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Top-10 observations from Poker Night in America

21 July 2014

In case you haven't heard, there's a new poker show in town. If you haven't had a chance to tune in to Poker Night in America yet, I highly encourage it.

At the beginning of the first episode, host Chris Hanson promised that the show wouldn't be a typical poker show, and in the first eight episodes, the show has made good on that promise. While there certainly have been some poker hands broadcast (the game is a $25/$50 no-limit Hold'em cash game with a $5,000 minimum buy-in), there has been plenty of time spent on "other" things. In fact, the first half of the first episode was devoted to the hoops producers had to go through to get a group of professional poker players on a plane to Verona, N.Y., to Turning Stone Casino.

Here are 10 observations I've made while watching the first eight episodes of Poker Night in America.

10. The slowroll hand was outstanding television
Soon after Poker Night in America first started filming last year, producers released a sequence of two hands, the second of which featured Shaun Deeb slowrolling Mike Matusow with quads. Matusow blew up (be forewarned, the embedded video below does not bleep out NSFW language), and that in itself was entertaining.

I'll leave the debate as to whether or not the slowroll was within the bounds of poker etiquette for another day, but the show did a great job discussing why slowrolling is generally frowned upon, and Deeb thought it wasn't that big a deal at the time.

Of course my favorite part of the sequence is Matusow wearing a black T-shirt with the words "Blow Ups" with a big red cancel mark through them.

9. It's a big ad for Turning Stone
I'm sure it's included as part of the contract to host the show, but each episode so far has had a glowing review of Turning Stone, whether it is the gaming floor, restaurants or golf course. And of course, there's plenty of betting action on the golf course with the pros, when they show them away from the table.

8. Non-poker bits are a lot of fun
Whether it's a prop bet on the golf course, Chinese poker on the plane trip, or a "World Series of Board Games" match of Guess Who between Matt Glantz and Greg Mueller, it's fun to watch the pros make prop bets on the side. The bits remind me of "The Nuts" bits that often run during the ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage.

7. What's up with Tom Schneider's wardrobe?
I still can't figure out what that jacket is that he is wearing in the cash game. Is it a patchwork of psychedelic butterflies? And then later, on the golf course, he's wearing cow print pants. Yeah, you read that right. If he's looking to command some attention, it worked.

6. The bait and switch at the end of nearly every episode
Twenty-five minutes into a 30-minute show, it cuts to Hanson, who says "We'll be right back with more Poker Night in America." Only they don't have any more show. They come back to Hanson with one minute left in the half hour, then Hanson says "Thanks for joining us, we hope you'll be back with us again next week." And that's the end of the show. Don't lie to me and tell me there's more show when there's not! I could have gone to bed five minutes earlier!

5. The players are clearly having a lot of fun
There are more than enough players to fill the table, so there are often other players hanging out behind the table jabbering with players at the table. It can make the action a bit confusing — are we watching poker or the banter?

Regardless, there is some outstanding banter. My favorite moment came in the second episode, when Matusow put his arm around the dealer and told him that he and Matt Glantz, who was on the dealer's other side, would be there to give him a hand if he ran into any problems.

"I bet when you came in today the last thing in the world you wanted was to have Mike Matusow put his arm around you," quipped Gavin Smith.

4. Hand graphics could be improved
Player graphics are displayed in a horizontal line across the bottom of the screen, which isn't ideal as it can be confusing – especially when indicating whose action is next. Additionally, when a player opens the betting after the flop, turn or river, the graphic reads "Raise" instead of "Bet," so if you're just glancing up at the screen, it looks like someone opened the betting and was raised instead of just opening the betting on that street.

Finally, while the game typically plays eight-handed, it sometimes plays nine-handed. And when the game is nine-handed, there isn't enough room to fit all the player graphics at the bottom of the screen, which means one player's graphic sits above the rest. It looks a little sloppy and could be improved by placing the graphics along the left-hand side of the screen, like most poker shows do.

3. Open casting call is a great idea
While each table features seven "invite-only" professional poker players, it also features an "amateur" player who earned their spot in an open casting call. The first two players to be invited through the open casting call were former reporter Kristy Arnett and professional player Lauren Billings.

I'm not going to say that these players were bad choices. Arnett in particular was interesting, as she discussed how she looked up to the players and got to know them when working in poker media. But these were people that the pros already knew, and they had to put up their own cash. I hope that down the road, Poker Night in America is able to get people that aren't known in the poker world through their open casting call. And hopefully, they'll give the players a starting bankroll to play in the game.

2. Some of Hanson's solo shots are horribly awkward
Every new show is going to have some growing pains, and the area where this show has the most room for improvement is with Hanson, the host, getting us back to the table. There was one shot in particular where Hansen sat by a fake fire "reading" a poker book, then looked up as if to say "Oh, I didn't see you there!"

The point of the program is to showcase the interesting poker pros, so I'd like to see less of these corny bits and more behind-the-scenes action with the pros.

I will give Hanson credit for allowing the banter to dominate the action at the table instead inserting an unnecessary play-by-play of each poker hand.

1. Needs more Nolan Dalla
Here at Casino City, we're big fans of Nolan Dalla. Most well-known as the Media Director for the World Series of Poker, Dalla is playing a similar role for the fledgling TV show. The latest episode featured a segment that introduced Dalla to those who may not already know him, calling him "The Most Interesting Main … in Poker." They discuss how he likes to rant and rave (along with all his incredible professional accomplishments), and personally, I'd like to see some of that incorporated into the show. Give Nolan the final two minutes of the show to go nuts, Andy Rooney style (though likely with much more colorful language).
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.