When I watched the first episode of Poker Parlor I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was mostly hand analysis. In fact before I watched the second episode I was thinking I should raise my initial 3 1/2 star rating to 4 stars. As I watched recent episodes, however, I came to the conclusion that Poker Parlor is too badly made to warrant an above-average rating.
The first section of the show is hand analysis. The superstar analysts on the first show weren't equaled by the pros on later episodes, however. Additionally, the analysts know the blind levels and stack sizes for the hands they discuss but don't let us in on this information. In a recent episode guest analyst Connie Kim was uncomfortable on television, and Oliver Nejad didn't handle her well.
For the next segment of the show they move over to a poker table and act out a hand one of the pros played in the past. Seeing one of the pros dress up to play Chris Ferguson in a recent episode was an embarrassment. In fact the poker table is just an unnecessary prop: they'd do better just analyzing hands for which they have video clips.
The final segment of the show is answering viewer emails. Unfortunately, their answers aren't well thought out. For a recent rules question they presented two different answers. So they were too lazy to look up the correct answer in Roberts Rules? A question about poker books was poorly answered as well: while Dan Harrington does write fine NL Hold'em tournament books, how about suggesting a good beginners' poker book first, or maybe suggesting several books in different categories? Another viewer asked what he should tell his friend who liked to play any two suited cards. At least Layne Flack roughly quantified the small advantage of suited cards, but Gavin Smith's answer was that it didn't really matter because he'd play any two cards. Do I tune in to hear that kind of non-advice? How about, instead, a discussion of how implied pot odds drive decisions to play drawing hands? Of course situations where you have the odds to play drawing hands for value arise less often in tournaments. At about that point I finally realized that this show should be called Tournament Poker Parlor: it's almost exclusively about tournament poker, though they never state it.
I could never give a show focused on hand analysis less than three stars, but this show achieves that low water mark. I suggest they get rid of everything but the hand analyses they do on the talk-show-style set, which is what they're best at. Even for that they need to make sure they bring in quality analysts: thinking players that can put those thoughts into words well. Players like Ferguson, Lederer, Greenstein, Negreanu, Forrest, Gordon, Hellmuth, and Schoenfeld would be good choices. They should get rid of everything else: the poker table, the poker babes (they only lasted one episode it seems), the viewer questions, and the friendly chat at the beginning of the show.
I was disappointed to see that Ultimate Poker Challenge doesn't show all the folded hole cards any more. To learn from watching poker on TV you really need to see all the cards. Some people fold AJ while others raise 42o. When you see all the cards you can evaluate the effectiveness of the different styles, as well as the strength of hands and how it varies with number of players, position, and depth of stacks. The UPC's choices here seem to be arbitrary: sometimes they show folded hole cards, other times they don't. I do applaud UPC, however, for sometimes taking multiple shows to cover an event. And Phil Hellmuth's recent guest announcer stint also confirmed to me that he's one of the better announcers out there, though I still don't put him in the top class with Gordon, Schoenfeld, and Greenstein.