Can Poker on TV Up Your Game?


“It’s not like you see on TV, son…” We’ve all heard some variation of this on the poker felts or just in life in general. While it’s true the editing and production techniques needed to produce interesting and exciting techniques leave much on the cutting room floor, is there any learning value in what’s left?

I believe so and while it’s important to note that nothing can replace coaching, formal education or true back and forth interaction between a student and professional, there is still great value in studying scenarios, trying to analyze the thought processes and lines taken and comparing them to your own game.

We sometimes hear players say that poker on TV breeds bad players, because they try to mimic the “looser” play and big bluffs that make the final cuts; while this may be true to some extent, even better, because we need someone to lose to have winners. On a more positive note we can look at professional sports to find more answers…

It’s no secret that sports teams, fighters and poker players alike “look to the tapes” to find leaks and tendencies of opponents. In poker, the more information we can gain on an opponent’s habits and the lines they take, the better off we are in imploring our own counter-strategies or even setting the trap. We have the added luxury of seeing the games brightest appear at final tables over and over again, allowing us real opportunity to try to dissect their thought processes and street by street decisions. Even key parts of the poker classic “Rounders” focuses in on these skills and see’s “the hero” studying the heads up play of two of today’s legends.

For the recreational player and fan, this might all just be exciting and motivating, but when he or she takes the game to the next level, they will begin to pick apart every action and ask the simple questions “why” and “am I or can I do this?”

They can see the draw backs of random final table players tightening up, as the familiar faces at the table open up their playable range and increase their 3 and 4 betting frequencies; with each player elimination. Experienced commentators add easy to understand explanations or opinions on the actions, while odds and pot sizes are being displayed simultaneously. We pick up on “lingo” we might not have known and all this information is being processed by a truly engaged student of the game; who is usually left wondering what to fix and what to add.

One simple example that comes to mind never really weighed in until watching an episode where a few hands involving big aces in isolated hands were featured; each time the action had the player holding the ace check back when he hit the flop hard, inducing a bet by the opponent, or setting up the hand for added value on the turn. The boards were dry and posed no real threats, so it seemed that they clearly played the hands optimally. Of course it took a long time to actually understand all the dynamics of the hand, number of opponents, position and no reason to bet it out for fear of “monsters under the bed” or letting the “villain” fold easily when he or she might make second best or try to take the pot if given some rope.

I’m sure I had read about these types of situations many times, but just couldn’t “visualize” or digest them fully until actually seeing and hearing them on TV.

With today’s technologies, we have the added advantages of being able to PVR a show, rewind and pause, maybe we even breakout out a smartphone to dictate what we think the player was thinking in the particular hand, action by action. We can take this to a hand analysis section of our favorite forum and ask other players to chime in, or maybe just break it down with a few of favorite poker playing friends. However deep we go, it’s clear that watching poker on TV can at least provoke the learning process.

We can also watch how the dialogue of the better “banterers” of the felts helps to extract information or tells from players; even small talk sometimes has deeper purpose and with the ability to pause or slow motion a reaction, we start to also see and understand things we can’t always get 100% of from written text.

Those looking to give the above the benefit of the doubt, or are simply looking for some poker entertainment, should be happy to tune in this fall for “The Best of Ten Years of The WPT”; with tried and tested commentary by Poker Hall Of Fame Inductee Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten.

The series begins on Global TV, from 1-2am Sunday mornings (just after SNL); see the episode outlines below. TSN will also be carrying WPT Season 10 beginning in October; Rogers Sports net will re-air WPT Season 4 on Monday to Friday at 3-4PM, while Score TV looks at various episodes of the World Poker Tours Season 7, beginning the week of September 1st.

#101a: World Poker Tour’s first tournament ever, at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas

This episode, revisits the final table of the World Poker Tour’s first tournament ever featuring some of poker’s greatest and most legendary players, including Scotty Nguyen, John Juanda and Gus Hansen who was a total unknown back then, battling it out at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for a top prize of $500,000 and a chance to be the very first WPT title holder. Other competitors at this final table include the great Freddy Deeb, former pro pool player John Hennigan and conservative Swiss player Chris Bigler. Aggressive play characterizes this final table as the World Poker Tour’s debut season gets off the ground.

#102a: Atlantic City and the Season 8 Borgata Poker Open

The final six include Canadians Yanick Brodeur and Ivan Mamuzic, Kenny “Super Twan” Nguyen, Philadelphia real estate investor Keith Crowder, New York accountant Jeremy Brown and New York city heads-up expert Olivier Busquet.

#103a: Season 7, WPT World Championship at Bellagio

The final six include old time WPT champ Scotty Nguyen, Israeli businessman Ran Azor, and twenty-something pros Elky Grospellier (who’s standing as WPT Player of the Year depends on how he finishes at this table), the Tuscaloosa Kid Shannon Shorr, internet sensation Christian Harder and 21 year old phenom Yevgeniy Timoshenko.

#104a: Season 4, Los Angeles Poker Classic

This sees pro Steve Simmons, retired Wall Street businessman and WPT champ Alan Goehring, WPT champ JC Tran, Swedish self-proclaimed little fish Per “Nemo” Ummer, L.A. local Michael Woo and former dealer Daniel Quach duke it out.

#105a: Season 2, Jack Binion World Poker Classic in Tunica, Mississippi

The lone amateur gives the pros a run for their money, as retired car wash owner James Tippin faces Elvis aficionado Tony “The Big House” Hartman, philanthropist Barry Greenstein, Vietnamese American pro Can Kim Hua, Randy “the Dream Crusher” Jensen and Chip Reese, who is widely regarded as the greatest cash game player of all time.

#106a: Season 5, “Five Diamond World Poker Classic” from the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

Daniel Negreanu from Canada, Mads Andersen from Denmark and Australian Joe Hachem all made it to the final six. This final table, which features one of the worst beats of all time, also includes Ed “EBJ” Jordan, youngster David Redlin and former New Orleans Saint Jim Hanna.

#107a: Season 9, Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas

This table is populated by some of the best known and most feared players in the poker world, including the Magician Antonio Esfandiari and Lady Maverick Vanessa Rousso who stands to be the first woman ever to win a WPT open event. Their competitors include 20-something Las Vegas cash game phenom Andrew Robl, Kirk Morrison who’s back on the poker scene after a seven year absence, World Series of Poker champ Ted Lawson and online pro John Racener.

#108a: Season 6, Los Angeles Poker Classic at Commerce Casino

This final table features two of poker’s heaviest hitters, Phil Ivey and Poker Brat Phil Hellmuth. Phil Ivey takes his eighth try at a WPT title, as he’s made it to seven previous final tables but has come up short every time. This episode also features outbursts from the Poker Brat that explain how he got his nickname. It’s not a shoe-in for either of these two pros, though, as their competition is fierce in the fight for the nearly $1.6 million top prize, featuring the likes of former WPT champ Nam Le, restaurateur Quinn Do, former English teacher Scott Montgomery and former oilman and Hawaiian shirt wearer Woody Moore.

#109a: WPT World Championship, Season 5, World Poker Tour’s 100th tournament

The biggest and most prestigious event in the history of the World Poker Tour with the largest prize pool ever and the largest first place prize ever, close to $4 million.

This show features a mix of amateurs and pros, with the big what-if being whether World Series of Poker champ Carlos Mortensen will become the first player ever to capture the title at the main events of both the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour. His competition includes pros Tim Phan, Mike Wattel and Kirk Morrison as well as amateurs Paul Lee and Cirque du Soleil founder and billionaire Guy De La Liberte who doesn’t need the money but craves that WPT title as much as the next guy.

#110a: Season 3, Gran Prix de Paris, from the beautiful Aviation Club on the Champs Elysees

Australian poker pro Tony G. does his best to get his fellow final table players off their game. His opponents include the UK’s David Colclough, Ben Roberts and Surinder Sunar, Ireland’s Peter Roche and lone American, shop foreman and amateur poker player Jim Overman.


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Jon Harnish
35 year old recreational player, husband and father of three from Calgary, Alberta. Enjoy lower stakes cash games including PLO and limit Omaha 8. Any of the micro-stakes HORSE games will play online MTTS and SNGs. Live, Tournaments and Satellites up to $550. I love the game but am far to social to take it seriously and sometimes give up a little to much information at the table because I enjoy discussing the game, so decided it was safest for my bankroll to take up writing about the game. That way I still get to meet the cool people and opinions on the game, but with a little less risk. Writing wise, currently a regular contributor to Poker Pro Canada, like to write profiles, previews and recaps the most. formally wrote for Canadian Poker Player Canada. My Poker Blogs have been featured on CardPlayer Social and SpadeClub as "Recommended" or in newsletters on several occasions and Pokerweblogs as "Blog of the Month". Past projects included organizing and promoting major events with the Canadian Poker Tour, introducing Big Slick Poker Tour to Southern Alberta and directing events and finals.


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