Like many people, I started playing poker after watching it on TV a few years ago. The World Poker Tour was among the first shows I watched (maybe the first: I can't remember). I considered it to be one of the better poker shows on TV, and gave it four stars when I first started writing about poker on TV. Over time, though I've become more aware of the flaws in the show. For example, I first became aware that they accelerate the blind structure for the television table when a message board poster wrote about it. The WPT's rating is going to have to come down some, but to what level? It's a difficult question for me. The show remains a polished and entertaining production of some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world, and there are clearly much worse shows.
The World Poker Tour's most serious problem is widely recognized: they accelerate the blind structure for the television table, making it an all-in fest. The tournament may have an excellent blind structure until that point, rewarding skill, but at the television table it becomes a crapshoot. The fact that they just televise the last six players of the final table has always bothered me as well. The entire tournament takes place at full tables, so why do they choose to televise just the final six players of the final table? I'd prefer if they took two episodes to show the entire final table, keeping a normal blind structure. They still might not be able to show a higher percentage of hands (about 20% currently), but they'd have a better quality product and twice as many episodes (almost enough for a new episode every week of the year) for not much more production expense.
My opinion of the commentary has declined over time as well. I still think Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten are a polished pair, but I've come to realize that their commentary is more about entertainment and hyperbole than it is serious poker commentary (which you could learn from). Again, a message board poster opened my eyes up in this respect. If I recall it correctly, the amateur on the last Ladies Night raised all in on the turn with nothing, and a pro called her with a better nothing. Mike and Vince portrayed it as an amazing bluff and an even more amazing call. The message board poster pointed out, however, that the bluff raise was only for a tiny additional amount, making it a bad bluff and an easy call. The commentators didn't point any of this out, or even mention the odds and pot odds (ideally I think onscreen graphics should show the odds and pot odds for every hand). I also recall Mike Sexton criticizing a short-stacked reraise all in by David Sklansky with sixes on the most recent episode, which everyone I know considered to be a no-brainer. I still consider Mike Sexton to be an above-average analyst however.
Like every poker show on TV, the WPT doesn't keep onscreen graphics up long enough. The chip stacks and blinds/antes fly by too fast for us to absorb them.
In the first episode of season five I noticed that the audience cheers were really over the top. Had they added an applause sign? At the end of the show I heard applause when video of the audience showed that they were silent. It turns out they've added an applause track to the show! Have you noticed that they also use smoke machines? It sounds like they hired the stage manager from the Tonight Show or a Vegas magic show.
The World Poker Tour has less non-poker content than many shows, but would benefit from reducing it further. I'd prefer seeing another hand to hearing Kenna James talk about suckouts; and giving Vince Van Patten a segment on poker advice... I'm not sure if that's hilarious or sad. On the other hands, some more information about the players would be welcome. At the beginning of the show I can be wondering "who are these people?" The biographical information comes later. I'd also welcome it if they'd tell us who the players' rooting sections in the audience are, with onscreen graphics (e.g. "Evelyn Ng, David's friend").
I'd also prefer that they show all the hole cards at the beginning of the hand, rather than as people fold them. I leaned a lot about short-handed hand values from watching Poker Dome, which did it that way, and I consider that to be the best practice in the field.
The World Poker Tour just shows the first names of players onscreen for some reason. I'd prefer they show the last names or both first and last.
WPTE introduced split screens on the Professional Poker Tour, and I'm glad to see the innovation has made it to the WPT as well. I think it adds value to be able to see both players at the same time when they're in a big hand.
The World Poker Tour may not be the show to watch to improve your game, but it's still a polished and entertaining production of some of the biggest tournaments in the world. I give it three and a half stars, a slightly above average rating.