Format switch raises stakes on NBC poker show

NBC's Poker After Dark is set to return for a fourth season starting on Monday. This time, however, the show will feature high-stakes cash games rather than the familiar deep-stacked, six-handed freezeouts.

The new format should make for some jaw-dropping pots, with $200/$400 blinds and a minimum buy-in of $100k and a maximum of $250k.

To kick things off, 21-year-old Tom "durrrr" Dwan, 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth, high-stakes recreational player Mike Baxter, five-time WSOP bracelet winner Allen Cunningham, Cirque du Soleil CEO Guy Laliberté and cash-game pro David "Viffer" Peat will lock up in the show's season premiere.

Dwan and Hellmuth met recently in another NBC telecast tournament, the National Heads-Up Poker Championship, which aired in February 2008. The two aggressive poker behemoths quickly wowed all with the shortest match in National Heads-up Poker Championship history.

After several raises and re-raises Dwan went all-in holding pocket tens in just the third hand. The Poker Brat called with a dominating pair of bullets, but lost when Dwan hit his set on the turn. You can bet Hellmuth hasn't forgotten.

The two got into a heated war of words that had Hellmuth repeatedly referring to Dwan as "son" and Dwan repeatedly issuing a cash-game heads-up challenge to one of the winningest players in history.

"Son, I would tell you this much, son," said a riled Hellmuth after the match. "I would never have put more than $3k in the pot with two tens before the flop."

"I was gonna' say good game, sorry for the suck out, but when you phrase it that way it makes me not wanna," retaliated durrrr. "Phil, that's why you lose money online … pick your stakes heads-up. We can play right now if you want."

"You admit it was a terrible play then?" asked Hellmuth after several more insults.

"Learn to play heads-up No-Limit," said Dwan. "Pick your stakes heads up."

"We'll see if you're around in five years," shot back Hellmuth.

The players then continued to jaw on camera for several more minutes, seemingly much to the delight of the host and organizers.

Although Laliberté and Baxter are recreational players and likely not in the same class as Dwan and Hellmuth, it's poker, and neither is a stranger to high stakes. Both have played in televised cash games before, earning fan admiration and player respect with their skilled play. Both will be in deep at this televised table, however.

Joining Hellmuth from one of poker's most exclusive clubs is Cunningham. Both have lifetime live tournament winnings in excess of eight figures ($10 million). Only three other players share that distinction.

As is customary on Poker After Dark, players' hole cards will be shown to the viewing audience, even if they are mucked pre-flop.

Not so customary is smokin' hot Leeann Tweeden, who makes her debut as the program's new host. Tweeden's career highlights include being a Playboy lingerie model, an FHM cover girl, a longtime correspondent on the The Best Damn Sports Show Period and the honor of being named among the top Hooters Girls of all time. You see what staying in school gets you, kiddies?

Airing at 2:05 a.m. on Monday, July 14, Poker After Dark continues for five consecutive nights in the same time slot. The "Director's Cut" airs Saturday, July 19, at 1:00 a.m. following Saturday Night Live. This show features Tweeden's behind-the-scenes look at the week, with player interviews and highlights of key hands.

This is the first of two weeks of cash games that will take place this season on Poker After Dark, with the second scheduled for the week of October 13. That game will feature Patrik Antonius, Dee Tiller, Howard Lederer, Doyle Brunson, Gabe Kaplan and Eli Elezra.

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