There was a time when the idea of televising a poker tournament was absurd.
Who would want to see mostly old white men play a card game? You might as well have televised a bridge tournament from a retirement home in Boca Raton.
Cue Chris Moneymaker, hole-card cameras and the online poker boom.
Some Were Great. Many Were Not
The WSOP Main Event went from being a forgotten affair on ESPN classic to a flagship event that’s shown across the globe.
There have literally been thousands upon thousands of hours of poker television broadcast on every network from CBS to the Discovery Channel.
Poker was both a space filler for sports networks when major sports were going through lockouts and a tantalizing prospect for reality networks.
The number of individual poker shows is almost countless. Some were really good. A great deal were not.
The poker TV landscape has calmed down considerably since the boom of the early 2000s but there are still regularly scheduled poker programs that continue to draw an audience.
We’re taking an unofficial look at the wide variety of poker TV with all the heavy hitters as well as some lesser-known entries. Get ready for a trip down memory lane as we rank 36 poker TV shows.
*Yes we know this isn't quite every poker show ever. We tried to keep it to shows that aired at least one episode on network TV. Feel free to fire anything we missed in the comments.
36. UB.net Best Damn Poker Show
Let’s just get this one out of the way right off the bat: UB.net's Best Damn Poker Show on FSN does not live up to its namesake.
The show was similar to the UFC’s breakout reality hit The Ultimate Fighter with Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke taking on roles as coaches.
The show also utilized actor/producer Joseph Reitman, Hollywood Dave and fitness model turned poker pro Christina Lindley.
Listening to Hellmuth and Duke bicker didn’t make for the most riveting TV but on the plus side some of the contestants were real characters.
Around this point many of the poker shows were really just late-night ad buys by the booming online poker sites and we’d assume this was one as well.
The show aired two seasons from 2007-2008. It was arguably the low point of TV programming that was bankrolled by online poker sites.
35. Sam’s Game
It’s difficult to find but the late Sam Simon, who co-developed The Simpsons and was an avid poker player, hosted a short-lived celebrity poker show for Playboy TV.
Not to be confused with the fictional U.K. TV show of the same name, Sam’s Game took place at Hugh Hefner’s private sky villa at Palms Place in 2009.
The show featured a line up of Playmates, comedians, actors and professional poker players. Sam’s Game also included Simon’s ex-wife Jennifer Tilly and current beau Phil Laak, which made for some interesting conversations.
The show had a much more informal tone compared to the more famous Celebrity Poker Showdown. It helped that it was a cash game, with a large number of jokes and chirping between the comedians and various celebs.
The whole thing felt a little “raw,” which is probably why it didn’t last long and is now almost impossible to find online.
34. Calvin Ayre Wild Card Poker
It’s easy to forget that poker was considerably weirder back when Bodog was one of the major players. Founder Calvin Ayre was one of the major reasons why.
Calvin Ayre Wild Card Poker utilized the infamous businessman’s personal residence in Costa Rica as a background for a strange poker contest/reality show hybrid that eventually aired on Fox Sports Net.
The premise behind the show was 10 professionals, 10 celebrities and 20 bodog.com players (who went through an auditioning process) pitted against each other for a $500,000 first-place prize.
Phil Laak, Evelyn Ng, David Williams, Michael Mizrachi and Erick Lindgren were among the pros to take part while Cheryl Hines, Will Ford, Boston Rob (of Survivor fame) and Chuck Liddell filled out the celeb contingent.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the pros dominated and Atlanta-based grinder Josh Arieh ended up taking down the $500k.
The Bodog compound in Costa Rica was actually raided by 100 police officers during filming. The police were under the mistaken impression that gambling was taking place but in actuality they were just filming party scenes for the show’s finale episode.
33. Ace in the House
Ace in the House on GSN was another fun poker endeavor that only made it one episode.
The premise of the show was that the crew would travel to various home games in America and bring a professional table set-up complete with hole cameras, a dealer and a professional player. The winner got $10,000.
The pilot episode featured Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and a cast that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early season of MTV’s The Real World.
One great thing about Ace in the House was that it really illustrated the difference between amateur players and a professional so it was potentially very educational to the average Joe/Jane.
Of course Matusow crushed everyone in the first episode and took home the $10,000 first-place prize. Who says there's no skill in poker!
It’s too bad the show didn’t last longer because home games play an integral role in the world-wide poker community and it would have been interesting to explore that dynamic.
32. Heartland Poker Tour
While most poker TV shows focus exclusively on the high-stakes tournaments held around the world the Heartland Poker Tour is all about the average poker player.
You won’t see many pros on the HPT but you will find a number of interesting characters who often enjoy poker merely as a hobby.
Small stakes tournaments have actually exploded since about 2010 so it makes sense at least one TV show would be devoted to them.
The TV product itself is nothing to write home about but the team does a good job of capturing the final-table experience for the blue collar player.
Commentary for the HPT is handled by Jaymz Larson and poker pro Robert Williamson III.
31. Intercontinental Poker Championship
The Intercontinental Poker Championship may have only lasted for a single season but it’s also responsible for one of the most famous hands in poker history.
It was in the event that notorious bad boy of poker Tony G told Russian Ralph Perry to “Get on your bike” after busting him.
A clip of the minutes-long Tony G tirade became one of the most-viewed poker hands on YouTube and helped cement Tony G’s status as a load mouth at the table.
The Intercontinental Poker Championship itself was a double elimination No-Limit Hold’em tournament with 21 players from all corners of the globe including Doyle Brunson, Thor Hansen, David “Devilfish” Ulliott and Daniel Negreanu.
The tournament aired on CBS over a seven-week period with Gabe Kaplan and Jeff Medders providing commentary. It deserves some praise for developing the “international” space for TV poker.
Not many people remember this but Tony G did not in fact win the tournament. That honor went to Japan’s Yoshio Nakano. Tony G had to settle for second place and $150,000.
30. E! Hollywood Hold’em
E! Hollywood Hold’em is another show where all traces of its existence have been pulled from the Internet.
The premise behind the show was very similar to Celebrity Showdown except that it was limited to a home game at Laura Prepon’s house. Prepon played in the game and served as executive producer.
Brothers Chris and Danny Masterson were among the players who took part in the show. Phil Laak served as the host and dealer.
Only six episodes aired on E! and good luck finding any of them.
29. Professional Poker Tour
The Professional Poker Tour billed itself as the only league in the world dedicated to professional players.
An offshoot of the WPT (and created by WPT founder Steven Lipscomb) the PPT was restricted to pros. The invite-only tournament was a freeroll for the players, which was very unusual.
The PPT featured an unusual commentary team of Mark Seif and Matt Corboy.
In terms of coverage the PPT focused more on the days leading up to the final table than the WPT (the feature tables were more interesting because nearly every player was a known quantity).
For some reason the PPT also referred to each day of the tournament as a “Quarter” emulating sports terminology. Making it through all four quarters meant getting to the final table.
John Juanda, Erick Lindgren, Tom McEvoy, Lee Markholt and Ted Forrest all won PPT titles. A short-lived affair, the PPT began airing in 2006 and was cancelled after just one season.
28. WPT Alpha8
The WPT Alpha8 was a post-Black Friday poker TV show that never really gained much traction.
The idea surrounding Alpha8 was to cash in on the sudden rise of Super High Roller tournaments with $100,000 buy-ins.
Obviously the WPT crew has a lot of experience producing poker TV and Lynn Gilmartin was a nice addition as host but the actual poker proved to be slightly repetitive with a lot of the same players.
Interestingly Alpha8 featured mostly new school poker players that have taken some criticism for being boring to watch. It turns out that playing perfect poker can be a tough sell.
Once again Ali Nejad serves as one of the hosts but this time around heads-up master Olivier Busquet gave him some back up.
Alpha8 was never officially cancelled so we may see it return at some point if they get enough interest from pros wanting to play.
27. United States Poker Championship
The United States Poker Championship, held at the Taj Mahal in A.C., felt like a sister product to the World Series of Poker, which made sense because they both appeared on ESPN and even featured Lon McEachern and Norman Chad in the commentary booth at one point.
It was largely a forgettable show but there were a few memorable moments like announcers erroneously calling Daniel Negreanu “Danny” after his 1999 USPC victory. Whoops.
26. Pro-Am Poker Equalizer
The Pro-Am Poker Equalizer was another attempt to pit professional poker players against celebrities/amateur players.
To help even the playing field celebs were given 50% more chips in the Sit & Go style event.
Despite the advantage the pros pretty much dominated the show winning six out of the seven episodes. More proof for poker as a skill game. Andy Bloch won the eventual championship event for $500,000.
Phil Gordon and Ali Nejad handled commentary duties for the show.
25. Epic Poker
The Epic Poker League, brainchild of Annie Duke and former WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, made it less than six months on CBS and the Velocity Network before filing for bankruptcy.
The bankruptcy left the tour unable to payout the $1m freeroll that was offered to players who took part in the league. People were justifiably upset.
So how was the Epic as a TV show? It was OK. It was yet another attempt at using a PGA-style format for poker where the field was made up entirely of professional players.
The production value was relatively high and several high-profile online players finally got some exposure. The commentary team included venerable CBS anchor Pat O’Brien and poker mainstay Ali Nejad.
24. I Bet You
It’s hard to say if I Bet You can really be categorized as a “poker show” per se but it definitely featured a couple poker icons in Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak.
The concept was Esfandiari and Laak would engage in a series of prop bets around the world using their own money.
The show was actually pretty fun and showcased some of the crazy prop bets that poker pros tend to make when they're killing time.
The prop bets ranged from wrangling an alligator, racing sleds, lie detectors, sperm counts and many others. Some were great, some weren’t.
I Bet You ran for three seasons on MojoHD and helped establish Esfandiari and Laak as two of the most TV-friendly pros in the business.
23. Aussie Millions
It’s the biggest tournament in the Southern Hemisphere and for years the independently-operated Aussie Millions has served as something of a WSOP for Australians.
The Main Event itself is rather standard, although the Crown Casino provides a beautiful background, but the Aussie Millions pioneered the concept of Super High Roller Tournaments.
The $100k and $250k buy-in events attracted some of the biggest names in poker and saw stars like Phil Ivey, Erik Seidel and Sam Trickett all take down titles.
The Aussie Millions also hosts an extremely large cash game that has been televised on certain occasions with heavy hitters Tom Dwan, Patrick Antonius and Gus Hansen making appearances.
Paul Khoury, Robert Williamson III, Bart Hanseon, Grub Smith, Barry Tompkins and Michael Konik are among the many rotating commentators the event utilized.
Poker player/model Lacey Jones also filled in as host on several occasions.
22. Full Tilt Poker Face the Ace
Face the Ace was yet another attempt at a pro vs. amateur heads-up format. Steven Schirripa (of The Sopranos) hosted the show (along with Ali Nejad), which saw one amateur player face off against a random member of Team Full Tilt on NBC.
After beating one of the pros, contestants had the option of taking $40,000 and quitting or risking it for the chance at $200,000 by beating the second pro. Finally a player could take home $1,000,000 for beating a pro in the final round.
Face the Ace had the unfortunate distinction of being the least-viewed program among the major four networks in the 9-10 p.m. time slot. In addition there were a number of NBC affiliates that preempted the show, likely due to concerns over broadcasting a gambling-related show in prime time.
The show only lasted one season, which consisted of seven episodes between 2009-2010. There’s not a lot to say about this one. The dialogue between Full Tilt pros and amateurs felt pretty stilted at times.
21. Underground Poker
For the sheer number of poker TV shows it’s surprising that more programs didn’t take a more unique approach like Underground Poker.
The idea behind the show was that Phil Laak and Antonio Esfandiari, who previously starred in I Bet You, would play in various underground cash games around the USA.
The crew would film real games with real cash on the line. Players had to be OK with appearing on TV. All the hands were real.
In the pilot episode Laak and Esfandiari traveled to New Orleans and played in several high-stakes cash games in the area. Esfandiari even took down a $22k pot, which was likely the highlight of the episode.
Unfortunately The Discovery Channel opted not to pick up Underground Poker and it was promptly shelved. It’s shame because it was a fantastic premise. The superior Laak/Esfandiari vehicle.
20. Sky Poker
For the sake of this article we’re going to Sky Poker as a singular entity although it was really a lot of different things including an all-poker cable network, an online poker site and an educational poker tool.
The UK-facing Sky Poker network hosted a number of shows including Sky Poker Cash Game and Sky Poker UK Championship.
Incredibly the show operated for 10 years and helped bridge the gap between online players and TV poker.
Sky Poker pioneered a number of interesting concepts including taking online hands from viewers and analyzing them on live TV.
A large number of UK poker personalities including Kara Scott, Michelle Orpe, Neil Channing, James Hartigan, Richard Orford, Laura Cornelius, Helen Chamberlain, Tony Kendall and numerous others passed through Sky Poker at one point.
Sky Poker gave countless UK players their first glimpse of the game. The program came to an end in 2016.
19. Poker Night in America
Online poker may have left the USA in 2011 but that didn’t spell the end for TV poker.
Poker Night in America was launched on CBS Sports Network in 2014 and eschewed the usual tournament or Sit & Go style for a cash game.
The cash games take place at various casinos around the USA, usually running parallel to local tournaments.
The show also puts an emphases on the characters that play poker and their lives outside of the poker room. Poker Night in America was also one of the first poker shows that gave episodes away for free two weeks after they air on CBS.
Hosted by Chris Hansen, Poker Night in America is still going strong after five seasons.
18. Super High Roller Bowl
The Super High Roller Bowl is one of the few poker TV shows that was introduced after Black Friday hit in 2011 and it’s been a bright spot for the poker TV landscape.
In many ways the SHRB is reminiscent of earlier shows, which makes sense because it features consummate poker producer Mori Eskandani and commentator Ali Nejad. Poker pro Nick Schulman has also been a revelation in the booth. The SHRB offers a level of polish that simply wasn't around in the early days of TV poker.
The tournament itself is a rather standard $300k buy-in No-Limit Hold’em affair ($500k in the first year). Thanks to the staggeringly large buy-in it’s produced some of the biggest first-place prizes in the last few years.
The SHRB is a product of Poker Central, which launched as the first all-poker TV network in 2015.
Poker Central apparently realized that with more and more of its audience trending towards streaming it wasn’t really that useful having a traditional TV network. Poker Central decided to forgo the network, focus on stream and make a deal with NBC sports for the SHRB.
The SHRB isn’t the only thing on the Poker Central menu either as they’ve also produced a cash game and a celebrity invitational.
17. Poker Million
The Poker Million is an interesting example of a pioneering poker TV show that paved the way for tours like the EPT and WPT but is now largely forgotten.
The tour was created by online poker operator Ladbrokes in 2000 and featured a unique (at the time) shoot out format where players competed in a series of heats to qualify for the final table.
Interestingly, John Duthie won the first tournament for £1m in November of 2000 and would later go on to create the EPT.
The Poker Million is also noteworthy for introducing the world to frequent European poker commentator Jesse May. Meanwhile the Poker Million was held so infrequently that it never really caught on like the WPT or EPT.
Gus Hansen won the last instance of the tournament in 2010 for $1m.
16. PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge
The PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge, hosted by Chris Rose on Fox, debuted several months after Full Tilt Poker’s Face the Ace but improved the format considerably.
Once again amateurs were attempting to win $1m in a series of heads-up matches against pros but this time around they benefited from having Daniel Negreanu as their coach.
Negreanu would help coach contestants in the first round against celebrities (including Tito Ortiz, Jayde Nicole, John Salley and others).
Kid Poker would also assist in the second round against PokerStars pros such as Barry Greenstein, Vanessa Rousso and Chris Moneymaker.
In the final round, however, contestants would have to face Negreanu to win $1m. A sharp contrast to Face the Ace, the Million Dollar Challenge drew very strong ratings for a poker show.
The Million Dollar Challenge lasted two seasons and 13 episodes. The highlight of the program was undoubtedly when 9-11 first responder Mike Kosowski managed to beat Negreanu and win $1m.
15. Hip Hop Hold’em
Hip Hop Hold’em is one of the gems of the online poker boom of the early 2000s. The show followed the format Celebrity Poker Showdown perfected, except with rappers instead of celebrities.
The great thing about Hip Hop Hold’em was the amount of personality in the games. The poker wasn’t always perfect but the game was always interesting.
The Game, Biz Markie and Lord Finesse were among the rappers that took part in the program. Unfortunately Hip Hop Hold’em’s lifespan was tremendously limited thanks to the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.
The show only made it half-way through its first 26-episode season when sponsor partypoker was forced out of the US market, thus ending the program. You can read more about the surprising history of Hip Hop Hold'em on PokerListings.
14. Poker Dome Challenge
The Poker Dome Challenge, sometimes referred to simply as The Poker Dome, was a six-player Sit & Go similar in some ways to Poker After Dark.
The major difference in the Poker Dome was that players only had 15 seconds to act with one 30-second extension.
The other difference is that the Poker Dome featured amateur players who qualified through online freerolls or pub leagues. Later on pros were introduced in the Pro/Am Challenge.
It was also unusual because the players were equipped with heart monitors to get a read on how they were feeling during big hands.
The show was hosted by poker mainstays Chris Rose, Leanne Tweeden, Barry Tomkins and others over the years. Matt Savage served as the TD.
13. PokerStars Big Game
The PokerStars Big Game was Stars’ second big investment in the game-show style format after the PokerStars Million Dollar Challenge. Both shows appeared on Fox.
Once again PokerStars took the amateur against pros approach but this time it was in a cash game. PokerStars gave each amateur player that appeared on the show, referred to as the “Loose Cannon,” a $100k stake in the high-stakes cash game.
The loose cannon had to play at least 150 hands but got to keep any profit over the $100k they brought into the game.
The cash game was frequented by the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Doyle Brunson, Tony G, Antonio Esfandiari and many others, which definitely made it entertaining.
The show featured frequent poker commentator Chris Rose but also included long-time poker podcasters Joe Stapleton and Scott Huff as well as Amanda Leatherman.
The PokerStars Big Game came to an end after Black Friday forced PokerStars out of the US market in 2011. It only lasted one season.
12. Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game
Most poker fans likely have mixed feelings about the Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game.
On one hand it featured some pretty high-level cash game poker. On the other, the games were mostly Team Full Tilt Poker pros trading their money back and forth while promoting their company.
It was very difficult to know what was truly at stake considering: 1. Team Full Tilt Pros allegedly had a piece of FTP. 2. Most online sites paid out a TV fee for appearing on shows. 3. Pros tend to swap a lot of action.
Regardless, The Full Tilt Million Dollar Cash Game was home to some of the biggest cash games ever played and likely second only to High Stakes Poker in TV cash-game notoriety.
Over the years Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Patrik Antonius, Tom Dwan, Ilari Sahamies, Jen Harman, Mike Matusow and many others appeared on the program.
The Million Dollar Cash game actually broke the record for biggest televised hand ever when Dwan won a $1.1m pot off Ivey.
The show ran for five seasons on Sky Poker. Current WSOP live stream commentator David Tuchman handled the play-by-play in this one with a rotating set of guests.
11. 2 Months 2 Million
There have been countless poker reality shows filmed but 2 Months 2 Million is one of the rare ones that actually made it to air.
2M2MM aired on G4TV and was unlike any other poker TV show in that it attempted to showcase the fascinating world of online poker.
The premise of the show was that elite grinders Dani "Ansky" Stern, Jay "KRANTZ" Rosenkrantz, Brian "flawless_victory" Roberts and Emil "whitelime" Patel would combine their bankrolls and attempt to win $2m in a two month period while living together in a house in Las Vegas.
Producers attempted to spice things up by encouraging the guys to go for the typical Vegas experience with clubs, booze and attractive women.
Ultimately the guys fell short of their goal but still earned $676k. G4 cancelled the show after one season but continued to feature episodes in syndication until the network itself was shuttered in 2014.
Interestingly this show pre-dated Black Friday as it was shot in 2009 and it’s weird to think what would have happened if they were attempting shoot the show while online poker was forced out of the US.
10. PartyPoker Premier League
It’s hard to describe the PartyPoker Premier League.
At its core it’s a points-based shootout tournament where players receive points based on how they finish in their respective heat. Not unlike Poker SuperStars or Late Night Poker.
The overall tone of the show, however, could be described as informal as all the players tend to hang out together, taking turns doing commentary between heats and grabbing dinner together. That doesn’t mean things don’t get heated, however.
Thanks to the invitational-style format there have been some fantastic moments between pros.
Some of the more famous incidents on the program include blow-ups by Phil Hellmuth, Luke Schwartz and, weirdly, Daniel Negreanu as well as a showdown between Tom Dwan and Dan “Jungleman” Cates, sick JC Tran bluffs and so much more.
Jesse May serves as the anchor for the show and is excellent as usual but the various pros who appear provide some awesome insight as well.
The only unfortunate bit about the Premier League that a great deal of people in North America missed it completely. The show is a UK affair and doesn't get much play on broadcast television in the UK.
That might finally change as the show recently held the first ever North American Premier League in Montreal.
9. NBC National Heads-Up Championship
The NBC National Heads-Up Championship featured a unique heads-up format that separated competitors into an NCAA-style bracket.
It was a great format because it pitted some of the biggest names in poker against each other in 1v1 competition. Some of the matches — like Tom “durrrr” Dwan vs. Phil Hellmuth — are still remembered fondly by poker fans.
The $25k buy-in tournament has had some very memorable winners over the years including Hellmuth, Erik Seidel, Mike Matusow and Annie Duke.
This was yet another Mori Eskandani joint with Gabe Kaplan originally in the commentary booth although Ali Nejad eventually took over in 2007.
Like many of the shows on NBC it was sponsored heavily by online poker operators and promptly went off the air after Black Friday hit in 2011.
WSOP.com brought the tournament back in 2013 but we’re still awaiting another edition of the heads-up tournament.
8. Celebrity Poker Showdown
Is there any show that captured the exuberant spirit of the early 2000s poker boom better than Celebrity Poker Showdown?
Producers were racing to get poker on TV and cable network Bravo introduced Celebrity Poker Showdown in late 2003 (the same year Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event).
In the show six celebrities were pitted against other with each winner qualifying for the grand championship where the ultimate winner got $100k for the charity of their choice.
The format wasn’t really that important but the show got some surprisingly big stars to take part.
Paul Rudd, Sarah Silverman, Ben Affleck, Ron Livingston, Carrie Fisher, Matthew Perry, Rosario Dawson, Jason Bateman, Andy Richter, Amy Poehler and Coolio were among the various celebs who took part.
The poker was — at times — laughable but that was part of the allure. It was a decent learning tool for people just getting into the game.
The show was initially hosted by poker player/comedian Kevin Pollak and then later Dave Foley of Newsradio fame.
Celebs have became far less frequent at televised poker tables so it seems unlikely we’ll ever see another form of Celebrity Poker Showdown.
7. European Poker Tour
The European Poker Tour is the yin to the World Poker Tour’s yang.
Long-time TV director John Duthie came up with the idea for the tour after winning the Poker Million for £1m in 2000.
The EPT debuted in 2004, just one year after the WPT, with a small first season that only featured seven stops and several first-place prizes that paid out less than €100k.
The major difference between the EPT and North American-based rivals WPT and WSOP was that the EPT got a whale of a sponsor in PokerStars, which became the sole owner of the tour in 2011.
PokerStars was willing to put a considerable amount of money into the tour to help turn it into the premier circuit in Europe and arguably the world.
The TV product, which has been shown on a variety of networks in addition to being streamed on PokerStars.tv, was incredibly polished and easily accessible to anyone with Internet access.
The format wasn’t all that different than the WPT but final tables consisted of eight players instead of six. Commentators included Duthie and then James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton.
Jason Mercier, Liv Boeree, Mike McDonald and Jake Cody were amongst the numerous poker pros who rose to prominence on the tour.
PokerStars decided to go in a different direction for their live tournaments in 2017 and somewhat surprisingly decided to end the EPT and replace it with the PokerStars Championship tour.
6. Poker After Dark
Poker After Dark was perhaps the most successful post-Moneymaker show and garnered very successful ratings for a period of time.
The premise behind the show, which was produced by Mori Eskandani like so many other popular TV poker TV, was a six-player freezeout featuring some of the biggest names of poker.
The show, which featured Ali Nejad in the booth, mixed up the format over the years with some cash games, heads-up and high-stakes events but in general it was an invite-only, $20,000 buy-in tournament where the winner walked away with $120,000.
Freed from the shackles of televising the final table of a multi-table tournament (which undoubtedly feature numerous unknown players)
Perhaps the one downside of Poker After Dark was that the stakes felt fairly irrelevant after awhile as it was rumored players buy-ins were paid by online poker sites.
Of course sometimes the relaxed nature of Poker After Dark worked in its favor like when a drunken Gavin Smith somehow managed to beat Phil Ivey heads-up in one of the later episodes. Phil Hellmuth also got very, very, very upset at Shawn Sheikhan in one episode that helped cement his status as the Poker Brat.
Near the end of Poker After Dark’s run Full Tilt Poker took over as the main sponsor and seemed to use the program as a vehicle to promote sponsored players. Of course when Black Friday hit in 2011 and FTP was forced to exit the market, NBC quickly pulled the plug on Poker After Dark.
5. Poker Superstars
Poker Superstars was an underrated invitational-style show that usually gets lost in the shuffle thanks to its relatively short run of three seasons from 2004-06.
Still it was one of the first shows to feature an invitational format and for many poker fans it was their first introduction to icons of the game like Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Scotty Nguyen.
Poker Superstars was originally hosted by Chris Rose with support from poker author Michael Konik and poker pro Mark Gregorich. Howard Lederer later replaced Konik.
For many poker fans the defining moment of Poker Superstars came during the third season was Gus Hansen surmised that he needed to rack up points to qualify for the next heat and decided to shove blind every single hand. It worked out. Hansen made it to the semi-finals that year and it cemented his status as an unpredictable player.
Fun fact: The first season of the show featured a $400,000 buy-in, which was unprecedented at the time.
4. Late Night Poker
While the WPT and WSOP were taking hold in the USA, there was another show that captured the attention of poker players in the UK. That show was Late Night Poker and for countless Europeans it was their first taste of No-Limit Hold’em.
Despite being lesser-known in North America, Late Night Poker was actually ahead of its US-based brethren like the WPT and modern WSOP, debuting in 1999.
Late Night Poker was also the first show to utilize hole card cameras (then called under-the-table cameras). At that point the technology was very rudimentary with no on-screen graphics.
Jesse May, widely considered one of the best all-time poker commentators, launched his career with Late Night Poker, and helped the program become an instant hit on Channel 4.
Andy Black, Vicky Coren, the Boatman brothers, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, John Duthie and Gus Hansen were among the many noteworthy players who appeared on the show.
The format is slightly different but it’s almost impossible to not make comparisons between Late Night Poker and the subsequent Poker After Dark on NBC in the USA.
Lee Davy wrote extensively about the beginnings of Late Night Poker if you're looking for even more background. Sadly Late Night Poker finished its run in 2011, after a few off-and-on seasons (or series as they call them in the UK).
3. World Poker Tour
Ask any poker player how they got into poker and there’s a good chance they will say at least one of three things: Chris Moneymaker, the movie Rounders or the World Poker Tour.
The WPT (both the tour and the TV show) revolutionized what was possible in poker.
The concept is simple. The WPT hosts tournaments around the world (although mostly North America in the early years) and then shoots a final table of six players. Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten have handled the commentary duties for the last 15 years of the show.
The first season featured an all-star line up of winners including Gus Hansen, Howard Lederer and the late David “Devilfish” Ulliott that helped establish the concept of a TV pro.
Any televised poker tour that you see on TV these days was likely influenced by the WPT.
The WPT was such a part of the poker zeitgeist that it was even featured as the setting for the 2007 flick Deal, starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, in the midst of the poker boom.
The format has remained essentially the same since the very beginning but the team has added a number of personalities over the last few years including anchor Lynn Gilmartin, Raw Deal host Tony Dunst and the Royal Flush Crew.
Somehow, through it all, the WPT has continued to innovate and remains a steadfast fixture of an ever-changing poker world.
2. World Series of Poker
It’s the biggest poker tournament in the world and for years it was the only one that was ever showed on television.
The modern TV format of the World Series of Poker that we all know and love, coincided with Chris Moneymaker winning the tournament in 2003.
TV exec Fred Christenson had secured the long-term rights to the WSOP for ESPN and managed to obtain hole card camera approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission. It quite literally changed the game. It was also the year that the long-running commentary team of Lon McEachern and Norman Chad took over.
The WSOP and poker in general exploded over the next 10 years and ESPN experimented with televising side events and tournaments in Europe but has always gone back to the Main Event.
ESPN televises the Main Event as if it was live, which helps give it a compelling, in-the-moment feel.
The playdown for the Main Event is unlike any other tournament in the world and ESPN does a fantastic job of putting the spot light on lesser known players.
The last few years the final table (or at least heads-up play) has been televised live, which adds to the gravitas of the situation.
It’s worth noting the WSOP has a long history on television before it’s current iteration and appeared on CBS, ESPN Classic and even the Discovery Channel.
There were no hole cards prior to 2003, however, so those forerunners took a more documentary approach and instead profiled the players.
1. High Stakes Poker
All hail the king.
High Stakes Poker is likely the most talked about show in the history of poker and arguably the one that gets the most respect amongst pros.
Itwas simply a high-stakes cash game where players put their own money on the line and yet it holds a special place most poker fans' hearts.
People are still talking about how Daniel Negreanu got crushed by Gus Hansen’s quads, or how Barry Greenstein got “durrrr’ed” or even Brad Booth pulling off the mother of all bluffs against Phil Ivey.
Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza were perfect in the commentary booth with Kaplan explaining the hands in a way that almost everyone could understand and Benza providing some much needed levity.
For anyone that’s ever wondered what it would be like to take a seat at Bobby’s Room, this show was the nuts. It was incredible the information viewers got just by tuning in.
Eventually fan favorite Sammy Farha stopped going on the program because he was worried he was giving away too much information. HSP was no bullshit and fans loved it for that.
Ever year we dream that GSN will bring it back.