted away from their pokies’ machines to try their hands at poker. The start of the poker boom is generally attributed to the release of the film Rounders and rise of online casino poker. Poker’s popularity was boosted by poker TV shows, which were made interesting thanks to a little gadget known as the “pocket cam”.
2002: The pocket cam (or hole cam)
Before the era of the pocket cam, watching a game of poker on TV was about as interesting as watching paint dry. Televised poker tournaments relied on commentators to describe what was happening in the game to viewers at home. It was like watching a documentary about two people sitting around a green felt table playing cards. Not very interesting. The pocket cam changed all this because it allowed viewers to see the game from the perspective of both players. The audience could now see each player’s cards and start to understand more about the players’ thought process. It made watching the game on TV much more entertaining and exciting. The viewers knew even more than the players did!
The pocket cam was first used on Late Night Poker on British Channel 4. It was quickly picked up on other shows like Poker Million and the 2002 World Series of Poker. In another popular show, High Stakes Poker the players placed their cards over a glass table that allowed viewers to see their cards. Thanks to the addition of the pocket cam, poker shows were a hit. The poker craze was launched. The growing number of online casinos on the internet helped boost this phenomenon.
2003: The Moneymaker effect
The rise of poker, and consequently, poker TV, is also partly attributed to the “Moneymaker effect”. An accountant from Tennessee and part-time poker player, Chris Moneymaker, won the main event at the 2003 World Series of Poker, also known as WSOP, and his win revolutionised the industry. Moneymaker was the first person to win a world championship after qualifying through an online casino. Prior to this online poker was a very niche industry. At the championship he went on to win the top prize of US$2.5 million. The win made him an overnight poker superstar and millionaire. In 2019, Moneymaker entered the Poker Hall of Fame.
His success sparked public interest in the game of poker. Could you actually make money playing poker? Even if you were a nobody in the poker world? Televised tournaments and other poker shows revealed to the public that people were making a living from playing poker. The idea that you could make money playing poker, and good money too, even if you were an unknown player, intrigued the public.
2011: Black Friday, boom turns to bust
Before Black Friday came to mean a great day for snapping up bargains at your local shopping centre and online, it stood for something entirely different in the poker world. Black Friday is generally accepted as the end of the poker boom period. On Black Friday, online gambling was made illegal in the US. The main online casinos, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Cereus (Ultimate Poker/UltimateBet) were forced to stop offering monetary prizes for online casino games. These three companies represented a 95% market share of the US online poker business at the time.
Televised poker had been heavily financed by these online casinos. In fact, before Black Friday these companies spent approximately US$200 million on advertising and marketing in the US (Wikipedia figure). After Black Friday, many poker shows, poker tournaments and professional poker players around the world lost their sponsorship. The shows Poker After Dark, The Big Game, 2011 North American Poker Tour lost their funding. In addition, many players were unable to qualify online for the WSOP when online casinos were closed down. The future of High Stakes Poker was jeopardised. The reputation of online casinos in general was damaged: Full Tilt Poker was accused of criminal fraud and running a Ponzi scheme. Thankfully, a settlement was reached in 2012.
Where to watch classic poker shows in 2021
Things have calmed down considerably since the early 2000s and the variety of poker shows that you can watch on TV has drastically declined. But don’t worry, great poker shows are still out there. It’s just that today, most of them are streamed over the internet. Streaming platforms like PokerGO, YouTube and Twitch have the most exciting and varied offering of poker viewing today. Like everything, the world of poker has evolved. Television is out, and streaming platforms are in. PokerStars, the giant online casino that sponsored much of the poker boom before Black Friday, now has its own YouTube channel with over a million subscribers. But your best choice for watching poker is to use the fantastic online streaming service, called PokerGO, which also gives you access to many of the classic TV shows mentioned in this article, as well as a variety of other old and new shows.
The Netflix of the poker world
As the blurb states on the PokerGO website: PokerGO is a TV streaming service “with over 100 days of exclusive live poker tournaments, including the World Series of Poker, Poker Masters, and the Super High Roller Bowl series. PokerGO is also the home of fan-favorite poker TV series High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark”. On the website, you have round-the-clock access to on-demand content with exclusive original shows, behind-the-scenes content, and a huge library of poker events and programming from the present and the past. You can also watch it on your computer or even on your mobile phone.
Below you’ll find our selection of classic poker shows on TV and a couple of other shows from down under. We’ll start the list with a few of the old classics…
World Series of Poker or WSOP
Of all the great televised poker shows, the World Series of Poker takes the cake. This is the tournament that made Chris Moneymaker a poker legend overnight, not to mention a millionaire! With or without television, this tournament is here to stay and is held annually in Las Vegas. The tournament started in the 1970s and includes most of the main poker game variants. In the 1980s ESPN took over the broadcasting rights with coverage of a single one-hour taped show of the Main Event. ESPN Classic even airs many old poker broadcasts from the ‘90s, today. From 1999 to 2001, the WSOP was broadcast by the Discovery Channel, but without the use of a pocket cam. That gadget didn’t appear until 2002. Since 2003, the WSOP is back at ESPN, which still broadcasts the show today. ESPN also streams the Main Event on WSOP.com, which might be easier to watch from New Zealand.
High Stakes Poker
High Stakes Poker was a new approach to televised poker that started in 2006. It was originally broadcast by a cable network in the US called GSN and ran for seven seasons from 2006 to 2011. Instead of following large tournaments it offered the world’s largest cash prize! The show is filmed at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and features poker stars and wealthy amateur players. Each player has to buy in using their own real money, starting from around US$50,000. The game they play is no-limit Texas Hold’em. The show has featured legendary players like Doyle Brunson and Todd Brunson, Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein. It was originally hosted by AJ Benza and Gabe Kaplan. This is one of the televised shows that was negatively impacted by Black Friday. The good news is that an eighth season was produced in 2020 and is now streamed on PokerGO, where you can also watch the other seven classic seasons.
Celebrity Poker Showdown
Celebrity Poker Showdown ran for five seasons and was broadcast by the cable network Bravo. Each show had five celebrities playing Texas Hold’em poker in a tournament with the proceeds going to charity. Some very well-known faces appeared on the show: Ben Affleck, David Schwimmer, Martin Sheen, Hank Azaria, Shannon Elizabeth, Carrie Fisher and Mimi Rogers were in Season 1. Later seasons featured the likes of Matthew Perry, Dave Navarro, Tony Hawk, Neil Patrick Harris, Heather Graham and Jesse Metcalfe. The series also launched multiple parodies on Saturday Night Live.
Poker After Dark
This is an hour-long programme that was on NBC in early 2007. It really did air after dark, playing at 2 am in most time zones. It is one of the most successful post-Moneymaker shows. Each week of episodes was focused on one 6-player single table tournament. The show was a star-studded affair with many pros making an appearance, by invitation only, including the likes of Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. The show was cancelled in 2011, just a few days after Black Friday. However, Poker Central revived the show with new episodes in 2017. Today, you can watch Poker After Dark on PokerGO. Season 12 was released in 2020.
World Poker Tour – WPT Main Show
Here’s one of the classic shows that you can still watch on TV if you have the American cable channel FSN. The WPT Main Show is presented by the beautiful Lynn Gilmartin with commentary by Tony Dunst and Vince Van Patten. The World Poker Tour has been running since 2002 and operates several year-round events in addition to the main tour. Winners of the WPT Main Tour events become members of the WPT Champion’s Club. The first season aired on the Travel Channel and later moved to GSN, and finally to Fox Sports Regional Networks. In 2014, the World Poker Tour launched a high roller tournament series, WPT Alpha8 on Fox Sports 1. The show ramps up the style and glitz with elegant lighting and is a well-established classic with over 18 seasons.
Late Night Poker
A British series broadcast by Channel 4 that contributed to the poker craze in the UK in the 2000s. It used under-the-table cameras to show the players’ cards. There were six seasons from 1999 until 2002, which were followed by other spin-offs like Celebrity Poker Club, Late Night Poker Ace and Late Night Poker Masters. The series made Dave Ulliott into the UK’s first poker sensation. These spin-off productions were sponsored by PartyPoker in Season 7, and Full Tilt Poker in seasons 8 and 9. Season 9 was sponsored by Coral. Late Night Poker came to a halt in 2011 after Black Friday in addition to dwindling audience numbers. Late Night Poker is considered a pioneer, which paved the way for every poker TV show that followed.
Interesting anecdote: The show revolutionised the poker industry by using a glass table with a hole cam to show the players’ cards, but it initially had problems finding participants. Professional poker players were horrified by the idea of giving their competitors crucial information about their playing style on TV. Some even tried to suggest that using a hole cam was illegal.
Australian Poker Open
Another great poker tournament from Australasia that just started in 2020. The Australia Poker Open is a new event run by Poker Central and the 2020 edition was held at The Star Gold Coast in Queensland. The event features No-Limit Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha. The event runs over eight days with buy-ins starting from AU$10,000 to AU$100,000. The player who earns the most High Roller of the Year points during the series will become Australian Poker Open Champion and receive the Australian Poker Open trophy. In 2020, Stephen Chidwick was the winner. You can watch the event on the PokerGO streaming service.
Back in Oceania, we had our own televised poker TV shows back in 2005–2007, called Joker Poker. The first Australian edition was hosted by Adam Spencer and the second by Mike Goldman, co-hosted by the New Zealand poker pro Lee Nelson. The show was produced by the Australian Production Company, Freehand Productions and featured famous comedians playing no-limit Texas Hold’em poker.
In the New Zealand version of the show, which aired for four seasons starting in 2007, Brooke Howard-Smith hosted and Lee Nelson, winner of 2006 Aussie Millions, co-hosted. The games were held in the Wild Turkey Lounge and were sponsored by Sky City, Pokerstars.net and Wild Turkey. The final prize pool was distributed by the celebrity players to their favourite charity. Each episode featured four celebrities playing no-limit Texas Hold‘em poker. It was screened on Channel Three and produced by Imagination TV in Parnell.
Aussie Millions or the Australian Poker Championship
This is the biggest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere and a bit like WSOP for Australia and NZ. You can watch the 2020 final on the PokerGO streaming service. Last year, finalists played for over AU$1.74 million. The players included “GPI Player of the Year”, Alex Foxen alongside Kahle Burns, Bryn Kenney, Timothy Adams, Matthias Eibinger, Sam Grafton and Mike Watson. Aussie Millions claims to have pioneered the concept of Super High Roller Tournaments. The AU$100,000 and AU$250,000 buy-in events attract stars like Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel and Sam Trickett.
That’s the end of our quick history lesson on the poker boom and short list of classic poker TV shows – both new and old. Don’t forget to check out the various YouTube and Twitch poker channels available too. You’ll find a variety of high-quality content from the poker world there to enjoy!