In my opinion, the single most important thing to happen to Poker popularity was the introduction of the World Poker Tour on television. The television show is interesting, educational, and suspenseful for anyone vaguely interested in the game. There are tens of thousands more people playing online now simply due to the widespread popularity of poker on television. ESPN was showing the World Series of Poker years before the World Poker Tour came to the Travel Channel, but ESPN only showed one event, and only broadcasted it very late at night. In comparison, the World Poker Tour has a new show on during primetime each of its thirteen weeks during the season.
The WPT does a great job explaining the strategy and introducing the players to the general public. There are many players who have become household names due to their success on the WPT such as Phil Ivey and Gus Hanson. Other players are simply known by their nicknames like “Devilfish” and Men “The Master.”
According to the World Poker Tour website there are currently more than 100 million people playing poker worldwide. That is more than play “golf, billiards, or tennis,” and much of this popularity is due to the introduction of the WPT on television. Half of the poker players worldwide live in the United States.
Since the WPT is in its infancy I have personally forgiven the show for the fact that many of the details concerning the best way to televise poker have not been worked out yet. I know viewers do not see all of the hands because frankly, poker can be relatively boring if you are not a true player. There are people, like me, who would like to see the boring parts of the tournament though, not just the condensed version. One of the slightly irritating things about watching the World Poker Tour can be the commentators.
There is no doubt Mike Sexton knows his poker. He picks up on hands, outs, pot odds, and winning percentages without a moment’s thought. This knowledge comes from his experience playing, as he is a former poker champion himself. He just is not very good at faking excitement. He comes off like my grandpa trying to thank me for a present he does not really care about. Sorry Mike, I am sure you have some guy in your earphone telling you to sound excited like that.
The other commentator, Vince Van Patten, sounds like a game show host, which I guess he is. His nickname is actually the “King of Hollywood Home Games,” though he claims the title is just abuse by colleagues stemming from his past ventures. An interesting fact I learned about Vince on the WPT web site is that he used to play professional tennis and was once ranked 26th in the world. That impresses me.
I really don’t think these two need to be replaced; I just think they need to try to do less acting. Actually, maybe Shana Hiatt should do more commentating. I would not mind listening to her more. Also, compared to the commentators on ESPN, Mike and Vince are absolutely amazing. Those guys are really bad.
Overall, the World Poker Tour has been a fantastic boon for the poker community as a whole. I enjoy the show and watch every week. I would much rather play at a final table than watch one, but I take what I can get.