Now that FSN has the rights to the new season of the WPT, it is also airing a new series bearing a name that's nothing more than a website address. Fittingly, the show itself is little more than an infomercial for the site itself: ClubWPT.com (use bonus code POTV).
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Amateur players subscribe to the site, pay a monthly fee, but then enter freeroll tournaments essentially using play chips. Those who make it through a series of satellites and large fields win a chance to fly to Los Angeles and participate in these televised tournaments.
The format is familiar -- a 6-person single table tournament with fast-rising blinds, two commentators in the booth, and a check to the winner. This time around, however, the check is for a whopping $5,000. Not really an amount to generate a lot of television suspense. The commentators include FSN stalwart Barry Tompkins, who does an adequate job of play-by-play but doesn't add a lot of poker savvy; and Bart Hanson, with whom most viewers will be familiar as the voice of Live at the Bike.
Hanson is the best thing about ClubWPT.com, but he might be too good for it. His poker knowledge is evident but seems restrained by the show. Since the players are such rank amateurs, Hanson aims his analysis at a fifth-grade level. There is no higher-level poker thinking going on in the minds of these players, and thus Hanson doesn't feel the need to address the plays he's watching with much heavy criticism. He often takes it too easy on those who are making jaw-droppingly donktastic plays. You can almost sense him holding back from saying, "God, I could wipe the floor with these fish! How in the world does this guy open-limp from the cutoff with 6 big blinds left?"
Experienced players will cringe at some excruciatingly amateurish play, though the first three episodes have already shown that with amateurs come incidents like blatant collusion (between two brothers), clueless luckboxing, and arrogant posturing. Such treats keep the show vaguely watchable, but I sometimes wish Hanson would relax on his professionalism and give the players some tough love.
Not to be outdone, hostess Alison Waite (another in a long, storied line of beautiful poker show hostesses with a resume light on poker but heavy on nude modeling) is a capable TV presence but speaks to the camera as if she's counseling kindergarteners. And in her defense, she's saddled with the uneviable task of plugging the website and ClubWPT in every segment.
The graphics and production of the show are similar to those of the WPT broadcasts -- the hole cards and board cards are clear, there are enough periodic stack size updates, and the camera coverage is adequate. The set looks a bit cheap and quiet, but it's a welcome relief from the swirling lights, black stage, and overdramatic nightclub atmosphere of the WPT. From a tournament standpoint, we simply don't see enough hands: even in a blind structure this absurd (players start with a mere 25BBs), the show only lasts an hour and thus is forced to edit out a substantial portion of the play.
Overall, viewers of televised poker won't find anything new or interesting here. It's a competently made program showcasing incompetent poker, and I don't expect it to last very long. I would rate this initial season ** out of *****.
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