Best Poker Show
FSN's live broadcasts, Showdown at Red Rock and Championship at Red Rock, for showing every hand.
Best New Show
High Stakes Poker, for being the first cash game on TV.
Professional Poker Tour, for showing early-tournament play.
Phil Gordon, for being the best poker teacher on TV.
Robert Thompson, for Celebrity Poker Showdown's play-by-play.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Henry Orenstein, for inventing the hole-card camera.
I'd assumed all through 2006 that High Stakes Poker would win the Best Poker Show award. I became more uneasy over time, however, with the idea of rewarding a show that had such a basic flaw: it doesn't show all the hole cards. Eventually I concluded that it was too large a flaw to overlook. Fortunately, there was another good candidate for the Best Poker Show Poky: FSN's live poker broadcasts. Their first such broadcast, the American Poker Championship at Turning Stone, is still considered by many to be the best poker show ever. It showed the final four hours of a real tournament. Unfortunately, their succeeding live broadcasts have shown made-for-TV events instead. In fact, the recent broadcasts haven't resembled any poker I can find in the real world. If they would show a high-stakes cash game for four hours, I'd truly be happy. Regardless, for me, FSN's live broadcasts were the best poker shows of 2006.
Most poker is played for cash, but you wouldn't know that from TV: until 2006 all televised poker had been tournaments. Fortunately, High Stakes Poker introduced regular poker games to television. Since then a second cash game has started airing, and hopefully soon cash games will be represented on TV in proportion to their popularity.
Television has also presented a distorted view of tournament poker. There has been a glut of made-for-TV poker shows, which are usually short-handed, short-stacked, have a ridiculously steep blind structure, and non-standard formats (e.g. winner-take-all). These are commonly called "all-in fests," and they minimize the role of skill in the game. Even the World Poker Tour accelerates the blind structure for the televised portion of their tournaments. Consequently, I was glad to see WPTE's Professional Poker Tour, which shows what it's like to play in a real multi-table tournament: they show early tournament play at full tables, with reasonable stack depth and blind structures. The series hasn't been renewed, and I will miss it.
The thing I like best about Phil Gordon's analysis is that he's highly critical. He's not afraid to say what the player is doing wrong, what they should have done, and why. I learn more from him than from any other poker announcer. The only announcer that I can think of that might be more critical than Gordon is Adam Schoenfeld, who provided commentary for the second Boston vs. New York Poker Challenge. I loved his commentary, and he's among the handful of commentators who, if I'd heard more of their analysis, might have been able to challenge Gordon for the Best Commentary Poky.
Some shows don't even bother with play-by-play these days. On Celebrity Poker Showdown, Robert Thompson's play-by-play insured that I always knew exactly what was going on. His occasional humor and gentle corrections of players' errors also helped make him my favorite play-by-play announcer. Robert Thompson is missed, and I hope he returns to poker on TV.
Choosing our first Lifetime Achievement Award winner was a no-brainer: Henry Orenstein invented the hole-card camera, which led to an explosion of poker on TV, which in turn led to the poker boom.