Going all in for televised poker

Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008

Did you ever walk into a laundromat and see a bunch of people just sitting around, sorta staring into the dryers, watching the clothes spin round and round? And you sit down and watch with them after you load your own washer?

"Look at that! Those green pants are almost dry. They're flying around in there like a parakeet."

"Ye gads! How did that red sock get in there with the white sheets?"

Well, that is a description of the latest "sports" craze on TV: The World Poker Tour.

I can't believe that on any given weekend two or three cable channels, including ESPN, carry hours of programming that consist of six people sitting around an oval-shaped felt topped table collecting great piles of chips and talking trash to each other, waiting for someone to lose. I can't believe that I watch it! And what's more amazing is two guys offer a play by play narration of the progress of the game peppered with in-depth analysis of the major plays.

"Watch this chip slide, Rick. Will the Idaho Kid give away his down cards with this bid?"

"I don't think so, Earl. Big Joe didn't seem to catch that side slip. Wait! What's this?"

"I don't believe it! Arizona Macky just raised the bet 2.1 million. Those cards don't warrant that bid. Do you think he's bluffing?"

The action-packed folding and throwing-in the hands or raising then checking and waiting for the next player to act is breathtaking excitement, like paint drying!

The tension is electrifying!

Some of the athletes in this competition look like fugitives from a hard night out. Actually, they probably are, as the action takes place in Reno or Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Most of them wear dark glasses. (The better to bluff you with, my dear.) One player turns up in a gray hoody with the hood up covering his face and head. The commentators call him the Unabomber. This guy's bets border on bizarre. He collects his chips haphazardly, a disarrayed jumble of colors pouring out around his area of the table. He wins by sheer luck or misdirected fervor. And he is lucky, also fervent.

Another wears his baseball cap pulled down to shade his lenses. Paranoid? He stacks his chips very carefully in neat piles arranged in front of him, the same number in each stack. He is a predictable and steady player who I haven't seen win the big one, but he plays a good solid game and makes the others around the table nervous.

Some guy builds castles with multileveled stacks depicting towers and turrets. His bets are strong and usually a sure thing. If skill were all that was needed in poker, he'd win every time. He usually doesn't say much and if he does, it's to the point

"OK Macky, I've got you beat. You gonna go all in or fold?"

That one just starts stacking in a big tall pile until the chips threaten to fall down, then he starts another. He exhibits a lot of adventure and daring and wins by bluffing his way through.

"Oh, I dunno, Bunco, I've got the best hand all night." This with a 7 and 9 of the same suit showing and a two and a king off-suits in the hole, with three cards left to turn.

But the best plays are watching the Old Junk Man take out the Pro with a pair of threes on the last turned card. That's why they call it gambling says the man I live with.

And the crowd is just as interesting. I've seen more people watching the Poker Tour than appear on-camera at some basketball games. Every seat is full. Granted, it's not a 10,000 seat stadium, but from the noise sometimes, you might think it was. Forty people in a room designed for 45 is better than 100 people in a stadium designed for 10,000. Definitely more enthusiasm than one sees on TV at the golf classics.

I've watched other really engrossing TV shows: The minute by minute count of delegates on Super Tuesday, for instance, and "Iron Chef America" on the Food Channel where the carrot grating, nut chopping and cream whipping action is positively edge of your seat mind-boggling and the play-by-play is just as to the point. Who knew chefs could be media idols? Oh! I almost forgot "Bassmasters!" (Can you guess I have a spouse who hogs the remote?)

I am not denigrating the skills needed to be a good poker player, nor the art of being a great chef (not even the mindlessness of TV anchors during an exit poll). I think I'm more surprised at the American public (myself included) who would watch grass grow if it was put on TV, especially if someone said it was the next big thing. Can we spell wasteland? (Oh! I think someone already said that about thirty years ago.)

I know, I can change the channel or turn it off anytime but right now it's time for The WORLD SERIES OF POKER! I'm on the edge of my seat.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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