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Column: Hooked on Poker After Dark

16 February 2007

I admit it. When I heard another poker show was joining the already flooded cable market, I cringed. I'd already suffered through The Poker Dome, Boston vs. New York and Celebrity Poker Showdown -- television owes me several dozen hours of my life back – and I wasn't prepared to try another one.



So when my colleague Aaron Todd reviewed NBC's Poker After Dark (PAD) and told me it was worth taking a look at, I politely told him no way in hell.



But curiosity eventually got the better of me and one lonely workday when I had no NETeller news to report, I decided -- against my better judgment -- to sneak a few peeks at poker goddess Shana Hiatt.



And now I'm hooked.



It's not as good as ESPN's World Series of Poker, but then again, nothing compares to the big show. The WPT had always been my favorite "regular" show. But PAD has supplanted it.




The first time I tuned in was Champion's Week. Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Jamie Gold, Carlos Mortensen, Chris Ferguson and some guy named Moneymaker all sat down to play a little six-handed poker for $120,000.



Unlike with the WPT and the WSOP, you get to see most of the hands played on PAD. Watching the way champions maneuver for small pots is as interesting as seeing how they make plays for the big ones.



Sure it's fun when someone tosses all their chips into the pot, but real poker is played during the small-ball hands. Only veteran players really know how to pick up enough ammunition to build their stacks for the larger battles that come later.



If you're going to learn how to play from television, this is your best bet.



The intimate setting adds to the program. Norman Chad doesn't tell you what to think and Vince Van Patten isn't muttering something about show tunes going off in people's heads. Instead, you learn about Phil Hellmuth's affinity for White Russians because the cocktail waitress is as busy as the dealer on this small stage.



There is an announcer, but he stays out of the way. The poker and players are the emphasis and you can hear their attempts to elicit information, listen as they all berate Hellmuth, and wonder how these people still have money considering how much they are willing to bet on anything and everything.



It's like watching a home game filled with the world's best players. And if you're unfamiliar with poker's different characters, PAD allows you to see what some of these people are really like.



Is Hellmuth really a brat? Is Mike Matusow really afraid of Phil Ivey? And does Gold really belong at the champions table?



Yes, yes, and a resounding no.



If you haven't seen PAD, check it out. Not all of you are insomniacs like me, but you can view every episode on the Internet. It's worth your time, and if nothing else, Mrs. Hiatt is worth a couple glances.



My top-three PAD moments:



1.) Phil Laak versus Antonio Esfandari


Friends away from the felt, these two superstars battled for a week, ripping each other's play and cheering against each other in pivotal hands. They ended up heads-up with Laak taking down the title. In the end, the duo agreed the winner would treat the other to a luxurious dinner, or at least give the loser a chance to win some money back playing "high card."




2.) Betting on the next president



Doyle Brunson used to be a Republican, but after the U.S. government ramped up their quest against Internet Poker, Brunson swore off his conservative Texan roots and became a diehard liberal. Of course, this means the front man for Doyle's Room needs to bet on Democratic candidates. And he believes Hilary Clinton will win the presidency if she wins the primaries, prompting him to bet $10,000 with Esfandari on this outcome. Esfandari, who is used to betting larger sums, forced Phil Laak to take 25 % of the action so he could remember the bet. Not one to lose face time, Hellmuth forced Esfandari to make the same bet with him. Jennifer Harman, who is known for her willingness to take action, said she couldn't join the fray because she already bet $10,000 that Clinton will not be able to win the nomination.




3.) Phil Hellmuth versus Sean Sheikan



This battle of machismo occurred on the very first week. The two exchanged barbs for three days before things finally boiled over when the short-stacked Hellmuth was re-raised by Annie Duke. Hellmuth went into the tank and Sheikan would not be quiet, prompting the Poker Brat to flip his lid and declare that in his 28-years of poker, he'd never seen a table where his opponents would not give him time to use his "reading abilities." That made the entire table crack up and Hellmuth left the building. He returned later, but was quickly bounced by Sheikan, who then spent the next several hours referring to himself in the third person.








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Best of Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane

Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.
Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.