3rd Annual National Heads Up Poker Championship

The third annual National Heads Up Poker Championship is scheduled to run between March 1-4 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. Confirmed to be participating are:

Chris Ferguson (who was the runner-up in both 2005 and 2006), Phil Hellmuth (2005 winner), Ted Forrest (2006 winner), as well as Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Antonio Esfandiari, Sam Farha, Jamie Gold, Joe Hachem, Gus Hansen, Jennifer Harman, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Chris Moneymaker, Daniel Negreanu, and Greg Raymer.

There will be 64 players altogether, including one player who will win their way in via the free online challenge NBC is hosting. I'm not sure if it is too late to qualify, but you can check out their website for more information. The show will be aired on NBC in April, 2007.

Ultimate Blackjack Tour

The Ultimate Blackjack Tour recently held the Battle of the Superstars, a competition where some of the world's best blackjack and poker players competed for $100,000 in prize money. The winner was Robert Williamson III, beating Kenny Einiger, Hollywood Dave (who is well known throughout the blackjack world and hosts a number of card events on television) and Annie Duke, who placed fourth in the event.

The final six players competed in elimination blackjack, followed by No Limit Hold'em poker. The event will be broadcast as part of the second season of the Ultimate Blackjack Tour.

2007 Gold Strike World Poker Open

The $10,000 buy-in WPT Main Event at the Gold Strike World Poker Open (not to be confused with the Winter Poker Open which is also currently running) is well underway, and according to the live coverage provided by Bluff Magazine, they will be playing down to 18 players today. It's unbelievable how many big names are still in the race - top nine chip leaders are as follows:

Thang (Kido) Pham 580,000
Victor Ramdin 570,000
Hoyt Corkins 450,000
Gavin Smith 320,000
JC Tran 305,000
John Racener 240,000
Matt Russell 140,000
Amir Vahedi 88,000
Mark Seif 88,000

Last year, Scotty Nguyen won the championship event in this tournament, claiming $969,421. The second place finisher was none other than Michael Mizrachi, helping solidify his Player of the Year standings early on in the year.

For more on the live action in this tournament, go check out BluffMagazine.com.

New Full Tilt Commercials

Since I read about 200 blogs a day I am so thankful for Bloglines because I don't have to bookmark them all myself or search for each individual page. Yes, I'm lazy. When I come across ones that have video, pictures, or extensive reading though I open them up in a new browser and look at the page in its entirety. One such case recently was The Princess, who posted about Full Tilt Poker's new commercials that are apparently airing during Poker After Dark.

Being Canuck, it is rare that we get the same commercials as my American friends do. That said, I am ashamed to admit that even though I pay for cable every month, I rarely turn on my televsion set so I haven't yet watched the show and have no idea if they are airing the same commercials in Canada or not. Either way, I followed her link to the Full Tilt site and found the commercials highly entertaining, so in case you haven't seem them either, here is the link:

Full Tilt Commercials

Bill Chen on High Stakes Poker Premiere Tonight

I spent a lot of time this weekend watching classic WSOP final tables on the appropriately named ESPN Classics. It was stunning to see how much things have changed, from the obvious things like the size of the field and quality of the productions, to the things that haven't changed at all, like Scotty Nguyen's mullet and, uh, fashion.

I also had my opinion that Gabe Kaplan is the best commentator in the history of the universe reaffirmed, especially when compared to Dick van Patten, who preceded him, and frequently offered insights like, "Hey, what does he have there? Two pair? I think he has two pair. Oh. Wait. Maybe he has 7-4 and turned a straight."

There's no denying that the hole card camera has added drama and tension and excitement to the game on television, but there's also a certain magic and a different brand of excitement that builds up when we don't know what the hole cards are, especially when it's something like Stu Ungar pulling a massive bluff with complete bullshit cards on his way to the 1997 championship.

Anyway, I mention all of this because Gabe Kaplan provides the commentary for High Stakes Poker (which I've come to enjoy much more than when I first watched it) and on tonight's episode, my Team PokerStars teammate, fellow BARGEr, and not-quite-friend-but-I-still-really-like-him-a-lot double 2006 WSOP Bracelet winner (and three-time final tabler) Bill Chen is on the show tonight. Bill couldn't give us any details on how he played or if he won or lost, but he told the BARGE list earlier today, "I am anxious to watch myself to see what hands they show."

High Stakes Poker airs at 9pm Eastern, on the Game Show Network.

Win a seat on Poker After Dark

As Wil mentioned a little while ago, NBC will be premiering their latest creation 'Poker After Dark' hosted by Shana Hiatt tomorrow, January 1st, and will run a new episode each night Monday - Friday between the hours of 2-3am, plus Saturday nights between 1-2am. For those of you who are not satisfied to simply sit at home and watch, Full Tilt Poker is currently running a promotion where you can win a seat on the show and play against some of your favorite players.

Sit 'n Go tournaments will be running around the clock beginning January 2nd, and the top two finishers in each one will move on to a weekly Round 2 tourney. The top 9 finishers from each weekly tournament will qualify for a tournament held on April 30th, where the grand prize will be a free seat on the show. For more info on how to qualify, you can check out the Full Tilt info page via the 'read' link below.

High Stakes Poker Marathon on GSN Tonight

When I reviewed High Stakes Poker during its first season, I wrote, "GSN starts out with a very strong hand, but misses the flop entirely. The show is only a few episodes in, though, so maybe they'll pick up a draw on the turn, and make a winner by fifth street. I just hope that the audience ends up caring enough about the players to stay in the hand."

I haven't watched every episode since then, but I have tuned in a few times, and I think the show did improve dramatically, both in production and dramatic value. During the 2006 WSOP, I met Gabe Kaplan, and spoke with him briefly about the show. He told me that they do their commentary live, while the hands are actually playing out, which went a long way toward making High Stakes Poker's commentary that much more interesting to me, and addressed one of the issues I raised in my review. (On all the other shows, WPT and ESPN included, they edit the hands in advance, so the announcers know exactly what's going to happen, but on HSP, when someone wonders what's going on, they're really wondering what's going on; it's a small point, but significant enough to warrant a long parenthetical statement.)

If you enjoy High Stakes Poker, or if you're the type of person who waits until you can see, oh, four shows in a row before you'll tune in, you'll want to watch GSN tonight, from 8pm to midnight Eastern, for their High Stakes Poker marathon, which will include interviews with the stars of the new James Bond film Casino Royale.

Late Night Poker Coming to NBC

Our sister site, TV Squad (where I occasionally write long-winded looks back at Star Trek: The Next Generation) revealed earlier today that NBC has announced a new late night poker program, called Poker After Dark (anyone remember Playboy After Dark? It was on before I was old enough to see it, but I always figured it must have been filled with the naked ladies my fellow middle schoolers talked about all the time.)

The show will feature a group of top-name pros, who will compete for a $120,000 top prize. Names announced include Daniel Negreanu, Howard Lederer, Jennifer Harman, Gus Hansen, Erick Lindgren, Chris Ferguson, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Ivey. NBC must have come up with a release form that's more player-friendly than the WPT's, because Howard and Jesus are involved in this show, so that's a positive step for televised poker, especially for viewers who miss seeing those guys on TV.

The show will be hosted by Shana Hiatt, formerly of the World Poker Tour, which initially tried to prevent her from taking the job, and will air every night of the week at 2:05am on the coasts. The show has the potential to be really cool, because they will spend an entire week on one table, as it plays down to one winner. On Saturday night, that winner will join Shana for what NBC lamely calls "the director's cut," which will be an hour-long program after SNL, where the winning player will look back on the week's programming, and discuss their winning strategies.

The Saturday night show is where I think this show could truly break out and shine. I guess the audience for poker shows breaks down into two categories: the casual viewer who wants to be entertained, and the poker player who hopes to learn something by watching the masters at work.

Congratulations to Shana for successfully booking this job, a fart in the general direction of the World Poker Tour for trying to prevent her from doing it, and a thank you to NBC for bringing late night poker -- a longtime staple of UK programming -- to the USA.

Shana Hiatt's No Compete Clause

Brett Love, from our sister site TV Squad, posted this about former WPT hostess Shana Hiatt over the weekend, so I thought I would share a bit with you guys:

It seems that Shana has been trying to get a couple different gigs, but has been hampered by a disputed no compete clause in her WPT contract. But now a judge has granted an injunction on Hiatt's behalf. According to the ruling, the WPT can no longer keep Shana from pursuing the two poker related jobs at NBC that brought the whole matter to the courts. It remains to be seen whether the WPT is going to try and fight the injunction, but I think the more Shana Hiatt on TV poker the better.

To read the full post, as well as to watch some video starring the lovely Ms. Hiatt, you can click on the 'read' link below.

WPT Season 5: Schedule Changes

If you had plans to play in any of the World Poker Tour Season Five events, you might want to check out the schedule changes below. Not only have they changed the dates on some, they have also added more tournaments.

Revised schedule:

05/14/06 - 05/17/06  Mirage Poker Showdown in Las Vegas
06/04/06 - 06/08/06  Mandalay Bay Poker Championship
06/12/06 - 06/16/06  Grand Prix de Paris at Aviation Club de France
08/26/06 - 08/30/06  Legends of Poker at The Bicycle Casino
09/15/06 - 09/19/06  Borgata Poker Open at the Borgata, Atlantic City
10/15/06 - 10/19/06  Festa Al Lago at the Bellagio
10/22/06 - 10/24/06  WPT Canadian Poker Open
10/25/06 - 10/29/06  North American Poker Championship
11/12/06 - 11/16/06  World Poker Finals at Foxwoods
12/14/06 - 12/19/06  Bellagio Five Diamond World Poker Classic
01/06/07 - 01/13/07  PokerStars.com Caribbean Poker Adventure
01/21/07 - 01/25/07  World Poker Open at the Gold Strike in Tunica
01/26/07 - 01/30/07  Borgata Poker Classic
02/24/07 - 03/01/07  L.A. Poker Classic at the Commerce Casino
03/03/07 - 03/05/07  WPT Celebrity Invitational at Commerce
03/12/07 - 03/16/07  Bay 101 Shooting Star in San Jose, California
03/25/07 - 03/28/07  World Poker Challenge at the Reno Hilton
04/01/07 - 04/04/07  Foxwoods Poker Classic at Foxwoods
04/21/07 - 04/27/07  WPT World Championship at the Bellagio

Final Table Pay-Per-View?

You had to know this was coming - ESPN has announced their intentions to broadcast the final table of the 2006 World Series of Poker Main Event as a Pay-Per-View show. ($24.95, apparently.) What hasn't been answered yet (that I have heard, anyways) is whether or not they will make use of hole cams during the broadcast. Naturally, this is causing quite a bit of controversy as critical information could be passed on to players via cell phones, IM, etc from someone who is watching the game at home, live. Even if they set a tape delay, we all know that any information on your opponents, even information from several hours earlier, could cause the difference between a win or a loss.

Will it be boring watching without hole cams? I'll agree that it could be somewhat boring, but remember - it is the World Series, after all. Personally, I think they should keep the cards hidden if it will be broadcast live. What do you think? Do you agree with using hole cams for the broadcast, or do you think ESPN should keep that information private?

Poker on Interactive Television - Coming Soon

For most of us born in the last third of the 1900's, gaming has been a huge part of our lives. As children we hit the arcades and played Pac Man, Centipede, and (my personal favorites) 1942 and Galaga. I remember being totally blown away by the technology that brought us Dirk the Daring's adventures in Dragon's Lair - though I never seemed to have enough quarters to make it very far in that game. We had an Apple 2C in our house, and my brother would endlessly program mazes or Pong-like games for us to play when we weren't busy tossing cartridges into our Magnavox Odyssey console. (Yeah, yeah. Laugh all you want. I wasn't 'fortunate' enough to have Coleco, Intellivision, or Atari during those years.)

As teenagers, the arcade games became much more advanced, as did the home games. People were purchasing Sega and Sony Playstation, and home computers were becoming much more common. Tetris, Solitaire, and Hearts were being played on a daily basis. We went through various versions of Zelda, Quake, and Castle Wolfenstein, as well as Might and Magic, PGA Golf and Civilization before ever logging in to play backgammon, poker and chess online.

Now, there is such a demand for games that there seems to be something new on the market every day. You can play games on handhelds, through your cell phone, on your Xbox 360 or PS3; the list goes on and on. Now, the latest buzz is interactive TV (iTV).  In an interview on Tracy Swedlow's ITVT Newsblog, Jonathan Boltax, VP of Programming and Service Management at PixelPlay, discusses what the casual poker player has to look forward to without ever leaving the couch.

In the interview, Boltax revealed that his company will soon be launching an interactive TV game based on the World Poker Tour brand in both North America and Europe. Customers will have the ability to play the game directly through their television sets in multi-player mode, or against an AI bot in single player mode. Boltax describes the single player mode as being a very similar experience to what you see in the WPT on television. Your character would play Episodes 1 through 12, with each level becoming progressively more challenging. On a personal note, I still maintain that it is pretty hard to develop AI that will really challenge a seasoned poker player, but I am fairly confident that for the majority of casual players out there, it will be quite a satisfying experience.

In addition to poker, the company offers many other games including a classic arcade game lineup that you can purchase on a play-per-day basis. Some of the available games include Asteroids, Centipede, Pile Up, Chains and Sudoku. Many of these services are already available in various locations around the world - though as far as I can tell there has been no word yet on which cable or satellite providers will be offering the World Poker Tour iTV experience. If it is something you are interested in though, it never hurts to help create the demand - contact your cable or dish service providers and request it.

For more information, you can read the full interview with Jonathan Boltax through the 'read' link below.

(Special thanks to Davis for the tip)

On TV: High Stakes Poker

I am kind of confused as to why Annie Duke's new show premiered last Monday night on GSN but was nowhere to be found today, unless the time slot changed and I missed it. I'm too tired and/or lazy tonight to bother looking up the reason though - and besides, High Stakes Poker was back on so I'm not complaining - I certainly prefer it.

If you have never seen the show before, eight or nine players (some amateur, most professional) buy-in with a minimum of $100,000 and compete against each other in a game of No Limit Hold'em. Like all televised events nowadays, the hole cards are filmed so we are able to watch the ring game action knowing what all the players hold.

Tonight's show featured Eli Elezra, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, Jerry Buss, Sean Sheikhan, Todd Brunson, Sammy Farha and Barry Greenstein. If you caught the previous episode with this group of players you know that Sean Sheikhan seems to rub every single player the wrong way. Tonight was no different, especially when it came to Sammy Farha. I think if Farha had his choice he would have Sean banned from the show - there was certainly no love lost there. Many times he asked Sean not to return the following day.

The initial half of the game was relatively uneventful, the first exciting hand of the night didn't occur until about 35 minutes into the hour-long show. Details of which are after the jump.

Continue reading On TV: High Stakes Poker

TV Review: Annie Duke Takes on the World

Did anyone else watch Annie Duke's new show last night? Annie Duke Takes on the World premiered on GSN and I have to say that is an hour of my life I will never get back. Now to be fair, the show wasn't entirely horrible, but there are many aspects of it that need serious work. As it stands, it would be more aptly named 'Five Guys Kiss Annie Duke's Ass'.

The number one change I'd make would be Annie's co-host Regan Burns. Maybe he is a funny guy in real life or in other shows, but he just comes across as annoying and clueless in this environment. Here is a hint GSN - hire a professional dealer and don't make us watch Mr. Burns stumble through the process. Aside from dealing, I couldn't quite determine what his role was exactly, other than to ogle at Annie as she leaned over the table, call her a MILF, or proclaim how wonderful she was over and over. And over.

As far as the players go, it is nothing more than home game gone bad. They have created hokey nicknames for the competitors which simply translates into a poor attempt to mask them as real players. This episode featured Author Dave, Rocker Max, Dr. K, and Slacker Somebody...I can't even remember his name. He was first out anyways, so I suppose it doesn't really matter. Rocker Max was the only player with half a clue, so it was no surprise that he survived the longest, winning $1,000 and the chance to go against Annie heads-up for $10,000.

Continue reading TV Review: Annie Duke Takes on the World

Heads-Up this Sunday Sunday Sunday

National Heads-Up ChampionshipThe 2006 National Heads-Up Championship, from Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, will begin airing tomorrow on NBC, at noon Eastern.

The first broadcast features matches between 2005 runner up Chris Ferguson and 2005 winner (and self-proclaimed greatest poker player in the history of life, the universe, and everything) Phil Hellmuth, as well as Paul Phillips and Jennifer Tilly. If you miss an episode on Sunday, it will repeat the following Friday on CNBC, at 8PM and again at 11PM Eastern. If last year was any indication, this tournament will be highly entertaining to watch over the next six weeks.

When the show is over, if you have an urge to watch more heads-up poker, you can get on the Internets, come to PokerStars and watch me play this week's tournament leaderboard leader, Payperwiew, in a heads-up match at 2PM EST. He was supposed to play Isabelle Mercier (sigh) but she is unavailable, so I am coming off the bench to represent the team. I'm sure Isabelle's absense will be a huge disappointment to many fanboys, myself included.

It's free to watch, too. Just download the client and find the match in the lobby under the Tourney tab.

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