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Poker After Dark: Jury still out, but worth a shot

10 January 2007

If nothing else, I was looking forward to Shana Hiatt's return when Poker After Dark debuted on NBC last week.

Poker After Dark is a daily one-hour poker show. Six players compete for $120,000 in a winner takes all No Limit Texas Hold'em tournament over five episodes. And on Saturday night, a "director's cut" features the biggest hands of the week with extra commentary by the players.

The show debuted last week, and it's starting to grow on me. While it's not my favorite poker show in terms of quality of play, it sure is entertaining. It might even be worth staying up until 2 a.m. just to watch Phil Hellmuth blow up.

But in order to become a real success, there are some basic problems that need fixing.

First of all, the announcer is terrible. It's unclear who runs the show, Hiatt, who makes observations and does live interviews during the tournament, or Oliver "Ali" Nejad, who adds minimal voiceover in postproduction.

The show would actually be better without the Nejad, who remains anonymous until the end credits. Seriously, if you're watching poker at 2 a.m., you either recognize a double belly-buster straight draw, or you don't care.

I also hope they pull the cash off the table and just give the players $20,000 in chips. Players have chips and stacks of cash on the table, which makes the format confusing. It's clearly an attempt to play off the success of High Stakes Poker on GSN, but the cash on display makes it unclear whether it's a tournament (it is) or a cash game (it isn't). Blinds and chip stacks are also unclear at times.

Despite these shortcomings, there are several aspects of Poker After Dark that make it a fun show.

When the players aren't arguing about who the biggest donkey is, they are trading some great gambling stories. Did you know Steve Zolotow once bet Annie Duke $500 that her marriage wouldn't last five years? Did you also know that Stevie Z was wrongfully arrested in Canada under suspicion of diamond smuggling? The unfortunate thing about Stevie Z's diamond smuggling story is it took place during the most interesting hand of the whole show, so you didn't know where to focus.

The other great innovation is Hiatt's in-tournament interviews. Players not involved in hands will chat with the hostess about their own play or about other players, and this added insight is unique to the Poker After Dark format.

These types of stories and interviews will continue to make the show interesting, though I could do without hearing Duke talk about condoms. And I have to assume that the postproduction will improve.

The cast of characters for coming weeks looks promising as well. The show should see a ratings bump next week with six WSOP Main Event champions playing. I'll be watching just to see if anyone tries to put Jamie Gold on tilt by mentioning Crispin Leyser.

The jury is still out on Poker After Dark. It's doubtful that it will draw a devoted audience outside of insomniacs or poker addicts with DVRs. But I know that if I can't get to sleep at 2 a.m., my TV will be tuned to NBC.

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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.