'Poker After Dark' worth staying up for

It's on in the wee hours of the morning on NBC, but "Poker After Dark" is a little different than your average poker show and certainly worth the caffeine intake to stay up that late or at least figuring out how to program the VCR again.

Typically, poker shows on television are all about showing the viewers the highlights of a tournament or cash game with a commentator in the background telling you about the hands being played.

"Poker After Dark" sits you in on a table full of six pros as they battle hand-by-hand down to one winner. Instead of commentary, you get to hear their table talk and banter with an occasional side interview with host Shanna Hiatt.

Being a poker layman, I didn't think I would enjoy this format all that much. I like having the commentator tell me how good the hands are and how a person should play them. It turns out I enjoyed hearing it straight from the players' mouths even more.

While it's obvious to the commentator, who can see all the cards being played, what the smart move is and how to play a hand, it was more interesting to see how the pros play hands without seeing everyone else's cards.

You get more of a feel for the complete dynamics of poker. For instance, this week there was a hand between Mike Matusow and Phil Hellmuth where Matusow called the big blind with pocket threes and Hellmuth raised it to $2,200.

Matusow called with his small pair despite only being a slight favorite over Hellmuth and knowing that a raise like that usually indicates a fairly strong hand.

The flop brought Matusow a set of threes and another bet from Hellmuth which he called. The turn brought a nine to match one from the flop, giving Matusow the full house and an all-in from Hellmuth. Matusow took down the pot and sent Hellmuth to the rail.

Hellmuth, in his typical whiney way, blamed Matusow for the failed hand saying Matusow should have never called with low pair in the first place. To which Matusow said, "I just knew I had the best hand. I couldn't lay down the best hand."

It was a perfect example of how poker isn't just about playing only the nuts. The game is much more dynamic than that.

A player's read on the other players may tell him his pocket threes are good despite that a commentator and poker book might tell you to lay them down in the face of the raise from Hellmuth.

That was really the biggest benefit of hearing the players talk about their own play and seeing them react to and play each hand. While a commentator can only guess at why a player made a certain move and what the odds tell you they should have done, they can actually tell you their reasoning.

Unfortunately at a table filled with Tony G., Matusow, Hellmuth, Phil Ivey and Andy Bloch, as was the case this past week, relying on table talk can become a bit of a liability for the show.

Big egos and big mouths end up joking around and talking over each other making it a bit of a jumbled mess to listen to and hard to separate out the actual helpful parts.

Since they're showing nearly every hand over the course of a week, the table talk does help keep the show interesting when the hands don't always hold up their end of the bargain.

If you're looking for something more typical of televised poker, the wrap-up show at the end of the week may be what you're looking for.

On Saturday nights, or early Sunday if you will, they broadcast the wrap-up for the week showing the highlights and adding in a little more interviews with the players as they talk about their strategies and the other players.

I think if they can work out some of the kinks with the table talk being a bit jumbled at times, NBC has a real poker hit on their hands. Someday this may end up being "Primetime Poker" rather than being hidden away in "Poker After Dark."

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