Celebrity Poker Club
Poker, chums, is great. It's also the satellite channel's friend. Games can run to several hours so it's a cheap way to fill airtime, and if that's not enough, the player's provide their own prizes!
In 1999 Channel 4 decided to do something a little bit different. With the help of a TV company named Presentable, they created their own televised poker tournament where professionals and amateurs would put up £1,500 in a bid to win at the final table and take £40,000 home with them. Late Night Poker was a late night hit attracting over 1.3 million viewers for its first series final, despite going out post midnight. Late Night Poker became a weekend staple lasting six series, and still enjoys regular repeat runs on Discovery Home and Leisure. Commentator and author Jesse May has become the worldwide 'voice of poker', seemingly hosting poker shows on the Fox network in the States off the back of his British success.
In 2003, Challenge decided to pick up where Channel 4 had left off. Gambling was certainly 'in', and so were celebrities. Obviously then, Celebrity Poker Club was bound to be a hit. It's the same production company, it's the same host, surely nothing can go wrong!
The titles have a Bond-esque feel to them (because poker is very much the sort of glamourous thing that these sorts of people do) and also a touch of Tales of the Unexpected style scantily clad female dancing silouhettes in intriguing positions. Play poker, and you WILL have sex. With a lady.
The set's slightly brighter than the old Late Night Poker set but the graphics (for explaining the rules) are, it has to be said, fairly groovy.
The game is Texas Hold'em No Limit. I'm not going to explain the rules here but there's quite a good reason as to why it's the Television Poker Game of Choice, namely it's very easy to keep track of. Each player only holds two cards and most players will throw their cards away anyway. The community cards are always shown in the corner of the screen by computer graphic, and new for series two (seemingly in a nod to poker shows across the Atlantic) they'll be a little graphic showing who has what cards in the other corner. The show is edited as such that not everybody's cards are revealed right at the beginning. If someone's got a really good hand, the director doesn't tend to reveal it until partway through the hand, possibly because it's quite amusing when Jesse May starts saying something about how good someone's hand is only to get all excitable when it turns out it's not so good after all as someone else has pocket aces.
One thing we ought to point out is that despite the fact that there's a £25,000 first prize, we're never told if and how much the celebs have stumped up to play. We think they each start with £800 in chips at the beginning of the game. It's a bit pointless getting excited about pot size and blinds if we don't have a point of reference to compare them to really. Perhaps "ooh! that's a lot of chips!" appeals to the casual poker watcher more, we don't know.
May's co-commentator for series one was the dry witted professional player Barny Boatman of The Hendon Mob fame. The shows were one hour long and filled with a veritable "Who's That?" of celebrity, with one (two on a good episode) you'd recognise. This didn't stop the hot poker action being any less interesting, of course.
The episodes in series two are 90 minutes long and have been designed to be "more accessable". For the most part, it sort of succeeds. It feels a bit like they've taken some of the things that the World Poker Tour onboard. There's more in the way of graphics for people to follow what's going on. The action is broken every so often for a feature on the psychology of poker (in the style of a sixties film, for one reason or another). The celebrities this time round are actually quite good - C-list, but you'll have heard of them. Biggest change is that May's co-commentator is lad mag writer Grub Smith. He's more jokey, and he doesn't come across as too laddish really but, well, you know.
It's Late Night Poker that got us "into" poking (is that the correct word?) in the first place, and it's good to see the tradition of covering poker in an entertaining way, whilst keeping the traditional poker atmosphere continuing.
EDIT - We managed to corner Jon Ronson at a top showbiz party or something and he tells us that they don't have to stake any money in lieu of an appearance fee (so if they don't win they don't get paid), they begin with £800 of chips and filming takes about four hours. So now you know.