After much speculation during the week, the highly-anticipated poker-reality TV show, The Poker Star, made it to air this Saturday following the AFL Grand Final, and the verdict is definitely that the show offers plenty of potential and appeal for both poker fans and those new to the game.
The reality TV genre is a proven winner, and although the market is now somewhat saturated by reality TV programming, it’s a tremendous way to get poker onto the TV screens and into the lives of the mainstream public for the first time. The Poker Star offers a great mix of reality TV to appeal to the public, and poker discussion/action to appease the poker buffs.
The first episode starts out with the players meeting host Joe Hachem and his apparent loyal assistant in Lee Nelson, and getting to know each other. The players are profiled and generally appear to be a vibrant, diverse group.
After more than 18,000 people applied to be part of the show, Joe Hachem handpicked the following contestants:
• Ben (aged 37, Victoria, owns and runs an advertising agency)
• Amanda (aged 33, Victoria, speech pathologist, mother of two)
• Chris (aged 26, Victoria, won a freeroll to earn a spot on the show)
• Martin (aged 48, NSW, emergency services worker, father of two)
• Sally (aged 24, NSW, bookmaker, been playing poker for three years)
• Donna (aged 29, NSW, marketing executive, former business owner)
• Josh (aged 27, Victoria, lawyer and classical pianist, keen online player)
• Katie (aged 26, Victoria, professional golfer, started out as a pub poker player)
• Shane (aged 26, NSW, sales consultant, like to wear poker paraphernalia)
• Ron (aged 60, Queensland, retired, Vietnam veteran, cancer survivor)
• Tom (aged 26, Victoria, bar owner, enjoys social aspects of poker)
Interestingly, four females made the final eleven, which is great to encourage more women into the game of poker, and also to provide a little sex appeal in an otherwise male-dominated industry.
Each week the contestants will be faced with challenges to improve themselves and test their skills against each other. This week Hachem challenged the players to start to read each other during their meet and greet session. Josh, the lawyer, was declared the winner thanks to his intense cross-examination of the others to earn himself immunity from elimination this week, while Tom, the Melbourne bar owner, was a little overly-friendly and honest in giving away information about himself, which would ultimately come back to bite him before the end of the episode.
In the limo ride back to the casino, Lee Nelson posed the question to the contestants as to who was the strongest and who was the weakest poker players of the group – all this before a card had even been dealt. Shane, the 26-year old car salesman, gives off a hint of arrogance that may see him as the token “villain” of the crew amongst viewers, but his cunning approach was enough for the others to vote him as the likely strongest player. The weakest player was voted as Ron, the 60-year old Vietnam veteran, who seems a little out of place amongst the younger opponents, but later proved that he has what it takes to mix it up on the felt.
The players then came together for their first tournament of the series where it was explained that the first player knocked out of the tournament would automatically be up for elimination from the show, along with the two weakest players as chosen by Hachem.
The Poker Star did a nice job of showing enough poker so we could follow the action, without spending too much time on the intricacies of play. This is where the show may frustrate regular poker players, as the tournament is designed to be fast-paced, and there is very little room for high-level strategic poker. However it will certainly achieve its goal of appealing to the mainstream public who are hopefully seeing poker for the first time. There’s enough action to keep the viewers interest without boring them with too much poker terminology. The only thing the first episode lacked was a bad beat to really make things exciting, but unfortunately not everything can be scripted!
The only problem with the setup was it encouraged very tight play in the early stages of the tournament, since being eliminated first carried such a hefty price tag. The price was obviously a concern for Sally, the 24-year old bookmaker, who was heavily criticized for check-folding her on a flop. However she was able to outlast Katie who decided to play for the win by shipping her over the top of a raise and a call, only to run into Donna’s . A king on the flop and Katie was the first eliminated.
From there the players gambled it up, with Tom struggling to find any cards, while Donna continued to impress, with both her play and presence on the felt. Shane and Ben were progressing well and eventually found themselves in the final three alongside Ron who destroyed both Donna and Tom in the one hand when his pocket eights held against Tom’s and Donna’s .
Shane was next to go when he check-raised all in with a flush draw that missed to leave Ben with the chip lead against Ron for the $1,000 cash prize on offer. The final hand came when Ben completed from the small blind with and then called the all-in shove of Ron holding the . Ben spiked a ten on the turn which was enough to win the pot and the tournament.
With Nelson and Hachem observing the play from the booth, Nelson was sent to deliver the bad news to Katie, who was first eliminated, along with Sally and Tom that they were the weakest players of the evening and were up for possible elimination.
The elimination process resembled The Apprentice but thankfully Hachem avoided using a catch phrase to send people home, and used far more tact in delivering the bad news. Katie was chosen to stay, as her ambitious play showed the right level of aggression, while Sally was told that she knew the right play but needs to find the confidence to pull the trigger in coming weeks. That left Tom who would ultimately become the first player eliminated after giving away too much information in the challenge and failing to make any impression during the tournament.
The winner of The Poker Star will win $100,000 and the opportunity of a lifetime opportunity to travel the world, living a poker player’s dream. Who will it be? Clearly the early favourites are Shane and Ben, while Donna and Sally have the marketability that would be a promoter’s dream.
Overall the show brings plenty of appeal for both poker fans and those new to the game. Hachem does a great job as the host and the show is a slick production that bodes well for future episodes. Tune into The Poker Star every Wednesday evening on One HD.
Of course you can join Joe Hachem, Lee Nelson and The Poker Star contestants on the felt by simply logging into PokerStars.
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