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Poker After Dark

 
Poker After Dark


Poker After Dark, which debuted in January 2007, is essentially NBC’s answer to the Game Show Network’s hit show, High Stakes Poker. There are two primary differences, however: Poker After Dark is a six-handed single-table tournament (High Stakes is a cash game) and the show is broadcast six nights per week (new High Stakes episodes are aired only once per week). Like High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark has attracted a solid fan base in a short period of time.

As stated above, Poker After Dark, hosted by ex-WPT bombshell, Shana Hiatt, runs six nights per week. The first five nights feature six star poker professionals duking it out in a winner-take-all, $20,000 buy-in single-table tournament. The sixth show of the week is the “Director’s Cut,” basically a highlight reel with player commentary. Unlike other poker shows, the announcer, Oliver Nejad, interjects very infrequently. Rather than offering up constant analysis, he simply relays basic information to the viewer on the cards and bets, as well as chiming in with humorous quips from time to time.

Over the first two weeks of the show, Nejad’s commentary was borderline insufferable. He seemed to have the need to make sarcastic remarks about everything anyone said at the table. To his and the show’s credit, however, from the third week on, Nejad toned things down and has actually been quite funny at times. Rather than being a detriment to the show, his presence is now an asset.

Of course, Ms. Hiatt’s presence on Poker After Dark is very much welcomed, although she does not actually have much of an involvement in the show. Aside from opening and closing each episode, she hangs back at the bar and waits for players to come over for interviews during the tournament. The interviews usually revolve around what is going on at the table (“What do you think Phil has here,” or “What is your strategy now that you have the big stack.”) and she does a good job with them. Hiatt has a good rapport with the players from her WPT days and the players all seem to be perfectly happy speaking with her when not involved in a hand.

The structure of the tournament lends itself to quality poker, as each player starts with 20,000 chips and the slowly escalating blinds start at 100/200. While this is a nice change of pace from the usual shallow-stack poker played on most of the other shows, the action can be a bit slow in the first half of the week, as the players dink and dunk around each other while the blinds are small. The action on High Stakes Poker does tend to be more interesting, especially since it’s a cash game, but the play on Poker After Dark is nothing to sneeze at.

One nit-picky annoyance with the show is that the producers decided it would be a good idea to use bundles of cash in addition to poker chips. The cash still just represents tournament chips, but the idea was probably that it looks “cooler” than chips. It is a fairly obvious attempt to mimic High Stakes Poker. What having cash out there does, unfortunately, is confuse first time viewers who were pretty sure they were supposed to be watching a tournament, but then see paper money on the table. It only takes an episode or two to figure it out, but it really is a silly gimmick that should be changed.

The best part of Poker After Dark, hands down, is the table talk. Because there is very limited commentary by Nejad, the viewer can hear all banter, stories, needling, and complaining by some of the best players in the world. Whether it’s Steve Zolotow recounting the time when he was arrested in Canada on suspicion of diamond smuggling, Howard Lederer talking about the horrendous slow-roll he was handed on his first hand of poker he ever played in Las Vegas, or simply Phil Hellmuth and Shawn Sheikhan jawing at each other, it all makes for great television. As of the time this review was written, only one week was a dud, when Poker After Dark pitted six World Series of Poker champions against each other. Only one of the players that week, Jamie Gold, is much of a talker, and none of the rest seemed to have close enough relationships to really want to chat. The best shows are the ones where either two or more of the players dislike each other, or, conversely, where the players are genuinely good friends. 

When it comes down to it, Poker After Dark is an excellent poker program, ranking second only to High Stakes Poker. As it airs in the wee hours of the morning (hence “After Dark”), you will most likely need to set your DVR or VCR to record it, but it is well worth it. The show makes for a great watch over breakfast.