I'm raising Poker After Dark's rating from three stars (see previous review) to four. It has become my favorite poker show on TV. It's the only poker show that I really look forward to watching, and that I'm sorry when each episode ends.
Its strength is clearly that it shows most of the hands. It's the only show on TV that allows us to see how the players really play. Other poker shows generally show 20% or fewer of the hands.
One of the show's greatest weaknesses is its odd format: shorthanded, winner-take-all single-table tournaments. I've never played that format, and probably never will. Why couldn't they have adopted a format that's common in the real world? Full ring single-table tournaments that pay 50/30/20% are common. Better yet, they could have showed a cash game. I don't know why poker producers are so fascinated by tournaments: most poker played in the real world is for cash, and it consistently makes for more interesting television in my experience. Shorthanded (six-person) cash games are common online, wouldn't require any changes to their set, and would have some additional advantages:
- They wouldn't have to deal with the variable lengths of tournaments, and could just shoot enough of each table to fill up one week of programs, showing every hand played.
- When the current tournaments get down to the last day or two I find them much less interesting than the rest of the week. Cash games never get shorthanded or shortstacked, so they'd be equally interesting for every show.
Another weak spot is the show's display of hole-card graphics. They're shown for too short a time (sometimes even two sets at a time), and too much of that screen time is used for a transition effect. The hole card graphics are stacked one on top of the other on the lower left of the screen, which means that the order of action postflop is impossible to figure out (it depends on the positions of the players that saw the flop). The order of action should be consistently in one direction, and they need to add position indicators to the graphics (e.g. showing which players are in the blinds and on the button). The best practice in this area is to arrange the hole cards around the edges of the screen, with the blinds at the top and the button on the left side so the order of action is always clockwise (corresponding to the action on the poker table). Poker After Dark should also display all the hole cards at the beginning of the hand, rather than as the players act. This method, used on Poker Dome among other shows, is a huge improvement over showing hole cards one at a time: Poker Dome taught me an incredible amount about short-handed play because of it.
Like all poker shows, Poker After Dark could use more onscreen information. They don't even usually show win percentages. I'd like to see draws/outs, odds, pot odds, and stack sizes. With good onscreen graphics, a play-by-play announcer becomes unnecessary. Unless they're going to provide a top-flight analyst like Phil Gordon, I think they should eliminate the announcer and just give us better onscreen graphics. That would have the additional benefit of allowing us to hear the table talk. Once recently I remember being frustrated that Ali Nejad was covering up the table talk to give us the chip count at the same time as it was displayed onscreen (a graphic that they always show for too short a time).
Some shows are a lot better than others at making the table talk easy to hear. On Celebrity Poker Showdown I could always easily hear the players, the tournament director doing play-by-play, and two announcers. The World Poker Tour does a good job in this area as well. Shows by POKER-PROductions (e.g. this and High Stakes Poker), on the other hand, have difficulty with this. I'm not sure what the difference is, but I notice people talking over one another, significant background noise, and loud chip noises.
They waste time with non-poker content that I think should be used to show us more hands: every show has an opening credits sequence, scenes from last time, player introductions, and scenes from the upcoming episode. I'd like to see all those segments eliminated, though it might be worthwhile to keep the player introductions for the first show of the week (I watch enough poker on TV to know who all the players are anyway). Even Shana's interviews are usually a waste of time in my opinion. Sure, she looks terrific when she dresses well (too infrequently unfortunately), but most of the interviews have no valuable content and are sometimes uncomfortable. There are exceptions: John Juanda telling us how he was going to exploit David Williams's play, then watching Juanda do it, was brilliant; and I'll listen to anything Barry Greenstein has to say. We might be best served by continuing to film the interviews but leaving the majority of them on the cutting-room floor. Sometimes I've seen Shana conduct interviews during the middle of a big hand, as well, which there's no excuse for.
I still find Poker After Dark's use of cash in a tournament offensive, and encourage players on the show to use it as cash (e.g. tipping the cocktail waitress with it) until the producers start using tournament chips. Pretending that the show is filmed at night over a week is also offensive, but I was pleased to notice some players refusing to go along with that farce on recent shows. I also still think that the producers encourage the players to gab it up, occasionally producing uncomfortable or embarrassing results. Let the players be themselves!
I've only watched the weekend Director's Cut episodes a few times, and I don't find them worth watching. Perhaps the producers could change the format of that show to cover the entire tournament in an hour. I don't claim to know what anyone other than me likes, but there is common speculation that many potential poker viewers are bored by seeing a lot of hands (like we see on the weekday Poker After Dark shows) and are more interested in seeing just a few big hands (as shown on most poker shows). Showing the same tournament both ways would provide a useful test of the theory that there are significant groups with such opposite preferences.
Showing most of the hands played makes Poker After Dark the only show on US TV where we can see how our favorite pros actually play. The show could be improved in a lot of ways, but I find it to be the most compelling poker on TV right now.