Poker on TV in the US has changed dramatically over the past 15 years.
At the height of poker’s boom in the US market, TV networks and cable sports channels found the perfect storm of increased public interest in the game and cheap poker production costs infinitely appealing. As a result, poker exploded on TV. Poker shows were seemingly everywhere.
Interest leveled off after the first few years. However, the top online poker sites in the industry stepped in to prop up the productions. Poker on TV in the US became ad buys supported by the sites. It stayed that way for the better part of a decade. Then, the US Department of Justice shut the sites out in 2011.
Online poker’s biggest operators were charged with various money laundering and illegal gambling offenses and booted out of the US. They took the ad buy poker programming with them when they left.
Niche market programming
All that was left of poker on TV in the US was niche market programming and the same shows that helped usher in the boom itself, like the World Poker Tour broadcast and the World Series of Poker Main Event on ESPN. However, even these broadcasts have undergone dramatic changes in everything from where viewers watch, to the nature of the content itself.
The game of poker has changed just as much. Nowadays, the top players study the game almost as much as they play and watch it. Poker strategy is developed by pouring over hand histories and the output of solver programs that compute the game theory-optimal route through any situation a player might be faced with.
However, much can now be gleaned from watching various poker programming. Particularly since most of it has evolved from edited drama to almost live broadcasts that show all the ins and outs of the game.
In fact, nowadays, there’s a lot to be learned from watching poker on TV or the internet.
Online poker will soon be returning to the PA market, so it might be time to brush up on your poker skills. With all that in mind, here’s a list of the best poker programming to learn from:
The WSOP Main Event on ESPN
The first TV broadcasts of the WSOP Main Event were watchable but hard to follow. The introduction of hole card cameras in the early 2000s changed that. By 2003, the production team behind the broadcast turned the event into masterfully edited television with well-developed characters and complete storylines.
These broadcast were really more about people than poker play. The game took a backseat to the characters. The ESPN WSOP coverage was great TV, but not the kind poker on TV anyone can learn anything more than the basics from.
That’s now changed as well. First, ESPN welcomed a series of professionals into the commentary booth to provide expert analysis and coverage with an eye on poker strategy. Then, a new production team was brought in. The broadcast now features unedited action from the tournament floor, giving viewers real insight into how the WSOP Main Event is actually played.
In 2017, the WSOP Main Event on ESPN broadcast came as close to live TV as it ever has before. That continued with the 2018 broadcast, where large chunks of the action were broadcast for 13 straight days on ESPN and ESPN2. As if that wasn’t enough, Poker Central’s subscription service PokerGO filled things out showing everything ESPN missed due to its limited schedule.
The coverage is on a 30-minute delay as per Nevada gaming regulations, but just about every minute of it is there for the watching, offering a great opportunity for people to observe the nuances involved in a major poker tournament and learn the real ins and outs of the game. Cards-up coverage thanks to the hole card cams give viewers a real look inside the strategies of the chip leaders and other players who run deep as well.
Poker After Dark on PokerGO
No entity epitomizes the change poker on TV has gone through in the US more than Poker Central’s PokerGO. Poker Central started out as a 24-hour dedicated poker cable channel. However, it morphed into the online subscription service PokerGO in 2017.
A subscription costs $10 a month. It allows you to access a variety of poker programming from live event coverage to lifestyle shows. It’s all available on your PC or laptop, most streaming devices, or through the PokerGO app. Viewers can find the app in the App Store or Google Play.
From Full Tilt ad buy to pure poker content
A reworking of the former Full Tilt Poker ad buy Poker After Dark launched on the fledgling online subscription service in August 2017. It provides eager viewers a great opportunity learn the ins and outs of high-stakes cash games and sit n’ go’s ever since.
Poker After Dark regularly features some of the biggest names in the game. Plus, the format allows viewers to watch every minute of lengthy cash game sessions or sit n’ go tournaments. It’s all there from start to finish. Considering the caliber of player, Poker After Dark offers viewers a tremendous opportunity to learn.
Expert commentary provided by great players and top poker broadcasters takes it to an even-higher, almost-master class, level.
World Poker Tour on FS1
From its poker boom days on The Travel Channel to the more in-depth coverage it puts on FS1 today, the World Poker Tour broadcast has seen a number of major changes.
The first few seasons helped turned early adopters in the early 2000s into poker playing legends. However, today’s broadcast fills TV airwaves with more than just highlights of hands, big wins and poker catchphrases. In fact, there’s something on there players can learn from.
There is more in-depth tournament and individual hand coverage. Plus, the WPT broadcast now includes side segments like the Raw Deal. This segment breaks down hands and attempt to show viewers the right way to play.
Poker pro Tony Dunst was hired as the Raw Deal’s first host in 2010. In 2017, original WPT host Mike Sexton left the broadcast booth behind, taking his famous catchphrases with him. Dunst then took over as co-host alongside Vince Van Patten.
A legend takes over
Poker legend Phil Hellmuth was then hired to take over as WPT Raw Deal analyst.
The segment is designed to offer commentary and analysis on various hands during WPT broadcasts. It’s there to give viewers a lesson in poker along the way.
Dunst was great, and he’s now brought that same analytic style into the broadcast booth. However, WPT Raw Deal viewers are now being offered the opportunity to take lessons from a 15-time WSOP bracelet winner. Something that definitely helps make the WPT broadcast some of the best poker programming to learn from.